Alaska Airlines to join the Oneworld Alliance, expand partnership with AA

In a surprise move today, Alaska Airlines has announced their plans to join the Oneworld Alliance in Summer 2021. Alaska Air will also be extending their partnership with American Airlines (AA), which was set to dissolve on March 1, 2020.  Let's take a look at the timeline of their endeavor:

Expanded partnership with AA

Currently, Alaska Air and AA already allow crossover redemption of miles for their programs, and Alaska Lounge members have access to AA's Admirals Club lounges.  And starting in Spring 2020, Alaska Air Mileage Plan members will be able to earn miles on all AA flights.  Alaska Air miles are one of the most valuable mileage currencies out there, so this is a significant move, though they have yet to disclose the earnings rate when flying on AA revenue fares.  Alaska Air has long had generous earning rates when crediting flights from their partner carriers like British Airways, but it remains to be seen if this will continue or be devalued.

In addition to the early reciprocal partnership with AA, AA will be launching nonstop service between Seattle (SEA), which is Alaska Air's largest hub and headquarters, and Bangalore, India and London Heathrow (LHR):
  • Daily B787-9 flight between Seattle and Bangalore as of October 2020
  • Daily B777-200 flight between Seattle and London as of March 2021
What's surprising here is that AA hasn't flown to India since they canceled their Chicago-Delhi route in 2012, and AA's transatlantic joint venture partner British Airways already flies the SEA-LHR route.  At the very least, this will result in expanded seating and award capacity between the two cities, and it's good to have a choice between the two products.  AA's VP of network planning has dubbed it the “West Coast International Alliance”, and we'll likely see AA adding more flights to SEA, which is also a Delta hub.

Joining Oneworld

Alaska Air's entry into the Oneworld Alliance in Summer 2021 would bring about an array of redemption and earnings options with their new partner carriers.  Once again, it remains to be seen on what changes or award charts that Alaska Air will release.  Alaska Air has long had some of the best redemption values and stopover rules for their international partner carriers, and there's definitely the chance that some of these sweet spots and rules will be scaled back.  So many questions remain:
  • How will Alaska Air deal with their multiple award charts that are specific to each partner carrier?
  • Will Alaska Air remove their existing non-Oneworld partners?
  • Will Alaska Air elite status qualification requirements be revised for the worse?
  • What Oneworld elite status will Alaska Air MVP elites inherit?
Based on the fact that Alaska Air currently has 3 elite tiers, it would be most logical that the following Oneworld status will be accorded:

  • MVP status will be oneworld Ruby
  • MVP Gold status will be oneworld Sapphire (Business class lounge access)
  • MVP Gold 75K status will be oneworld Emerald (First class lounge access)

Bottom line

Alaska Air has long been the "lone wolf" major U.S. carrier without an alliance.  It's interesting to see them finally hop on the bandwagon while renewing their breaking partnership with AA early.  Whereas it's great to hear that joining an alliance paves the way for reciprocal elite benefits and expanded mileage earnings and redemption opportunities, many questions remain, including if the Mileage Plan program will be devalued or if elite status will become harder to earn.  Right now, we will just have to buckle up and see how this ride all pans out!

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