Big Changes To The Alaska Airlines & American Airlines Partnership

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Alaska Airlines has long been a haven for flyers who like to credit their American Airlines flights to Alaska’s Mileage Plan program for its better (and often easier) redemptions on a variety of airlines. Unfortunately, following an announcement today, that haven will soon disappear as Alaska and American Airlines dissolve most of their partnership.

Changes On The Way

From 1 January 2018 the following changes will take place:

  • Preferred and Main Cabin extra seating assigned prior to December 31, 2017, will be honored for travel on or after January 1, 2018
  • AAdvantage members will only earn miles and elite status credits on Alaska Airlines flights booked through American Airlines (i.e flights booked as an American Airlines flight number)
  • Mileage Plan members will only earn miles and elite status credits on domestic American Airlines flights if they’re booked through Alaska Airlines (i.e flights with an Alaska flight number)
  • The cost of some Mileage Plan awards for flights on American Airlines will change (more on this later)

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

What Remains Unchanged?

  • Alaska’s Mileage Plan members will still earn miles and elite status credits on all American Airlines international flights irrespective of how the flight is booked or what flight number it was booked under (more on this later).
  • Mileage Plan miles will still be redeemable for American Airlines flights
  • AAdvantage miles will still be redeemable for Alaska Airlines flights
  • Alaska Lounge members will continue to have access to Admirals Club lounges when traveling on Alaska or American Airlines.
  • Admirals Club members will continue to have access to all Alaska Lounges in Anchorage, Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles.
  • Earnings for flights taken through 31 December 2017 remain unchanged

Award Changes Are Coming

Per Alaska Airlines:

  • Off-peak awards for Central America, South America, and Asia will no longer be available for booking.
  • Off-peak awards for Europe will be valid for travel January 10 – March 14, and November 1 – December 14.

Alaska Airlines has published a very convenient table showing what changes we can expect (click to enlarge):

a table with numbers and a list of flights

Importantly…and per Alaska Airlines:

For awards booked through December 31, 2017, current award levels apply, even if travel takes place on or after January 1, 2018.


Mileage Earnings

This is going to sting quite a few Mileage Plan fans as a lot of them have been using the program as a safe haven where they could credit their American Airlines flights.

While American Airlines has rather swiftly gutted the AAdvantage program Mileage Plan has remained a pretty robust offering from Alaska Airlines and it has been a great place for those not hell-bent on AAdvantage status to credit their flights.

The small silver lining here is that it’s only domestic flights booked through American Airlines that won’t earn any Mileage Plan miles – international segments will still qualify.

So, if you book a Los Angeles – London fare on an American Airlines aircraft and through an American Airlines sales channel (i.e you cut out Alaska Airlines altogether) it will still earn Mileage Plan credit.

Unfortunately those that will be hit hardest will be those who have enjoyed using American’s vast network across the US (something Alaska certainly can’t match) while, at the same time, enjoying the benefits of Mileage Plan. With most American Airlines flights not included in the airlines’ code share agreement this is a nice option that is now going away.

Mileage Redemptions

In effect Alaska is aligning its American Airlines award chart with the one American Airlines offers its own AAdvantage members …..and on the whole that’s bad news.

A lot of Mileage Plan sweet spots are disappearing.

Examples are:

  • The 50,000 miles one way Business Class awards to Europe & South America Zone 2 on American Airlines (while American charges 57,500 for the exact same flights)
  • The 55,000 miles one way Business Class awards to Asia Zone 2
  • The 62,500 and 67,500 First Class awards to Asia

The loss of these “cheap” awards is slightly tempered by the fact that American releases so few Saaver Awards nowadays – I’m not sure all that many travelers will notice a big difference….although some certainly will.

There are some bright spots:

Domestic First Class awards are coming down in cost to 25,000 miles (40,000 miles for Hawaii) while First Class awards to/from Central America are coming down to 27,500 miles…but this all only good news if American Airlines ever opens up Saaver awards in the first place.

Another positive is that the current award charts remain in effect till the end of the year so, even if you’re traveling in 2018, as long as you book in 2017 you’ll still be able to get the awards at current rates.

Elite Benefits

I suspect that some of the changes I have already discussed will lessen the number of people for whom the lack of reciprocal benefits will be an issue.

If you can’t credit domestic American Airlines flights to Alaska Mileage Plan that removes a big incentive for those who mostly fly on American Airlines to have Mileage Plan status – their flights will be credited to AAdvantage (presumably) and they’ll earn AAdvantage status (eventually) which will give them back the benefits that are being taken away.

Bottom Line

Another day, another airline devaluation – we’re getting increasingly used to this.

Still, the devaluation to Mileage Plan from an award booking point of view is only happening to one partner – American Airlines. Great value awards on the likes of Cathay Pacific  are still very much alive. I’ll end on that positive note 🙂


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