Alaska, American slash partnership, eliminate reciprocal mileage redemptions

Oct 2, 2019

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Changes are coming to the frequent flyer partnership between Alaska and American Airlines.

The carriers will continue to partner with each other, but earning and redemption opportunities will be reduced, the airlines announced today.

The changes will take effect March 1 and will narrow the earning and redeeming options between the two.

What’s changing (effective March 1, 2020)

Related: American Airlines’ Phoenix hub is still growing; Carrier adds 3 new routes

What’s staying the same

While redemption opportunities are disappearing, there will still be earning options come March 1. Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan members will still be able to earn miles on “select” American Airlines flights that have Alaska Airlines’ flight numbers as part of the carriers’ codeshare agreement. Nat Pieper, Alaska Airlines’ senior vice president of fleet, finance and alliances, says that updated agreement, which is now awaiting regulatory approval, will apply to an unspecified number of flights to destinations the Midwest and eastern U.S. and Canada. For Alaska customers, it will cover mostly American-operated flights out of Chicago that connect from one of Alaska’s flights into the American hub.

On the other side, American Airlines customers will continue to earn miles (including elite miles, segments and dollars) when flying on Alaska Airlines codeshare flights under an American Airlines flight number. Most of these options will be Alaska Airlines’ destinations in the Pacific Northwest that are not served by American.

Alaska- and Horizon-marketed flights are not eligible, as is currently the case.

Finally, reciprocal lounge access will remain unchanged. The current requirements for Alaska Airlines customers accessing American lounges and for American customers accessing Alaska lounges will stay the same.

Reasons for the changes

The update to the partnership comes after Alaska’s merger and subsequent integration with Virgin America, something that has made Alaska a much bigger player in the U.S. aviation landscape. Each airline said that narrowing the scope of the partnership would open up more seats on their own flights for their own members to book.

Pieper, for example, said Alaska now has “the ability to get our folks where they want to go much more efficiently on our own airplanes. Or, internationally, on our set of global partners that we’ve developed.”

Alaska’s Pieper pointed to Mileage Plan redemptions on American’s international destinations. Of the top 20 international destinations that Alaska members redeemed miles for on American flights, Pieper says “18 of them, we’ve got really good coverage — either with our own airplanes or with our global partners.”

American echoed a similar sentiment, saying in a statement:

“Starting March 1, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members will no longer be able to redeem miles on American Airlines flights, which will enable more award seats for AAdvantage members, particularly in the premium cabin between our domestic hubs and Seattle and Portland in the Pacific Northwest. While Alaska Airlines itineraries will not be eligible for AAdvantage award redemption, AAdvantage members will still be able to redeem their miles on American’s network to nearly all of the same destinations they enjoy today.”

Related: How to earn miles with the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program

From American’s perspective, few cities would fall out of the partnership with the changes, the carrier said.

The airlines announced the changes nearly simultaneously this morning.

“I think this was a mutual dissolution, truthfully,” Pieper said. “It really just gets back to the amount of energy you’re going to put into these partnerships, you better have goals and objectives that are compatible.”

Related: Why Alaska Airlines is returning to its routes in the West

Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan program is one of the most unique in the industry and widely draws praise from customers. The carrier has eschewed the major airline alliances, instead piecing together a collection of partners that work well for its network. Its current list of 18 partners includes various tie-ups, such as Star Alliance carrier Singapore Airlines, Oneworld carrier Qantas, SkyTeam partner Korean Air and unaligned carrier Emirates.

“We’re obviously not one of the big three. We’re not Southwest,” Pieper said. “I think there’s a lot of goodness to that, because we’re able to be a lot more nimble and be easier to work with. These are the kinds of things that if you’re an international partner, you really like.”

Related: See all of TPG’s Alaska Airlines coverage

One of Alaska Airlines’ partners that’s come into the spotlight during the past week is South American carrier LATAM Airlines.

Delta announced last week that it would take a 20% stake in the airline group. LATAM has since said it plans to leave the Oneworld Alliance and sever its longstanding ties with American.

But LATAM also has a frequent flyer pact with Alaska, something that Pieper said he hoped would remain.

“It’s one of our important partners,” he said of LATAM. “We know we deliver good value to them.”

So far, Alaska has been encouraged that LATAM appears set to become an unaligned carrier that will be open to keeping existing partnerships aside from American, Pieper said. “We’ll see how it plays out,” he added.

Featured photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images.

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