Finding ways to use your Alaska Airlines miles is about to get a little more difficult.
Alaska and American Airlines announced Oct. 2 that they are scaling back their mileage plan partnership early next year.
As of March 1, 2020, Alaska Airlines mileage plan members will no longer be able to earn miles on American Airlines international flights and they will no longer be able to use miles for award travel on any American flights.
Alaska plan holders will still be able to earn mile-for-mile value on American flights with Alaska flight numbers to places in the Midwest, the East Coast and parts of Canada, according to the airlines.
American Airlines was already Alaska’s lone remaining domestic mileage plan partner company, so the degraded mileage plan partnership means Alaska plan members will not have another major carrier on which they can use their Alaska miles.
Steve Danishek, president of Seattle-based TMA Travel, said in an interview that he’s not aware of any other major domestic carriers that do not have another airline their loyalty plan members can fly on with earned miles.
Alaska Airlines still has partnerships with 15 international carriers as well as in-state airlines Ravn and PenAir, which are under one owner.
An Alaska Airlines spokesperson wrote via email that the partnership with American just doesn’t benefit either airline the way it did before Alaska purchased its West Coast rival Virgin America in 2016.
“With our acquisition of Virgin America, we’re now the fifth-largest airline in the United States and can now fly more people where they want to go when they want to go,” the statement from Alaska said.
Alaska Airlines insists the vast majority of its mileage plan members will not notice the change because it serves about 90% of the destinations that Alaska members earned or used miles through American Airlines flights on.
When the 20-year partnership began, Alaska was serving roughly 18 million passengers; last year it flew 46 million passengers, according to the airline.
Alaska Airlines lost its other major domestic partner, Delta Air Lines, in 2017 shortly after it purchased Virgin America as Delta began to make Seattle one of its hubs and became a more direct competitor with Alaska on West Coast routes.
Alaska travel expert and author of the Alaska Travelgram blog Scott McMurren said American has been trying to divorce itself from Alaska since the Virgin America deal was made. He noted that the Department of Justice forced Alaska to amend some of its partnerships to allow the $4 billion deal to go through.
“Ever since that time the partnership agreement (with American) has been degraded until it finally reached a tipping point most recently,” McMurren said.
He also noted that American currently serves Anchorage with wide-body Boeing 787 aircraft and recently announced nonstop flights between Fairbanks, Dallas and Chicago will start next May for the summer travel season.
However, McMurren said given that Alaska Airlines now has upwards of 115 destinations of its own, travelers from its namesake state likely won’t feel the impact of the slow breakup with American very often.
Danishek said Alaska’s domestic partnership situation is somewhat part of the natural evolution as airlines grow. He pointed to Delta, which has ended many of its marketing arrangements and instead has chosen to purchase minority shares of smaller airlines that its mileage plan members can fly on with Delta miles.
“The airlines will do better revenue-wise if they take all the mileage members and put them into their own planes because they don’t pay anything” to the partner airline, Danishek said. “So the fewer choices they give the mileage members — however they do it — the more money they keep. So there’s a revenue side to cutting loose partners.”
Danishek said because Delta recently purchased a portion of Chile-based Latam Airlines he expects Alaska’s partnership with Latam will not be renewed when it expires.
“Delta kind of declared war and they’re trying to clean Alaska’s clock any time they can,” he said.
Danishek added that he suspects the West Coast battle between Alaska and Delta has started to eat into Alaska’s mileage plan membership somewhat, but overall the customers benefit from the competition as fares are kept in check.