Alaska to join OneWorld, refreshes American Airlines partnership
by Neil McPherson
14 February 2020
In a surprise move, Alaska Airlines announced that it will be joining the OneWorld alliance as a full member "by Summer 2021" (of the northern hemisphere).
It also announced a stronger partnership with American Airlines, reversing an earlier decline in their relationship towards only codesharing with no reciprocity of loyalty membership benefits.
What does this mean for travellers?
This opens up many new route alternatives for Alaska members. It also makes the combination a strong competitor for Delta, by combining
Alaska's strong presnece on the US west coast with American's international long-haul capacity.
Once approved as a member of OneWorld, Alaska Mileage Plan members will be able to earn and redeem miles on not only select, but on all OneWorld alliance members' flights.
Are there downsides for travellers?
The main concerns I have are that by formally joining an alliance, Alaska will have less flexibility in what it offers its Mileage Plan
Alaska's Mileage plan is amongst my favourites for international flights because :
- it offers access to a range of excellent airlines in different regions regardless of which alliance they belong to - its current partners include Singapore Air (Star Alliance), Emirates and Hainan (unaligned), Qantas, Cathay, BA, Finnair and JAL (OneWorld), Korean Airlines (SkyTeam) and Latam (leaving OneWorld). This provides a lot of flexibility, even though the number of partners for any single route may be limited - think of it as a "curated" list.
- when assigning miles earned from paid flights, Alaska generally gives you more than most of its partners (better earning rate) and also requires fewer miles when redeeming those miles for award flights (better redemption or "burn" rate).
- Mileage Plan provides members with strong lounge access to its own and partner lounges.
- Mileage Plan members can book stopovers on one-way award flights - a generous benefit compared to other programs.
My concern is that once part of OneWorld, the Mileage Plan will become more aligned with the programs of other alliance members.
In my view, Alaska will want to retain its Mileage Plan members and not risk leakage to other OneWorld loyalty programs. To satisfy alliance requirements yet still retain an advantage and reduce this leakage risk may mean:
- loss of relationships with airlines aligned with competing alliances (eg Singapore Airlines) - reasonably likely
- less generous access to lounges of alliance partners - reasonably likely
- an increase in partner redemption rates - most likely from a commercial perspective, some standardisation could be required, rather than individually agreed rates (and separate partner awards tables for each of its existing partners, although those of partners that are non-aligned may be retained).
- a reduction in the earning rates from partners - possibly less likely as Mileage Plan members could retain an advantage relative to the members of other OneWorld partner programs.
- loss of ability to book stopovers on award flights (and other program features not offered elsewhere) also possibly less likely.
I hope that any changes to Alaska's Mileage Plan are not too severe, otherwise what many points travellers regard as a super program with a well-regarded airline may be badly impaired. If the changes are moderate, then Mileage Plan members will benefit from a wider range of route options and gain the flexibility to have different carriers on one trip.