Ouch: Alaska & American Are Devaluing Their Partnership As Of January 1, 2018

Filed Under: Alaska, American

Update: Alaska & American have announced further partnership cuts as of March 1, 2020.

One of the things that makes Alaska Mileage Plan unique is how many airline partners they have. They’re a great program to credit miles to if you split your travel between many airlines. It used to be that Alaska partnered with both American and Delta, though unfortunately Alaska and Delta discontinued their partnership as of May 1, 2017.

With Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America, I was wondering what this would mean for their partnership with American. After all, there’s a lot of overlap between the route networks of American and Virgin America.

Well, Alaska and American have just announced some major changes to their frequent flyer partnership, which kick in as of January 1, 2018. What’s changing?

Reduced mileage earning

As of January 1, 2018, Alaska Mileage Plan members will no longer earn Mileage Plan miles on domestic American Airlines flights that aren’t marketed by Alaska, and American AAdvantage members won’t earn AAdvantage miles on all Alaska Airlines flights that aren’t marketed by American.

In other words, you won’t earn Alaska miles for any American flights booked directly with American, and vice versa. Alaska says that “the good news is that Alaska and Virgin America serve 80 percent of the top routes that Mileage Plan members have historically flown and earned miles on with American.”

Fortunately you can still earn Alaska Mileage Plan miles for international American flights, given that this is an area where Alaska can’t really compete. So if you’re flying from Dallas to Los Angeles to Shanghai you could credit your Los Angeles to Shanghai flight to Alaska, but not your Dallas to Los Angeles flight.

Reduced reciprocal elite benefits

As of January 1, 2018, the airlines are no longer offering elite members of the other airline reciprocal priority boarding, free bags, preferred seating, etc.

Alaska & American will no longer offer reciprocal preferred seating

Award chart changes are coming

Lastly, Alaska Mileage Plan will be devaluing award rates for travel on American. This isn’t too huge of a deal, given that American rarely makes saver level award space available. Here’s the change in award rates we can expect as of January 1, 2018:

As you can see, Alaska is adjusting their award chart to more closely align with American’s own award costs. Some award costs go down (like a domestic first class award goes from 32,500 miles to 25,000 miles), while other award costs go up (like a US to Asia 2 first class award goes from 67,500 miles to 110,000 miles).

Redeeming Alaska miles for American international first class is about to get more expensive

It’s only Alaska making these changes, as there are no adjustments to American AAdvantage award costs on Alaska. That’s probably partly because American charges the same number of miles regardless of which partner airline you fly, while Alaska has separate award charts for each airline.

What’s not changing?

Not a whole lot, unfortunately. The three major things that aren’t changing are:

  • The ability to redeem American miles for travel on Alaska at current costs
  • The ability to earn Alaska miles for travel on American internationally, even when not booked as a codeshare
  • Reciprocal lounge access for Alaska Lounge and Admirals Club members when traveling on eligible itineraries

Alaska Lounge members can continue to use Admirals Clubs, and vice versa

Bottom line

I’m not terribly surprised to see these changes. Now that Alaska has taken over Virgin America, the airlines have more markets in which they overlap and compete. It’s no surprise that American doesn’t want to credit you miles for flying Virgin America between Los Angeles and New York, for example.

I suspect this was a mutual decision, and that both carriers see this as the right path. I’m super bummed about this, though, given what a great program Alaska Mileage Plan is. Alaska is one of the few remaining traditional frequent flyer programs in the US, as they continue to award miles based on distance flown rather than dollars spent.

Will this Alaska & American partnership devaluation change your elite status strategy?

  1. Wow, the reduced earning could be a big blow for those who always credit their American flights to Alaska. At the very least, they’ll have to start booking through Alaska rather than American.

  2. Does the new change affects Cathay Pacific first class redemption? No one would like to see 70000 miles devalued into 110000 miles for first class to Hong Kong.

  3. @ A — Nope, Alaska has separate award costs for each partner airline, and these changes just impact awards for travel on American.

  4. So I booked an economy award through Alaska MileagePlan two day ago from the NW to Caribbean for myself and family with travel occuring in 2018 on both AA and AS. I am an MVPG. Does this mean I will lose either the main cabin extra seating I have been assigned or the free checked bags benefit?

  5. @ Ron — Unfortunately it seems so. If you select preferred seats there’s a chance they won’t kick you out, but based on my reading of these changes, it’s about the travel date and not the booking date.

  6. i see quite some solidly useful improvements in the award chart like CONUS / HI / Carib in J, but realistically probably useless given world peace is easier to find than AA saver J.

  7. I always credit my AA flights to AS. How to credit now when flying to Asia with mixed domestic and international segments?

    Leave the FF # off completely? Submit missing miles claim?

    Oh dear….problems ahead.

  8. Ugh, I was hoping to status match to Alaska later in the year, since it looks like I won’t get AA status for next year. That might only be marginally useful now. Wamp wamp. I fly Alaska a few times a year to the PNW from DC. Otherwise, I fly mostly AA. It’s been nice to be able to credit those flights.

  9. @Lucky, would you mind making a post explaining what’s the best strategy to credit AA domestic flights moving forward? Since a lot of us had started crediting them to AS, is there still a possibility to credit somewhere with mileage rather than spending?

  10. @Lucky @Ron it actually specifically states on the elite partner benefits page: “Preferred and Main Cabin extra seating assigned prior to December 31, 2017, will be honored for travel on or after January 1, 2018”

    So book up for 2018!

  11. Do you expect the lounge access to change? I mostly fly AA, but I’m considering getting Board Room membership for the reciprocity because it’s cheaper than the Admirals Club. But if the reciprocity isn’t going to last, it’s not worth the risk…

  12. I’m bummed about South America increases. Also Asia, but hopefully there are better options to Asia anyway like Cathay and JAL.

  13. Trying to decide 2018 strategy…I’m EXP on AA and 1K on United but just moved to Portland. Fly to Dallas, S. California and Taipei mostly. Was considering status matching to Alaska…thanks for advice

  14. Its been a good run. Just booked a first class trip for next year on AA will be able to cancel in the 24 hour policy and rebook on Delta. Looks like I will have to cave and status match to Delta as I live in the NE. 🙁

  15. @Lucky… What happens to Alaska elites checked bag privileges when you embark on an Alaska flight (say in PDX) to Dallas, and then connect through Dallas to (say Lubbock) on an AS codeshare flight on American? The language from the emails I got from American and Alaska appear to suggest that Alaska elites cannot check a bag on an “operated” flight by American, and codeshare flights are “operated” by American. So, in the above instance, would Alaska collect money from me for the Dallas to Lubbock segment on American? That seems strange. Would I get a free checked back on that segment since I am a Barclay AA Aviator cardholder? Or, would that benefit not be operable since I am on an AS marketed codeshare flight operated by American from Dallas to Lubbock? These changes are such a bummer. I was loving the fact that my Alaska MVP Gold elite status got me better seats on American Airlines flights than the crummy Gold status I have (as American Golds have to wait until 24 hours before to get main cabin extra).

  16. Definitely unfortunate. I am hitting Alaska MVP status this month and was looking forward to the AA benefits in 2018. At least I can enjoy them for my one AA flight this year.

  17. I’d guess that you’re right in believing this is a mutual decision. AA probably saw a ton of elites moving to AS, while AS has been used as a mileage bank by so many AA flyers it would have to be noticeable (if you believe the Flyertalk forums). That was my plan for 2018, but instead of flying AA domestically I’ll probably switch almost completely to AS and Virgin, and eat the extra hour in a plane to SF instead of LA.

  18. This is not surprising and seems fine to me as an SF-based Alaska flyer. With the VX merger AS/VX now cover most domestic routes, and those they don’t (chiefly to small markets) should be bookable through AS.

  19. I wonder what the Tipping Point will be where consumers no longer see a need to be loyal to any Airline and will just fly whoever has the best schedule and prices. And conversely what are they going to do in the next recession where they have to try and incentivize us to fly their Airline? Restore all the benefits that they’ve taken away or will they be too far down the slippery slope by then…

  20. Bummer for those of us that fly to the Southeast. Essentially losing both American and Delta in one year. Alaska’s schedule is ok, but their lack of capacity leads to higher pricing on those routes.

    I’m a 75k member In Seattle who may be forced into considering Delta.

    On the other hand, if Alaska can bolster their routes and remain competitive, they have a product far superior to American’s subpar flying experience.

  21. South America makes me sad — LAN was already too high IMO, but probably makes more sense now. The coach price to S. America Zone 2 isn’t listed, but I assume it’s going from 20 to 22.5, to match the European one. If one free stopover exists, it still beats AA miles.

  22. Makes my life a little more difficult. I decided to go for AS 75K in place of OWE but will have to revisit that decision.

  23. This is very bad for those of us in Denver. The only nonstop options on AS and VA are SEA and SFO. Flights operated as AS codeshares on AA are usually much more expensive.

  24. As an SLC-based MVPG, I think this might be the end of the road for me and MVPdom. When going west, Alaska is great. But going east, it was nice to have some relatively sane American alternatives via PHX/ORD/CLT instead of “oh, you didn’t want a 23-hour layover in SEA?” or “how about an overnight in PDX? both ways!”. I suppose any choice here besides Delta is doomed from the start, but it was nice while it lasted.

  25. Is there any reason American would refuse to issue miles on a virgin flight issued by Alaska now? I had one last month from DC to SFO and AA says it isn’t crediting the miles.

  26. Living in DC, this is a game-changer for me and I’m so disappointed. Alaska’s program was so much better, but now I won’t be earning miles on anything unless I’m going to the west coast. I’ll be forced to switch over to AA, unless by some miracle AS adds a new partnership with someone with better flights to the east coast and Midwest. jetBlue, anyone?

  27. This last change by Alaska and American may make sense for them, but it truly ‘changes the game’ for many of us…maybe not the ‘air warriors’ with independent travel budgets and freedom of choice in carriers – as are many on this blog (and I was once one of you, getting free trips and other benefits all over the globe.

    Many like me those who previously had elite status (I have been MVP Gold or MVP or none at all on an off for 20+years, plus AA Gold plus Delta Medallion, plus had elite status in many other programs over that period) I had been so loyal to Alaska and always focused on earning and using miles with their program – even was consulted by them periodically for my opinions re: member-focused strategy.

    Now, the program has lost a huge amount of utility value for me as someone, like others here, who does travel the west, but much more in the future will travel longer-haul east and back from SEA, often to non-AL cities or at least ones inconvenient to fly on Alaska – especially in terms of fares charges or earning miles based on $$ spent. Given increasing large corporate travel dept pricing rules and lowest or near-lowest fare edicts for business travel – I am afraid the time for choosing Alaska for any non-west coast business travel has likely passed.

    I am now considering my options very carefully for gaining and using future elite status and miles…about to dump any hope of getting it and keeping it on Alaska given the changes and will likely be going back after many years to the ‘dark side’ of AA and DL (admittedly some of those years without much airline or hotel status due to job changes not requiring as much travel)

    Alaska’s domestic partners are gone, my company and others are closely watching costs, so I will likely be gone from Alaska for the most part – as well, going forward. I have been incredibly loyal and Alaska has been great to fly on. But, as others have said, ‘oh well, it’s been a good run!’

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