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What Alaska Airlines’ expanded partnership with American means for flyers

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: February 14
  • Published February 14

An American Airlines plane taxis past parked Alaska Airlines airplanes in April 2018 at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

There are big changes coming for Alaska Airlines frequent flyers. On Thursday, Alaska applied for full membership in American Airlines’ oneworld alliance in conjunction with new international service from Seattle.

Oneworld is one of three major airline alliances. The others are Delta’s Skyteam and United’s Star Alliance.

“We’re spearheading this partnership with new international service, so Alaska’s guests will have seamless access to destinations across the globe,” said Brett Catlin, Alaska Airlines’ managing director of alliances and networks.

It will take a while for Alaska Airlines’ application to be processed, since it’s subject to government approval. The first change is for Alaska Lounge members, who now will have access to all 50 of American’s lounges around the world. Then, later this spring, Alaska Airlines travelers once again will be able to accrue and redeem miles on all American Airlines flights. That’s a welcome change for frequent flyers, since there are many routes that Alaska doesn’t fly.

Right now, American Airlines doesn’t have any international flights out of Seattle. That will change in October when the carrier will launch nonstop Seattle-Bangalore, India, service on a Boeing 787. This will be the only nonstop service from the West Coast to India. The second international flight will start in March 2021: a nonstop flight to London’s Heathrow Airport. As part of the new focus on international service, Alaska also will align its schedule to match up with American’s flights from Los Angeles/LAX to Australia, New Zealand, Asia and South America.

Other oneworld airline partners offering international service from Seattle include British Airways (London), Aer Lingus (Dublin), Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong) and Japan Airlines (Tokyo/Narita).

Catlin said Alaska’s current partnerships will remain intact, including Condor (which was recently sold to LOT Polish Airlines, a Star Alliance partner), Hainan, Singapore Air, Korean and LATAM. Many of Alaska’s current Mileage Plan partners already belong to oneworld. But the change to full integration as a oneworld partner brings extra benefits to Alaska Airlines’ frequent flyers.

Specifically, if you are an MVP or MVP Gold traveler on Alaska Airlines, you’ll also enjoy elite status on other oneworld airlines. Those benefits include access to better seats, priority boarding, increased baggage allowances and lounge access. Of course, elite members of these other airlines, including American, will enjoy the same privileges on Alaska. That means more people may be competing for a limited number of first-class seats.

Some travelers will only use the domestic benefits with American Airlines. The reciprocal mileage-earning opportunity should help fill American’s planes this summer as they fly to Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles from Anchorage.

But I’m interested in flying on Qatar Airlines, which is rated as one of the world’s top airlines. Other airlines in the oneworld network include Malaysian Air, Sri Lankan, S7 (based in Moscow), Royal Jordanian and Iberia.

Alaska Airlines’ hybrid mix of mileage partners was already interesting, with other unaffiliated airlines like Emirates and Icelandair. But in its quest to win the high-end corporate traveler on the West Coast, Alaska needed a more comprehensive partnership with international carriers. Delta, for example, offers its own flights from Seattle to Amsterdam, Paris, Tokyo and Seoul. But Delta’s Skyteam alliance offers its customers reciprocal benefits on other airlines like AirFrance, KLM, Alitalia, Korean and Aeromexico.

The oneworld application is not the only development for Alaska’s frequent flyers, but it’s the biggest.

In the interim, Alaska Airlines is offering international travelers a minimum of 10,000 miles when they fly to a destination outside of North America between now and Dec. 31. Accordingly, trips to Canada and Mexico don’t count. But when you fly on Japan Airlines, Emirates, British Airways, Aer Lingus, Cathay Pacific or another participating airline, you’ll receive the 10,000 miles.

Alaska’s partner airlines only award a percentage of miles flown unless you’re flying in business class or first class. So, if you fly on British Airways to London on a cheap ticket, you may only receive 25% of the miles flown. If you only receive 5,000 miles, you’ll receive an extra 5,000 mile bonus. The bonus miles do not count toward your elite status, though.

Club 49 is Alaska Airlines program for Alaska residents — it’s free to join. Participating travelers can check two bags free on flights to or from Alaska, along with some other benefits. Since it started, Alaska always has sent out an airfare special on Tuesday, which you had to purchase by Thursday. That’s changed. Now there’s still an email that goes out, but no time-sensitive fare. Rather, the airline sends out a snapshot of the lowest-available rates. Also, Alaska’s weekly Club 49 fare always was in the “Main Cabin” instead of the cheaper and more restrictive “Saver” class. Now, the only Main Cabin fares on the Tuesday emails are rates for in-state fares, where Saver fares aren’t available.