Merging loyalty at Alaska Airlines and Virgin America: Phase 1


Alaska Airlines is cutting award prices for many routes and increasing earning for premium cabin travel on many partners. The news comes as the company announced details about its loyalty integration with Virgin America and cuts to its partnership with Delta Air Lines.

Cheaper Awards

The new Alaska Mileage Plan award chart offers up a lower starting point for short-haul awards and three new tiers for award pricing depending on route length. Intrastate routes under 700 miles previously were discounted to 7,500 points from the traditional 12,500 rate for one way domestic awards. The new award chart cuts the starting price on those trips to 5,000 points and drops the intrastate requirement; all short awards now get the new pricing. It also add a new 7,500 point award for trips 701-1,400 miles and a 10,000 point award for trips 1,401-2,100 miles. Trips over 2,100 miles will continue to start at 12,500 one way.

The new award chart from Alaska Airlines offers more starting price points but no guarantees that awards will ever be at those rates. Variable award pricing is very much here.
The new award chart from Alaska Airlines offers more starting price points but no guarantees that awards will ever be at those rates. Variable award pricing is very much here.

Key to this change is that it is the starting point for awards, not necessarily what MileagePlan members should expect to pay on any given day. Searching on Spokane-Seattle, for example, yields awards priced at 5,000, 7,500 and 12,500 point levels, plus the refundable option at 17,500. On Portland-Seattle – also theoretically a 5,000 point award – rates appear to be mostly 10,000 or 20,000 points for a one-way trip. This variable pricing is both good and bad news. Alaska Airlines has not gone so far as to implement a completely variable priced award structure.

Examples of some variable award pricing at Alaska Airlines; no rhyme or reason for why these numbers instead of the theoretical minimum rate of 5,000 points one way.
Examples of some variable award pricing at Alaska Airlines; no rhyme or reason for why these numbers vary, other than that they can. Other routes show even more options for what should be similarly priced awards.

It still has award charts, but there are also many price levels which the charts do not show. In other words, there’s only mostly an award chart.

Reciprocity & Transfers

Earning across the merger partners presents some interesting opportunities. Elevate remains a revenue-based program while MileagePlan remains distance based. This means travelers will need to consider price versus distance in choosing where to credit flights during the overlap period as the programs merge. A Virgin America flight crediting to the MileagePlan program will earn at least 100%, with class of service bonus credits for B fares and higher. A $75 one-way flight between Los Angeles and San Francisco will earn 500 points in MileagePlan or about 275 points if credited to Elevate. Even with the 1.3 multiplier Elevate members will get when converting their points to MileagePlan that’s an easy choice. For longer flights the threshold to consider is approximately 15 cents per mile (excluding taxes). Anything cheaper than that and it will be better to credit to Alaska Airlines; anything more expensive (and still not into the class of service bonuses) should credit to Elevate.

How many points for Virgin America flights credited to Alaska Airlines? Somewhere around 15cpm is where the smart play is to shift your crediting plan.
How many points for Virgin America flights credited to Alaska Airlines? Somewhere around 15cpm is where the smart play is to shift your crediting plan.

For Alaska Airlines flights crediting to Elevate the numbers are distance based but without a 500 mile minimum or even the 100% base rate. Cheap fares will credit at 50% scaling up to 175% for first class tickets. That same first class fare will also earn 175% credited to the Mileage Plan program, but without the 1.3x multiplier for moving it back over on January 9, 2017 when such transfers become viable. With the way the two earn charts are set up flights on Alaska Airlines with a Q fare or higher should credit to Elevate; cheaper fares should credit to MileagePlan. The above ignores elite bonus credits which change the earning rates back in favor of the program where a travelers has elite status.

One open question right now is whether it will be possible to convert from MileagePlan back to elevate at the same 1.3:1 ratio. There are some nice sweet spots on the Elevate award chart that would make that a nice option but, from what has been shared by the company so far, that seems an option somewhere between unclear and unlikely. UPDATE: Confirmed as not allowed.

Bigger Bonuses in Premium Cabins

Premium cabin partner travel just became more lucrative when crediting to the MileagePlan program. Alaska Airlines will now give more points for business and first class flights on Qantas, Emirate, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and more. The company is advertising “up to 80%” more miles” but also includes an example on Qantas where the earning 133% higher. Mostly good news even if bad math in the marketing copy.

Earn more points from partner premium flights in MileagePlan.
Earn more points from partner premium flights in MileagePlan.

On the balance this is all good news for members in the two programs.

Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.


Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

4 Comments

Comments are closed.

BoardingArea