As American Airlines and Alaska Airlines partnership begins, international upgrades will be available to MVP elites too.
American Airlines, Alaska Airlines Tie-Up
Announced earlier this year – back when things were normal-ish, Alaska Airlines and American Airlines announced a codeshare deal that would strengthen both carriers.
American operated many international flights from Los Angeles, later adding flights to London and Bangalore from Seattle. Alaska would handle the connecting flights both feeding and serving passengers inbound on these flights.
At the time American announced its relationship with Alaska, it also added JetBlue as a codeshare partner and I called the move a “coup” for its savvy.
The moves come ahead of Alaska joining the oneworld alliance.
Oneworld Alliance Expansion
Alaska Airlines and the oneworld alliance announced that Alaska would join as a full member of the airline group. During the coronavirus crisis, the migration to alliance technology and systems was expedited before ultimately stalling and reverting back to a Q1 2021 join date.
The two carriers would have aligned certain benefits simply as customary when joining an alliance. This would have included access to extra legroom or premium economy seats on US domestic flights, preferred seating (like exit rows) elsewhere, access to each other’s lounges for qualified elite members. These are offered similarly to Royal Jordanian or Finnair members as they are to American Airlines members now. Customers of all member airlines are able to earn miles when flying another member carrier.
The new tie-up exceeds those required benefits.
Elite Benefits For All
American Airlines elite status holders will receive priority treatment on Alaska Airlines flights as the same will happen in reverse. But the two carriers are taking that a step further. Alaska Airlines members will have access to long-haul international flight upgrades (likely for Alaska’s MVP Gold 75k members) while Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members will have access to Alaska’s international network upgrades which are mostly limited to Canada and Mexico.
These reciprocal upgrades, however, may be welcome by Alaska but are not as kindly greeted by American Airlines elites. Executive Platinums already have a near-impossible time clearing long haul international upgrades even when the premium cabins are wide open.
That raises three questions for which the press release on American Airlines’ site does not include the answer to.
- Will these long haul international upgrades be treated as eVIP with similar difficulties in clearing in advance?
- Will American Airlines elites be given priority over Alaska MVP passengers vying for the same seat and upgrade list?
- Will these be treated as mileage upgrade awards whereby a member uses miles to upgrade along with $250-350 to move to a better cabin?
It May Not Matter in 2021, But Beyond…
Much like 2020, who knows what will happen in 2021? Maybe international flights will remain mostly closed. Perhaps flights will open if my prediction for the new standard comes true. Even if 2021 returns passengers to the skies, travel will be light for the year and elites likely won’t find a challenge in securing an upgrade, long-haul or otherwise.
But beyond 2021, this benefit feels a bit one-sided with Alaska Airlines members coming out on top. There’s no question that Alaska’s Mileage Plan offers an easier path to elite status. MVP 75k status has no revenue requirement (unlike American) and 25,000 fewer miles flown are required to secure the status. While American flyers might benefit from Alaska’s extensive flights to Hawaii, the airline doesn’t feature a lie-flat seat on those routes so there’s unlikely to be a significant benefit in return.
Long-haul international upgrades (eVIPs) were the reason I initially chose to go for Executive Platinum status and kept it for many years even when American wasn’t as loyal to me as I was to them. I am sure I’m not alone in pushing for the status because of those certificates. Further, when they made them less valuable (with anemic availability) and cut the number issued from 8 to 4, it was just another reason I left American altogether (despite holding the status now via Hyatt Globalist.)
But if the very best benefits like long-haul upgrades, lounge access on international flights in coach, priority seating, boarding, and waived luggage fees are available to Alaska Airlines 75k MVPs as they are to American Airlines Executive Platinums, why would anyone continue to credit flights on American to American Airlines?
It’s easier to obtain Mileage Plan status even when flying American. All the benefits are transmitted to elite members of any oneworld carrier will not apply to Alaska and American’s relationship plus the special benefits
If American plans to delegate its west coast operations to Alaska Airlines then this could make sense for the carrier. For the first time in a decade there will be competing carriers (US Airways and American don’t count because the move occurred when the two were in the process of merging) in the same alliance in the US. Despite the tie-ups and alliance closeness the two carriers will demonstrate, it still seems strange to me that American would give away its most valuable elite benefit to another airline’s frequent flyers. If Alaska Airlines was a viable option for me (it isn’t) there’s no question I would move my business that was historically on American Airlines to Alaska.
What do you think? Is American Airlines giving too much away in this partnership? Is there a reason to stay with American if Alaska can fill your needs through this agreement?