The End of the Alaska Airlines Partnership is a Delta Devaluation and Delta Did Nothing About It

Alaska Airlines is losing its partnership with Delta. In my view that was a better deal for Delta customers — who could earn more valuable miles crediting to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan when flying on Delta, which worked out well especially for discounted domestic first class — than it was for Alaska Airlines customers who couldn’t even book Delta award seats at half the miles for a one way award.

Nonetheless, Alaska is going to great lengths to make sure its customers come out ahead with their acquisition of Virgin America (so a bigger route network on which to earn and burn) and by reducing the cost of domestic economy short haul awards and increasing mileage-earning on partner premium cabin tickets.

On net Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members do just fine losing the ability to credit Delta flights to Alaska, since they’re gaining quite a bit (and Alaska’s Mileage Plan remains the only US program still awarding miles for flying based on distance rather than ticket cost, with generous partnerships and allowing one-way awards with a stopover). And they’re working hard to do more for their members.

In contrast at the end of last week we learned that Delta is working on letting you pay for fees with miles.

So Delta customers are losing Alaska as a partner — and Alaska was one of the ways to actually get a domestic award seat to connect up to an international SkyMiles partner award redemption — and SkyMiles can look forward to redeeming their miles for haircuts.

The end of the Alaska Airlines relationship is a devaluation for SkyMiles, and while Alaska management felt the need to do something to balance out any loss to members Delta management did not.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary … I really enjoy your site, but your disdain for Delta is palpable. Delta isn’t the best operationally run and profitable airline in the world for no reason. Nor are their load factors some of the highest in the industry. So, they have to be doing something right. Granted SkyMiles sucks … it has for the last 20 years. But I’ll take the punctuality and customer facing experience anytime over earning miles. I’m a Million Miler so I’ve been flying them for a long time. Have you flown Alaska recently. Everybody raves, but unless you live in Seattle and didn’t know anything else, they run a pretty mediocre operation on their ground stations and in the air. How they’re going to integrate the Virgin experience without destroying it is beyond me. Just needed to call you on your DL bashing. Otherwise, I find this blog informative and enjoyable to read … daily !

  2. Gary,

    This is really backwards. If you actually need to buy tickets to fly for business or leisure travel domestically, losing Delta and gaining Virgin is a huge loss for Alaska customers that need access to the South, Midwest, and other areas where the combined Virgin/Alaska network have gaps. All you have to do is compare the Virgin route network to the Delta route network to see the issue. Many Alaska customers will likely have to switch to AA or Delta due to this change. The mileage redemption improvements don’t make up for lack of network breadth.

  3. @desertjoe – I completely agree with you. I fly to get places rather than to earn miles. And while I’ll miss crediting my DL flights to AS it’s not going to change my travel habits much. For the past year I’ve tried REALLY hard to use and to like AA but it’s impossible. Customer Service is miserable, gate agents are NEVER polite, planes are old and in disrepair, flights are usually late, and I have to buy up to get the aisle seat I want. Meanwhile I’ve flown DL twice in the past few months, have successfully used Skymiles to get very cheap award seats, and have enjoyed most of the experience. My flights were on time and my experience with ground and air crews was very pleasant. But then my award redemption choices are far from yours; again I’ll say that I fly to get places. Give me nonstops, give me short connection times, give me on-time flights over earning miles. And give me 11k RT Skymiles awards for a family of 6 and I’ll show you a happy family escaping the winter cold next month! You’ll have a hard time convincing me that’s not a good use of 66k miles!

    @Tony – I also agree with you, AS held onto the DL partnership as long as it could because it knew just how important it was to the airline. DL couldn’t care less about AS, DL has the resources to build up a new hub in SEA and doesn’t need anything from AS. @gary has missed the point that the losers here are DL flyers who credited to AS, and just how many of those were there really? AS’ route network is terrible unless you live in a major hub city, and the VX acquisition does very little to help many AS customers.

  4. @DesertJoe_PS I think I make precisely the distinction you’re making, between their operational performance on the one hand and mileage program on the other. See, for instance my recent trip report flying them! 🙂

  5. @Gary

    What do you propose that Delta should do to “balance out any loss to members” following dissolution of the DL-AS code sharing agreement? Delta fliers who have been crediting their miles to AS are presumably Mileage Plan members, not Sky Miles members, so Delta cannot (and should not) “do” anything for them.

  6. @Robert Agree 100%. I rarely fly DL despite its operational efficiency because it does not offer the nonstop routes or partners that I need. But even if it did, I would likely avoid DL because when I fly I expect to receive miles that I can spend. Over the last decade I’ve redeemed AA and UA miles to fly all over the world in premium cabins. I also have a high balance of DL miles but zero redemptions as I refuse to pay absurd award prices (i.e. 2-3x > others) to redeem.
    So as an occasional AS and VX flyer I won’t miss the DL option or the DL flyers who take my award space on AS and VX. Good riddance.
    On the plus side, AS just keeps getting better and better with more routes (VX) and more partners (JAL) – could care less about the EK deval which just affects a few churners.

  7. Gary and a lot of the Delta haters out there. I am a diamond with Delta and executive platinum with American. And hands down Delta kicks AA ass day in and day out. I don’t know why American bothers having a call center where they could have machines paraphrasing the rules and regulations of a ticket and how they can’t do exceptions or what not. Hell, I bet a lot of people don’t know this about their new 24 hour cancellation policy. Go ahead. Cancel your ticket. Days later you will realize no refund was issue. You call back, and what do they say? Sir you called to cancel, you didn’t call because you wanted a refund. I’m like, are you for F%*+{€ real? If I call under the 24 hour cancellation policy you don’t think I want a refund? Sadly I’ve confirmed with other people that this is the case and their policy. Not to issue a refund unless you ask. They cut the number of system wide upgrades. Well try to even redeem for any and confirm in advance the space. Impossible! No space whatsoever. I mean I could go on and on and on… like something as simple as something that happened this week. Delta flight out of SFO was delayed coming from weather havoc Midwest. It was the red eye to MSP and therefore last flight of the night at 12. Flight was pushed to 1:45. Sky club remained open full service for the 12 people that were at the lounge for the delay. American? I’ve had the same happened. Sorry dear. We close at 11 pm. You have to leave. They have no clue about customer service. I could go on and on. Trust me. From someone who uses both systems. Delta is hands down the best.

  8. @deltaphiles; I’m EXP with AA and Diamond 2mm+ with DL. When I’ve checked operational performance stats, AS has been as good as if not better than DL. When you look at EBITDA margins there are several airlines in the US including AS that are more profitable than DL.

    I’ve had bad service, good service, on-time and late flights, and cancellations on AA and DL. I have not flown AS as much as those other two, but I’ve never ever run into anything other than outstanding service on AS.

    With the one glaring exception of the Emirates devaluation, AS seems to be an airline that pays more than lip service to the concept of loyalty to the customer. I can’t say that about DL.

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