A couple of weeks ago it was announced that Alaska Airlines will be joining the oneworld alliance in 2021.
Alaska Airlines is joining oneworld
On the surface this is an exciting development, though I’m also curious about the implications this has on their industry leading Mileage Plan program, both for better and worse.
What does this mean for Alaska Mileage Plan’s partnerships?
One of the best things about Alaska Mileage Plan is how many unique airline partners they have. They have partners belonging to all three of the global alliances, and then also partnerships with several unaligned airlines, including EL AL, Icelandair, and more.
Alaska Airlines partners with EL AL
Here are Alaska Airlines’ current partners:
With Alaska Airlines joining oneworld in 2021, what does this mean for their future partnerships?
I wanted to share my predictions about the future of Alaska’s partnerships. Let me emphasize that this is purely speculation on my part, and you guys are welcome to share your thoughts below.
Let me also emphasize that my assumptions are based on how I suspect Alaska will be pressured to cut partnerships, or how other airlines will pressure partners to cut ties with Alaska.
Airline partnerships that are definitely staying
The only sure bets are that Alaska Mileage Plan will continue to partner with oneworld airlines. Fortunately they already partner with several of those, so it’s safe to say that they’ll continue to partner with:
- American Airlines (this partnership is expected to be expanded in the next few months, before Alaska joins oneworld)
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines
- Fiji Airways (which is a oneworld connect member, and which American Airlines also partners with, so I think it’s safe to say this partnership will remain)
All of Alaska’s existing oneworld partnerships are safe
Airline partnerships that I think will be cut
Of non-oneworld airlines, I think there are a few partnerships that are highly likely to be cut. As I see it, these partnerships would be cut for one of a few reasons:
- Because of Delta’s influence — as Alaska and American go after Delta, Delta will respond by exerting their control on other airlines as they can
- Due to alliance conflicts — while airlines can in some cases partner with airlines belonging to other alliances, there are very few inter-alliance “no strings attached” relationships (for example, Air Canada and Cathay Pacific codeshare, but only in specific markets, and mileage earning and redemptions are limited to certain routes)
- Due to airline conflicts — even outside of alliances, there’s often quite a bit of pressure regarding airline partnerships
Delta recently purchased a 20% stake in LATAM
With that in mind, I think it’s highly likely that Alaska Mileage Plan will cut the following partnerships by 2021 (starting with the partnerships that I think are most likely to be cut):
- Emirates — with Alaska joining oneworld and partnering with Qatar Airways, I think it’s highly likely that either American or Qatar will launch Seattle to Doha flights, and I imagine a condition of this would be Alaska cutting ties with Emirates; that’s a shame, because this partnership has been really mutually beneficial
- LATAM — Delta bought a 20% stake in LATAM and will almost certainly use their influence to fight against American and Alaska; LATAM is cutting ties with American, and Delta will likely pressure them to cut ties with Alaska as well
- Singapore Airlines — Singapore Airlines is a full fledged Star Alliance member, and with Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines belonging to oneworld and flying to Seattle, I think Alaska will be pressured into cutting ties with Singapore Airlines
- Korean Air — while there have long been restrictions with the Alaska & Korean Air partnership, Alaska joining oneworld, combined with Delta’s ownership stake in Korean Air along with their joint venture, will almost certainly lead to this partnership being cut
Unfortunately a partnership cut with Emirates seems likely
Airline partnerships that I think are likely to be safe
Personally I think the other Alaska Mileage Plan partnerships are likely to stay, and here’s why (starting with the partnerships that I think are most likely to be safe):
- Aer Lingus — while Aer Lingus doesn’t belong to oneworld, they are owned by IAG and fly to Seattle, so Alaska partnering with them seems like it’s in everyone’s best interest
- Icelandair — Icelandair flies to Seattle, and while they do compete in the transatlantic market, I think they’re niche enough that there won’t be too much pressure on the partnership being cut
- EL AL — EL AL isn’t part of any alliance, and I don’t think Alaska’s partnership with them presents huge conflicts, though perhaps that’s changing with American launching Tel Aviv flights; EL AL also has partners with other oneworld airlines, including Qantas
- Condor — Condor was just acquired by LOT Polish; I suspect this partnership will be safe, as the relationship is mutually beneficial, and Condor largely operates point-to-point leisure flights that don’t pose a huge threat to oneworld airlines
I expect Alaska will continue to partner with Aer Lingus
Alaska also partners with Hainan Airlines, though I’m not mentioning them, because their future is really uncertain at this point.
Hainan Airlines’ future is highly uncertain
With Alaska Airlines joining oneworld in 2021, expect changes in their partnerships, both for better and worse. Alaska will be gaining several new oneworld partner airlines, though I imagine that will come at the expense of some existing partnerships as well, as alliances also come with some pressure.
All we can do at this point is speculate about the future of these partnerships, because a lot of these come down to how much pressure airlines can put on their partners.
It’s very possible I’m wrong about one or two (or even more) of the partnerships that I think are highly likely to be cut or likely to stay, but there’s no harm in making some predictions, right? 😉
Let me emphasize once again that I’m sure that Alaska would love to keep all of these partnerships, so these cuts would primarily be about other airlines exerting some pressure, which is very common in the industry.
To me the Alaska and Emirates partnership ending would be the greatest collateral damage, but I do strongly believe we’ll see a Seattle to Doha route, and I also strongly believe that will be contingent upon Alaska cutting ties with Emirates. American will be able to exert that pressure, given that they’re launching Seattle to Bangalore and London flights as well, and that benefits Alaska greatly.
What do you think will happen to Alaska’s partnerships when they join oneworld? Do you agree or disagree with my conclusions?