American, Alaska and Oneworld partnership FAQs
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There’s massive news in the airline industry Thursday, as American Airlines and Alaska Airlines have announced a new partnership that will include domestic codeshares, reciprocal elite benefits and more. Perhaps most significantly, Alaska has announced its intention to join the Oneworld alliance by the summer of 2021. While the carrier did mention a desire to become a Oneworld Connect member back in 2018, this is a massive step forward.
Details on what this will mean for travellers are scant at this point, but we’ve compiled the below guide with some of the most important questions travellers might have as the partnership takes effect. We’ve also sent these questions to our contacts at Alaska and American, and we’ve included details from them (where applicable). At this point, however, most of the information is still unknown.
We’ll continue to update this list of FAQs as new information comes to light, but for now, let’s unpack what we know (and don’t know).
When will reciprocal earning launch for Mileage Plan and AAdvantage members?
American and Alaska were slated to slash their partnership almost entirely as of March 1, 2020. Starting on that date, the only remaining way to earn Alaska miles on American flights was to book one marketed with an Alaska Airlines flight number. If, on the other hand, you wanted to earn American miles on Alaska flights, your trip must be booked with an American flight number.
Alaska Airlines has confirmed that starting in the spring of this year, members will once again be able to earn Mileage Plan miles on all American-operated flights — both international and domestic. It’s highly likely that the same timeline applies to AAdvantage members booking Alaska-operated flights. As a result, it appears that the March 1 changes will still take effect but are expected to be quickly replaced with full reciprocal mileage earning.
What will this reciprocal earning rate look like for each program?
While we have a tentative timeline for reciprocal earning, we don’t have any details on what exactly this would look like for Alaska Mileage Plan and American AAdvantage. However, you can reasonably assume that for American AAdvantage, mileage accrual on Alaska-operated flights would follow the same approach as other Oneworld partners: 100% plus class-of-services bonuses for first- and business class tickets and then lower accrual rates for discounted economy fare classes. You’ll likely earn EQDs based on a percentage of the distance flown (anywhere from 5-30%).
The guessing game may be a bit easier for how you’d earn Alaska miles for American-operated trips, since Alaska has a current mileage accrual chart for international American flights. In short, expect full mileage-earning for first class, business class, premium economy and high-fare economy tickets, while discounted coach fare classes will likely earn just 25%-75% of the mileage flown.
Of course, this brings up another interesting wrinkle …
Will Alaska eventually shift to a revenue-based model for accruing miles?
Alaska Mileage Plan is the last holdout among major full-service U.S. carriers for awarding miles based on distance (rather than the price of your ticket). While the program did launch a survey about revenue-based mileage accrual in 2014, it then reiterated that it wouldn’t go revenue-based a couple of years later. That pledge has held, but it will be interesting to see whether the partnership with American and subsequent entry into Oneworld will influence this decision.
When we asked Alaska about this, we were told there are “no changes to our award value proposition” and the carrier even highlighted its recently-announced partner bonus as proof of this commitment. Hopefully, this will remain intact as the carrier expands the number of ways that members can earn miles, especially on domestic flights.
When will reciprocal mileage redemption launch for Mileage Plan and AAdvantage members?
As of today, you’re still able to redeem AAdvantage miles for Alaska-operated flights and Alaska miles for American-operated flights, like these first-class award tickets using American miles from New York-JFK to Los Angeles (LAX) in August:
However, these options were supposed to disappear March 1, and Alaska has confirmed that reciprocal award tickets between the two carriers will start in the summer of 2021 once the carrier is fully integrated into the Oneworld alliance.
When will Alaska members be able to redeem Mileage Plan miles across all of Oneworld?
Based on the information provided by Alaska, Mileage Plan members will begin to see earning and redemption opportunities on all Oneworld airlines — including American — starting in the summer of 2021. However, bear in mind that Alaska already has partnerships with multiple Oneworld alliance carriers:
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines
Alaska also partners with Fiji Airways (a Oneworld connect airline) and even launched an award-ticket sale on that carrier earlier this year. In other words, Alaska already has integrations with nearly half of the 13 Oneworld members, so you can utilise these existing relationships to book award flights now through the carrier’s full-fledged entry into the alliance.
Will Alaska shift to a more standardised, region-based award chart for all partners, or will it maintain separate award charts for each partner?
Right now, your ability to use Alaska miles on partner airlines isn’t all-encompassing, nor is it consistent from carrier to carrier. Instead, you’ll see individual award rates for a given partner airline when you select your departure and arrival region on this page. In some cases, there’s no chart at all, which means that you can’t book an award on that partner, even if it operates a flight. For example, Emirates flies to dozens of destinations from its hub in Dubai (DXB), but the only countries available using Alaska miles are Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
When we posed this question to Alaska, we were given the following statement:
“We’re still considering all implications for our loyalty proposition. Stay tuned for more at a later date.”
I’d love to see new ways to use Alaska miles in non-U.S. regions, as long as there’s no corresponding devaluation to the award rates in the process.
Will Alaska stop restricting awards to a single partner airline?
Under Alaska’s current award routing rules, you’re limited to a single partner airline when redeeming miles — though you can include connecting Alaska flights within the U.S. As a result, you couldn’t fly Japan Airlines to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) and then connect to a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong (HKG). You’d need to fly a single partner airline all of the way there, or connect to a single partner via Alaska Airlines.
At this point, it’s unclear whether this will change as Alaska becomes a full Oneworld member. Some programs do have separate award charts and redemption rates for single-carrier or multi-carrier tickets (Asia Miles and British Airways immediately come to mind). However, I’m not aware of any notable program that completely prohibits you from combining partners, so we can hope that Alaska will do away with this restriction.
Will there be any changes to Alaska’s free stopover policy on award tickets?
Another terrific aspect of redeeming miles with Alaska is that you can add a free stopover to your award tickets, even on one-way flights. This is a great way to further maximise your rewards, and savvy travellers are certainly curious as to whether this will be changing.
Right now, it’s business as usual, so you can still utilise this policy when redeeming Alaska miles. The airline has told TPG that there are “no planned changes to the award value proposition” at this time, so hopefully this benefit will remain.
What will happen to Alaska’s non-Oneworld partners?
One of the major reasons we value Alaska miles so highly here at TPG is because of the wide variety of partners across all of the major alliances. So what will happen to these partner airlines that aren’t full members of Oneworld? When asked, we were given the following statement from Alaska:
“Our current Global Partner portfolio remains unchanged.”
This doesn’t mean that there won’t be changes down the road. But, for now, it’s status quo.
However, here are some educated guesses for current partners that aren’t a part of Oneworld:
- Aer Lingus: This Ireland-based carrier is wholly-owned by IAG, which is also the parent company of British Airways and Iberia. Don’t expect any changes here.
- Condor: This Germany-based carrier focuses on leisure routes, and without a ton of direct competition, there’s no reason to think this will be affected by Alaska’s new Oneworld membership.
- El Al: This is one of Alaska’s newest partners, and since the Israeli carrier has partnered with Qantas (another Oneworld member) for years, it may stick around.
- Emirates: Dubai-based Emirates is part of the Middle Eastern Three (ME3) and doesn’t belong to an alliance, but it does partner with Oneworld member Japan Airlines. And while another one of the ME3 (Qatar Airways) belongs to Oneworld, that hasn’t stopped American from partnering with the third (Etihad). As a result, this partnership could remain in place, at least for the time being.
- Hainan: This is another non-alliance partner with a limited route network in the U.S. Don’t expect major changes here.
- Icelandair: Alaska’s partnership with Iceland’s flagship carrier will be interesting to monitor. As of now, American only operates a single flight to Reykjavik (KEF), and it doesn’t directly compete with Icelandair on that route. This partnership could continue, though we may see future tweaks.
- Korean Air: Korean belongs to Sky Team, and Alaska has (in the past) run into difficulties booking Korean-operated award flights. Don’t be surprised to see this partnership to wind down as we approach 2021.
- LATAM: One of the largest carriers in Latin America stunned the aviation world in September when it announced plans to leave Oneworld. That timeline has now been finalised (May 1, 2020), so with Alaska’s plans to join Oneworld, this is another airline partner I expect to see disappear as next summer gets closer.
- PenAir and Ravn Alaska: These two regional carriers will almost certainly remain as partners.
- Singapore Airlines: Alaska’s sole Star Alliance partner is one of its newest; it was announced in 2017, but award redemptions didn’t start until October 2019. Despite the short life of this integration, I’d expect this partnership to wind down over the next couple of years.
Again, there are no changes as of now, but I’d be shocked to see all of these airlines still on Alaska’s list of partners by the time it joins Oneworld.
Will there be any changes to Alaska’s Oneworld-affiliated partners?
Alaska has provided the same answer here as it did above: “Our current Global Partner portfolio remains unchanged.” I’d be surprised if we see any modifications to existing agreements — at least for the next several months. There are many steps in the process of joining an airline alliance, so it would be surprising for Alaska and its Oneworld partners to divert attention from those efforts to tweak existing partnerships that, for all intents and purposes, appear to be in good shape.
When will we see elite travellers start to enjoy reciprocal perks?
One of the best parts of an airline alliance is the set of reciprocal perks you’d enjoy as an elite member travelling with a partner carrier. Right now, Alaska offers standard elite-mileage bonuses on all partner airlines plus lounge access benefits for its MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K travellers when flying with four of its global partners:
- British Airways
- Hainan Airlines
Alaska has let TPG know that additional privileges will launch to Alaska elite travellers in the summer of 2021, including priority boarding, premium seating and baggage benefits. In addition, the lounge access policies for MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K will be expanded to include “650 lounges within the Oneworld network,” according to the airline.
What will these reciprocal perks look like?
For starters, the announcement from Alaska and American includes the following:
“Alaska and American loyalty members will enjoy benefits across both airlines, including the ability to earn and use miles on both airlines’ full networks, elite status reciprocity and lounge access to nearly 50 American Admirals Club lounges worldwide and seven Alaska Lounges in the U.S.”
However, it remains to be seen what “elite status reciprocity” means. Does it include complimentary upgrades for elite travellers with both airlines? This was part of the Delta-Alaska partnership years ago, but you could never get a complimentary upgrade as an American elite on Alaska flights (and vice versa). I’d be pleasantly surprised if this was the case, but only time will tell.
As far as other airlines go, Alaska elite members will almost certainly enjoy elite bonuses across the entire Oneworld network along with lounge access when flying with a participating carrier. It’s also highly likely that, assuming Alaska does fully join Oneworld, its existing tiers of MVP elite status will map to current levels of Oneworld status: Ruby (for MVP), Sapphire (for MVP Gold) and Emerald (for MVP Gold 75K). This will unlock perks like preferred seating, priority check-in and a higher baggage allowance.
However, it’s unclear whether there will be added perks beyond these published ones.
As of now, today’s announcement from American and Alaska has probably created more questions than answers, but here’s the important takeaway: Nothing is changing immediately.
While you’ll be able to earn Alaska miles on American flights (and vice versa) starting sometime this spring, the carrier likely won’t be joining Oneworld until the summer of 2021. For now, there’s nothing specific you need to do, but be sure to bookmark this page, as we’ll be updating it as soon as we get more information on any of the above questions.
Featured image photographed in April 2016 by Chad Slattery.
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