What Alaska’s Takeover Of Virgin America Means For Customers

As I speculated earlier, Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America is finally closing today. This is the completion of a very long process, though really only the start of their integration, as they have a lot of work left ahead of them.

alaska-virgin

What does this mean for passengers?

What I’ve been most curious about is what this means for their frequent flyer programs. Lately we’ve seen some loyalty programs provide reciprocal benefits starting day one. So, what’s Alaska offering?

  • Starting Dec. 19, Virgin America Elevate members and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members can earn rewards on each other’s flights; elite members will receive priority check-in and priority boarding on each other’s flights
  • Starting Dec. 19, customers can purchase Virgin America tickets at alaskaair.com
  • Beginning January 9, Virgin America Elevate members will be invited by Alaska Airlines to activate new Mileage Plan accounts; this will allow them to also earn Mileage Plan miles when flying with Alaska and any of Alaska’s Global Partners to over 800 destinations worldwide

So elite members with both programs will receive priority check-in and boarding as of Monday, December 19, 2016.

Furthermore, Elevate Silver and Gold members will be able to status match to Alaska MVP and MVP Gold as of January 9, 2017. Also as of that date, Alaska Mileage Plan members will be able to use miles for award travel on Virgin America. However, there’s no reference to being able to status match from Alaska to Virgin America, which seems a bit odd.

I think the other big question many people have is how points will transfer between accounts. As of now Alaska says “more details will be unveiled on how Elevate points can be used to book award travel on Alaska and Alaska Global Partners.”

I’d be very curious to see if points can be transferred between the programs, and if so, at what ratio. A 1:1 ratio doesn’t seem fair, while I think two Alaska miles per Virgin America point could be too generous. So I wouldn’t count on this happening anytime in the next few weeks.

virgin-america-first-class
Don’t expect elite upgrades to Virgin America first class anytime soon

What’s next for the “new” Alaska?

The next big thing that Alaska and Virgin have to do is get on a single FAA operating certificate, which they hope to accomplish this coming year.

One big question a lot of customers have is what the combined airline will look like in terms of branding. As of now Alaska is continuing to say that they’re not sure how the airline will be branded going forward, and it’s something they hope to figure out in early 2017:

No decisions regarding the Virgin America brand have been made. Alaska plans to continue to operate the Virgin America fleet with its current name and product for a period of time while it conducts extensive customer research to understand what fliers value the most. Virgin America will continue to fly under its brand with no immediate changes to the onboard product or experience.

“We appreciate that there is great interest in the future of the Virgin America brand among customers and employees alike,” said Tilden. “This is a big decision and one that deserves months of thoughtful and thorough analysis. We plan to make a decision about the Virgin America brand early next year.”

virgin-america-economy
Nothing will be changing with Alaska or Virgin America immediately

Bottom line

We’ll get some modest reciprocal frequent flyer benefits starting next week, though as of now that’s about it. I’ll be curious to see what direction the combined airline takes. It’s interesting the degree to which they’re embracing their differences, as they’re even using the tagline “Different Works,” and have a dedicated merger website, with the URL differentworks.com.

different-works

I’d beg to differ — when it comes to one airline, “different” doesn’t work. As customers we want a consistent — not “different” — experience when flying on an airline. Of course I suspect this is just a marketing phrase they’re using for now given the position the airline is in, and hopefully they recognize the importance of a consistent customer experience.

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. From the “Different Works” website – Beginning Monday, January 9: “Elevate Silver and Gold members will be status matched into Alaska’s Mileage Plan, unlocking generous benefits like complimentary upgrades on Alaska flights.”

  2. I think Alaska needs to offer 2:1 ratio on miles to keep a firm hold of loyal Virgin passengers. It’s not much but being cheap and offering say 1.5:1 or even worse 1:1 won’t seem very exciting to Virgins.
    I think they should go steal Spirits PR folks to make the most of the merger 🙂

  3. Will I be able to fly Virgin to earn EQM’s and EQD’s on AA just like I do on Alaska?

    This would be fantastic if it were allowed…

  4. What do you think the best way would be to status match to virgin silver so I can then get MVP with AS. I’m MVP with Alaska but will loose it 2/17 and want to keep it.

  5. No match to Virgin as that program will be eliminated. Instead MP members get elite benefits on Virgin flights.

  6. Ben, I received an email today from Citi stating that as of January 22nd ThankYou points will no longer be transferrable to Virgin America Elevate. Now that the Alaska/Virgin merger is final, could this be a short-lived way to transfer ThankYou points to Alaska? Would you speculatively transfer ThankYou points to Elevate hoping that they will be later transferrable to Alaska Mileage Plan?

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