Alaska Flyers Will Soon Have More Reciprocal Benefits On Virgin America

Marriott’s takeover of Starwood closed in September, and on day one they introduced reciprocal status matching and points transfers. That’s damn impressive, especially when you consider that the two programs have nearly 100 million members.

Maybe they just set the bar too high, because by comparison it seems like Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America is going at a snail’s pace. Alaska still hasn’t decided how they want to brand Virgin America going forward. I appreciate them taking their time to make these important decisions, though I don’t quite get why they can’t make progress in other areas.

alaska-virgin

Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America closed in December, and there’s still not much in the way of reciprocity between the two airlines. As of now:

  • Alaska flyers can earn miles for travel on Virgin America, and vice versa
  • Alaska elite members receive priority check-in and boarding on Virgin America, and vice versa

But that’s just about it! Alaska has offered status matches to Virgin America elite members, but not the other way around. In other words, a top tier elite on Alaska doesn’t even get free checked bags when flying Virgin America, which is ridiculous.

You’d think the easiest short term solution here would be for Alaska and Virgin America to offer reciprocal status matches. That seems only logical, since you’d think Alaska would want to incentivize Alaska flyers to try Virgin America (which they now own) over a competitor.

virgin-america-a320

But for example, if you’re flying from San Francisco to New York as an Alaska elite you’d receive more benefits flying American than you would if flying Virgin America.

Well, the good news is that it looks like Alaska and Virgin America will be introducing more reciprocal benefits… eventually. The Points Guy notes that Alaska Mileage Plan members will soon receive more benefits when flying Virgin America. Specifically:

  • Starting in spring 2017, Alaska elites will receive two free checked bags on Virgin America
  • Starting in late summer 2017, Alaska elites will receive complimentary access to preferred Main Cabin seats, Main Cabin Select upgrades subject to availability closer to departure, and an advance purchase window for buying First Class upgrades, when flying Virgin America

virgin-america-first-class

These are all benefits that Virgin America Elevate members get. I don’t expect we’ll ever see free upgrades on Virgin America, at least not with their current product. However, the discounted paid upgrades can be a good value in many cases.

Bottom line

While I realize there’s a lot of work to be done, I’ve been disappointed by the pace of Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America. I’m all for them taking their time figuring out their branding, etc., but it’s silly that Alaska flyers are rewarded more when flying American than when flying an airline that Alaska owns.

I realize the underlying technology here can largely be the hold-up, which is why I think a status match is the easiest solution for now. But instead it will be another six months or so before Alaska flyers even get preferred seats on Virgin America.

Am I the only who has been disappointed by the pace of Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America?

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. I agree the Marriott/Starwood merger spoiled me. I expected the same level of combination, especially given that AS/VX had MONTHS of regulatory hold up to provide them time to think it through. (They can’t actually do anything until the regulatory issues were cleared, but they could think about it at least and put out guidance similar to what is coming today immediately.)

    I am AS75K in SF Bay Area. The first part of January, I asked on two VX flights to be put into at least the bulkhead/exit row (lots of space available). This was accommodated without issue and without charge.

    Then on a cross-continental, I was denied because the benefits weren’t reciprocal yet. When I asked “how much” to upgrade, it was $150 for exit/bulkhead or something similarly ludicrous. (I do realize they give you food/alcohol in those seats, but still.)

    First class was $399, but if I had been matched to VX, it would have been $249 because of the matched VX gold/silver elite status.

    I called Alaska’s gold support to complain after the fact, and that’s when I realized they are treating this internally as simply “another partner airline.”

    It appears that the AS>VX direction was not through through as much as the VX>AS, and that is a shame.

  2. Ben, As far as airline mergers go I would estimate this one is happening very fast. Remember how delayed the transaction was, these guys didn’t merge until December 2016. That was less than 3 months ago. I would guess outright status matching isn’t happening (from Alaska to Virgin) because Alaska wants to eventually discontinue the Elevate program. When the other 4 (or 8 before so) larger airlines merged it was 6 months before anything happened. We saw a number of actions by Alaska on day one.

    I do agree it’s silly why baggage allowance weren’t extended to Alaska elites on VX flights. That could have been done with an edict to VX associates.

  3. It’s not trivial to merge computer systems or make them compatible. And since much of the Virgin systems will be going away, it doesn’t make commercial sense to invest a lot in updating the Virgin systems, only to abandon it later.

    Anyone who is a Virgin elite didn’t get reciprocal statis on Alaska before, so there is no real loss.

  4. I was also a bit disappointed too when I booked a Virgin flight today, as an Alaska elite, and seeing I didn’t get some of the benefits, but it is important to remember that the merger barely closed a few months ago. This is completely new territory for both Virgin and Alaska and a lot of the work has to be done in baby steps. Given how many failed mergers have taken place in the past, it is better for them to under-promise and over-deliver rather than the other way around, so I’ll let that be until things are ready to quicken the pace.

  5. It looks like I will be able to get one free checked bag on VX as an Alaska Visa card holder beginning in “late March”. That’s fine, but I’d sure rather have my Alaska Gold benefits. (I sure hope “late March” begins before 3/28; The date of my next VX flight.)

  6. In all seriousness, me thinks thou doth protest too much. Several people have already noted that the merger closed but three months ago, and up until the last minute, it was unclear what the DOJ would demand in return for its signing off on the merger plan. I’ve been happy so far — but then again, I haven’t flown on Alaska yet, either.

    My real concern, as a VX elite (Gold), is how I qualify for elite status in the future. As an Elevate Gold, I was status matched as an Alaska MVP Gold. Both VX and AS permit qualifying on either miles *or* on flight segments. The problem, however, is that Alaska requires 30 segments for MVP status, 60 for MVP Gold, and 90 for MVP Gold 75K. In contrast, VX requires only 15 segments for their equivalent Elevate Silver status, and 30 for Gold (equal to MVP Gold). Qualifying on segments is significantly easier when the average flight one takes is <500 miles.

  7. A question re: Chase Ultimate Rewards and Alaska Airlines. Just wondering whether, if I link my Virgin Atlantic account to my Alaska account, is there any reason I can’t transfer UR points to Alaska by moving them through my Virgin Atlantic account?

  8. @ Johnny R. — You can transfer Virgin Atlantic points from Chase, but it’s Virgin America that is merging with Alaska. You can’t transfer Virgin Atlantic points to Alaska, unfortunately.

  9. I know this is old, but taking a shot here–I have two flights (LAX-SFO return in first // LAX-ORD in econ) and I’m wondering if I should credit the miles to Alaska… I don’t have status with either, but flying so I can be with the rest of the people going. I have a handful of Alaska miles and like…750 elevate points. Suggestions? Thanks ^_^

  10. @Garrett — through the end of this year, IF your flight is on VX, you definitely want to credit the flight to Virgin America. You’ll get _______ of points on Virgin, and when you then subsequently transfer them to AS, they transfer at a rate of 1 Elevate point = 1.3 Mileage Plan miles. It’s like getting a 30% bonus.

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