One World: Alaska Airlines now a member
As of 31 March 2021, Alaska Airlines became a full member of the OneWorld alliance. Its the first time Alaska has joined a worldwide alliance in all of its 89 years. This entry into the same club as Qantas started a year ago back in February 2020, before COVID-19 fully hit the travel industry.
Joining the alliance was actually brought forward from its original date.
What does this mean – well pretty much bugger-all for Australians, since we are not currently permitted to travel overseas. However, it will have some benefits when we can.
Content of this Post:
There are three major international airline alliances:
- Star Alliance – the ‘largest’ at 26 members
- Skyteam – 19 members
- OneWorld – 14 members
These alliances were formed to keep business within the member airlines and to consolidate some consistency across travel for passengers belonging to frequent flyer programs, like lounge access, premium benefits, loyalty points earning and spending, and on the business side, marketing costs and other efficiencies.
In most markets – an airline alliance aims for one partner, although that’s harder to control in larger markets. In Australia, there is only a single OneWorld airline: Qantas – in fact, they are the only Australian operated airline that currently belongs to an international alliance.
In the USA, there will now be two airlines belonging to OneWorld – American Airlines (a foundation member) and Alaska Airlines. That could see some interesting negotiations around routes, although the two airlines see the alliance as a benefit in warding off the domination of market power by Delta Airlines.
Arguably these large international alliances have become less important as airlines negotiate strategic partnership agreements with individual airlines – effectively building their own alliances. OneWorld has itself seen some churn and burn of membership, including the departure of LATAM, leaving them with no South American member. But they have also recently gained members like Royal Air Maroc, and Fiji Airways as an associate member.
Expect OneWorld airport signage around the world to be updated with the Alaska Airlines logo.
Alaska was the more boutique member of the big airlines in the USA (Delta, American. Southwest and United. Back in 2018 Alaska Airlines bought what used to be Virgin America, which boosted them up the ladder.
To give you an idea of how the airlines sit on the leader board, here are their passenger numbers for 2019 (2020 being a weird year because of COVID-19).
- American Airlines – 215 m
- Delta Airlines – 204 m
- Southwest Airlines – 163 m
- United Airlines – 162 m
- Alaska Airlines 47 m
- JetBlue 43 m
You can see that American is just in front, with Delta biting at its heels. However, if you make an alliance between Alaska and American – then the combined passenger numbers would solidify that leadership position over and above Delta.
How it affects Qantas frequent flyers and OneWorld recognition
The benefits you will get as a Qantas frequent flyer travelling on an Alaskan flight accords with OneWorld general principles:
- Lounge Access – Qantas Gold and above get access to all Alaska lounges, international and domestic, and that includes partner lounges where Alaska doesn’t have its own lounge. If you are a Qantas Club member, then there are different rules: you have to be connecting to or from a Qantas flight.
- Priority Check-in – Qantas Sliver (OneWorld Ruby) and up can head to a priority desk
- Boarding – Qantas Gold (OneWorld Sapphire) and above – where priority boarding is offered
- Baggage – Qantas Gold (OneWorld Sapphire) and above get a greater baggage allowance than specified on your ticket – so on the piece system if you have no baggage indication, for Qantas Gold (Sapphire) +1 x 23 kg (50 lbs). For tickets including baggage, no extra for Gold (unless your ticket includes domestic and international legs), but Platinum (Emerald) and above, then you get another ‘piece’.
- Priority Tags – luggage – Gold and above (Sapphire and Emerald) should get priority tags on their bags – mind you, that can be little help at many airports.
- Fast Track – applies to Platinum (Emerald) and above
- Qantas Points – can be earned on a distance and fare-paid basis (this was previously available). The more you paid and the longer your travel distance, the more points.
- Status Credits – apply on Alaska Airlines with an ‘AS’ flight number. Domestic (USA) travel counts, but earn rates may vary from those on a Qantas flight.
- Burning Qantas Points – You can still redeem Qantas points on Alaska Airlines, and the cash co-payment is low. Just remember that ‘first class’ on Alaska is more like business class on Qantas, although you will be paying the Qantas first-class points rate. You might be better on an American Airlines ticket which charges Qantas business class points rates.
If you want to look at this the other way – from the perspective of the Alaskan Frequent Flyer program – Mileage Plan, then head over here.
This is good news for when international travel, and in particular travel to North America re-opens. Alaska Airlines have a good reputation and my last flight, about 10 years ago between Los Angeles and Mexico City left me with a good impression.