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Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America closed about a year ago, and the airlines have been working on streamlining things as much as possible. Prior to the merger, just about the only thing that the airlines had in common was their strength on the west coast. Just about everything else about the airlines was different, from their fleets, to their frequent flyer programs, to their “style,” to their approach to inflight entertainment, etc.
So the airlines have started co-locating in terminals around the country as much as possible, though that’s not necessarily an easy task, given how congested airports are. This has also presented a challenge on the lounge front.
Alaska Airlines operates their own lounges in Anchorage, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle. Alaska gives all paid first class passengers (whether paying cash or on an award) access to lounges for all domestic flights, so that’s a nice gesture.
On top of that, Alaska has reciprocal lounge agreements with other other airlines. You don’t have access to these partner lounges on account of being on a first class ticket, though you do have access if you’re an Alaska Lounge member.
Alaska’s largest hub where they don’t operate their own lounge is SFO. This is Virgin America’s home airport, and in the meantime both Alaska and Virgin America have co-located most (though not all) of their flights to Terminal 2. Alaska continues to operate some flights out of the international terminal. Alaska Lounge members have two lounge options:
- If departing Terminal 2 (where most Alaska and Virgin America flights depart from), Alaska Lounge members can use the American Admirals Club
- If departing the International Terminal (where a limited number of Alaska flights depart from), Alaska Lounge members can use the Cathay Pacific Lounge
I guess this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but Alaska Lounge members will no longer have access to the Admirals Club in San Francisco as of January 1, 2018. While Alaska and American are scaling back their relationship, I don’t think this is directly related to that. Rather the American Admirals Club no longer has the space to handle the volume of Alaska passengers that are using it, given the number of flights that have been shifted over to this terminal.
Alaska is working on finding their own lounge space in Terminal 2, though I’m not sure they’ll have much luck there, as the terminal is already pretty much at capacity.
So, what’s the best alternative for Alaska flyers who still value lounge access at SFO? Get an Admirals Club membership. Admirals Club members can access Alaska Lounges regardless of whether they’re flying American or Alaska, and can also access Admirals Clubs regardless of which airline they’re flying.
The cheapest way to get an Admirals Club membership is to pick up the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®. This is the best way to access Admirals Clubs — the card has a $450 annual fee, though the primary cardmember gets an Admirals Club membership, and you can add up to 10 authorized users at no additional cost, and each of them gets Admirals Club access as well. If you do did this:
- The primary cardmember would get the full membership that also gets reciprocal access to Alaska Lounges
- Additional cardmembers would get Admirals Club access regardless of which airline they fly, though they wouldn’t get access to Alaska Lounges
The card’s $450 annual fee is equal to the absolute cheapest Admirals Club membership you could buy. That’s the price for Executive Platinum members, though if you have lower status you’d pay more, and you also wouldn’t be able to add 10 authorized users at no additional cost.
I’m curious to see how Alaska resolves this situation. Historically Alaska is an airline that offers lounges at their hubs, while Virgin America doesn’t. With Alaska being the surviving airline, it sure seems like they want to open a lounge at SFO. However, it remains to be seen whether they can actually get any space in Terminal 2.