This week, Alaska Airlines joining oneworld made headlines. Many critics were quick to assume the death of one of the greatest loyalty programs in the world. Joining oneworld doesn’t have to mean Mileage Plan’s demise.
Alaska Airlines Joining oneworld in 2021
The airline world is divided into alliance members, JV partners and independent carriers. Of those alliances, oneworld has the fewest carriers though many contend some excellent members. LATAM, the Latin American juggernaut sold a substantial stake of their business to Delta and as such has decided to exit the alliance in favor of SkyTeam where Delta is a member.
onewold needed a win and they got one by adding Alaska Airlines to the fold when they become full members in just over two years. Alaska had previously considered membership in the lesser “connect” format used for a partner who provides connecting traffic but is not ready to fully commit to the alliance.
Why Mileage Plan Is Great
Mileage Plan has been the darling of US loyalty enthusiasts for a long time due to a number of factors.
- They have lower award prices than any other carrier.
- Alaska has the most diverse group of partners (spanning all alliances and many non-alliance partners)
- They award miles based on actual distance flown
- The number of miles awarded based on elite status is generous
They are also in love with their hometown of Seattle, have an extensive west coast network and have been very customer-friendly.
Why They Won’t Necessarily Change
The conclusion drawn by many critics and bloggers including Matthew (don’t be mad) is that changes will come to the above attributes and the very things that make Alaska beloved will die. I don’t take the same fatalistic approach for a few reasons.
Seattle is still a battleground for Alaska with their former partner, Delta. It’s been everything but blood in the streets and the battle continues. If Alaska cedes any ground, Delta will pounce. Relinquishing their unique and generous program would take away their advantage against Delta.
Alaska relies on traffic from their many partners for onward connections in the US some of which are oneworld members. Others like Emirates, El Al, and LATAM won’t be able to offer as much of the US without Alaska and the carrier wants to continue to offer direct flights to the rest of the world through partners like these. While the old days of alliances would practically force airlines to abandon all others in favor of alliance members, that’s not the case any more. Qantas’s tie-up with Emirates is just one example of many.
They will still compete with American within the US, having a differentiator in their loyalty program could help them keep their domestic market share.
It Won’t Matter If They Do Change
Here’s the part where I join my fatalistic brethren. Almost every other carrier has moved away from miles awarded by distance and I fear it’s only a matter of time at Alaska as well. Undoubtedly, Mileage Plan managers have already examined the benefits and consequences of such a switch.
If they do make the switch, raise rates for redemptions and dismiss their partners outside of oneworld, they will suffer a fate of commonality with the rest of the US carriers. Their one exception to commonality is that they won’t have the vast network with which customers can fly Alaska Airlines routes as they do with American, United and Delta.
I can understand why many feel that this may be the death of the last great loyalty program in the US. They are one of the few carriers where I store miles and points outside of my primary carrier. I am playing this as more of a wait-and-see rather than burn my miles before their membership begins. Time will tell if that is wise or foolish.
What do you think? Is Alaska’s membership with oneworld the end of Mileage Plan as we know it? Is the assumption of the program’s demise a little premature?