American Airlines teases reciprocal upgrades on Alaska, JetBlue as partnerships move forward

Nov 17, 2020

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American Airlines is doing something few U.S. domestic airlines have done in the past. Instead of growing to capture a market, the carrier is partnering with Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways to bolster its position on the West Coast and in the Northeast.

American and Alaska will partner on the West Coast, feeding each others flights primarily at Los Angeles (LAX) and Seattle (SEA). The pact with JetBlue covers the Northeast, focusing on bolstering each airline’s competitive position in Boston (BOS) and New York.

While we know both tie ups include codeshares that will add flight options for travelers, American’s chief revenue officer Vasu Raja said Tuesday that the pact could also include reciprocal upgrades for each carrier’s elite frequent flyers, among other benefits.

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“Your frequent flyer benefits as an executive platinum member on American Airlines can extend to another carrier,” he said at the Bernstein Operational Decisions Conference.

Details of such flyer-friendly benefits could come in the next few weeks, he said without providing a definitive timeline.

The partnerships are just one example of how air travel is being reshaped during the coronavirus pandemic. The crisis has opened some previously off-limits airports, including Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Los Angeles (LAX), to new competition. At the same time, airlines are trying out routes outside their pre-pandemic wheelhouse, like United Airlines adding more than 17 new nonstop offerings to Florida this winter.

Related: American, JetBlue plan ‘slot moves’ at New York JFK and LaGuardia

American and Alaska began offering reciprocal frequent flyer point and elite status credit earning in April. And Seattle-based Alaska aims to become a full member of the Oneworld alliance alongside American on March 31. That will give both airlines’ elite flyers complete access to lounges and other perks.

American’s pact with JetBlue is not as far along. Unveiled in July, the tie-up is awaiting sign off from U.S. authorities to avoid running afoul of antitrust laws. In addition to codeshares on Boston and New York flights, executives at both carriers have suggested that American could transfer some slots used for shorter flights at JFK and LaGuardia (LGA) airports to JetBlue for use under the partnership.

Ultimately, all three airlines see the tie ups as a way to bolster their competitive positions. Also on Tuesday, JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said the pact with American would create a third large rival to Delta Air Lines and United Airlines in the northeast. Delta maintains hubs in Boston and at New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports, and United at Newark (EWR) airport.

More details on the American-JetBlue pact are expected once regulators sign off.

Related: Budget airlines muscle into big airports as coronavirus creates new opportunities

Featured image by Ryan Patterson.

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