Alaska frequent flyers have a lot to look forward to in 2021

Apr 15, 2020

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At TPG, we can’t talk about the future of traveling again without at least mentioning the future of airline elite status.

We’re not only looking forward to planning our next trip but also to making the most of our frequent flyer benefits once again. Those elite perks are now on hold, but recent announcements have made some loyalty geeks (this one included) even more excited to get back to the skies.

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In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, airlines in the U.S. prioritized adjusting schedules and reaccommodating passengers before making a final decision on how the dominoes would fall for frequent flyers.

However, once Delta made a status extension announcement, the floodgates began opening. Lead and they shall follow, they say. United made an announcement not long after Delta’s. Then, Alaska Airlines published its news for Mileage Plan members with elite status valid through 2021. Finally, American joined the elite extension train with its announcement.

Here’s why — as a current Alaska elite member — I’m particularly excited with these updates.

Why Alaska elites may benefit the most

Alaska and American’s most valuable customers are getting in on a two-for-one special of sorts. Not only will each of these airline’s most loyal customers get another year of status with their respective programs; they also will likely get several months of the other airline’s status benefits.

How? Well, earlier this year, Alaska announced its intention to join the Oneworld alliance and a rekindling of its relationship with American. Alaska elites will not just get another year of Alaska status, but they also will reap the benefits of several months of Oneworld status. That means exclusive lounge access, reciprocal airline benefits and all the other neat perks of being a Oneworld elite.

For American elites, you should also be able to enjoy some perks on the Alaska side. However, while Alaska has a strong regional footprint and a few solid lounges, it won’t vastly improve the travel experience for most American flyers.

Let’s take a look at how all this plays out, and why all of these elite status extensions really benefit Alaska Airlines elite members the most.

Alaska elite status extension

The biggest news from the Alaska Mileage Plan announcement was that elite status would be extended through December 31, 2021. If you qualified for status based on 2019 flying activity, you’d be all set through the end of next year.

In addition, if you were enrolled in an Alaska elite status challenge between Dec. 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020, you also will have your status valid through the end of 2021. That is incredibly generous on Alaska’s part, as essentially you’ll be getting two years of Alaska status by simply having enrolled in the challenge — with no flying required.

If you signed up for Alaska’s status match challenge between Dec 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020, you’re in luck.

As an MVP Gold stuck at home — with no solid plans to requalify later in 2020 — I’m thrilled. Even for elites that had their eyes set on re-earning status for 2021 by getting back on board later this year, there can be a collective sigh of relief that we can sit back, relax and just enjoy the Mileage Plan perks.

Related reading: Alaska Airlines extends elite status, companion certificate validity due to coronavirus

What Alaska joining Oneworld means now

Alaska’s status extension had me excited for another reason though. While the summer of 2021 may seem like a lifetime away, Alaska elites should now have it on their radar.

That’s because next summer is when Alaska plans to join the Oneworld alliance. And with status now valid through the end of 2021, that means there should be a several months-long window where current MVPs, MVP Golds, and MVP 75Ks can use those Oneworld benefits without having to requalify.

In retrospect, it’s incredible to think that your 2019 flight activity with Mileage Plan could have helped you earn Oneworld status in 2021. And it’s even better for the folks who participated in a status challenge. Not only are you basically being gifted Alaska status for two years; you also should receive Oneworld status for several months.

Amidst the pandemic, Alaska remains confident in joining Oneworld by next summer. In an email to elites, they included the following information:

“Your current status will be extended through December 31, 2021. Whatever status you have today, you’ll also have it next year. That status will unlock even more benefits as we move closer to our Oneworld launch in summer 2021.”

Of course, things could always change, but it’s great to know that Alaska is continuing to work toward full membership in the Oneworld alliance.

How will Alaska status map to Oneworld status?

While neither Alaska nor Oneworld have announced anything officially, we can safely assume once Alaska does fully join Oneworld, its existing tiers of MVP elite status will map to current levels of Oneworld status:

  • Oneworld Ruby (for MVP)
  • Oneworld Sapphire (for MVP Gold)
  • Oneworld Emerald (for MVP Gold 75K)

Related Reading: A successful status match from American Executive Platinum to Alaska Mileage Plan MVP Gold 75K

Alaska may adjust the Mileage Plan program in subsequent years — be it different qualification requirements or adjusted perks — but given the status extension through the end of 2021, the above mapping should be a safe assumption.

Oneworld perks for Alaska elites

In one fell swoop, Alaska elites in 2021 will suddenly gain access to some of the world’s best airport lounges, priority check-in and boarding, premium seating, baggage benefits and much more. For instance, when traveling internationally, a Oneworld Emerald can access the alliance’s network of first class lounges. It doesn’t matter the class of service; you simply need to be flying on a Oneworld airline.

You can access first class lounges as a Oneworld Emerald. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Sure, Alaska has some existing partnership with Oneworld airlines, but only Qantas and British Airways allow MVP elites to access lounges — and that’s just at the business class level.

Come summer 2021, Alaska MVP Gold 75K travelers will gain entrance to the these top-notch lounges, even when traveling in economy:

While route networks will certainly change post-coronavirus, the tie-up between Alaska and American specifically should create an incredibly robust array of flights domestically, with the ability to earn and burn miles on both Oneworld carriers. Alaska flyers will also get access to American’s extensive international network and five east coast hubs.

Bottom line

While we don’t know when exactly Alaska will join Oneworld, we do know that if you have Alaska status now, you should be able to take advantage of Oneworld benefits when the airline becomes a member next year. The good news is that a global pandemic didn’t seem to delay Royal Air Maroc’s entrance into the Oneworld alliance earlier this month, so we’re hopeful the same can be said for Alaska come 2021.

The elite status extension is fantastic news for both Alaska and American frequent flyers. However, Alaska elites stand to benefit the most, opening the door to Oneworld’s 12 partner airlines. That’s regardless of how much you fly (or don’t fly) in 2020.

While several Oneworld carriers are already Alaska partners, a consistent set of reciprocal perks across an entire alliance will be a very welcome addition.

Featured photo by Emily McNutt / The Points Guy

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