Alaska Is Adding New York To San Jose Flights, Provides Update On JFK Lounge

Alaska and Virgin America are slowly becoming one airline operationally, and as a result we’re seeing them adjust service in some markets. Alaska and Virgin America have been on a single operating certificate since the beginning of the year, and as of April 24, 2018, all Virgin America flights will have Alaska flight numbers, meaning that the airlines will be fully integrated as of that point. The airlines have even aligned their first class onboard catering as of the beginning of this month, and both airlines now offer the same catering in first class (which is an upgrade for Alaska passengers and downgrade for Virgin America passengers).

Historically Virgin America was the airline with a big presence at JFK, and it looks like Alaska plans on maintaining that. Alaska has just announced some interesting updates regarding JFK.

The Alaska Lounge JFK will be opening in late April

We’ve known for a while that an Alaska Lounge will be opening at JFK Terminal 7. Both airlines recently co-located to Terminal 7, which is otherwise primarily inhabited by British Airways. Not only is this great news for Alaska and Virgin America passengers, but I would assume that this lounge is likely to join Priority Pass, so this will be a great option for those flying out of the terminal who don’t otherwise have lounge access.

It has now been announced that the Alaska Lounge JFK Terminal 7 will be opening in late April, so it should be open within a few weeks. Alaska says that this lounge will “offer a premium lounge experience featuring signature touches like a barista for custom crafted coffee drinks and a relaxing living room feel that embodies the airlines’ cool, West Coast vibe.”

As someone who loves good coffee, I appreciate that they’ll have a barista to make coffee drinks, since currently Alaska Lounges just have automated machines (though they do have the Starbucks machines, which are among the better ones out there).


Coffee machine at the Alaska Lounge Portland Airport

Alaska is adding routes from JFK to San Jose & Seattle

As I said above, historically JFK has been a focus airport for Virgin America, and not for Alaska. Alaska’s first ever flight to JFK started in September 2015. Since then they’ve increased service to twice daily, and in November 2017 they introduced flights between Portland and New York JFK. They’re now expanding their presence further.

As of July 6, 2018, Alaska will be introducing once daily flights between San Jose and New York JFK, with the following schedule:

San Jose to New York JFK departing 7:05AM arriving 3:43PM
New York JFK to San Jose departing 4:45PM arriving 8:23PM

On top of that, Alaska will be introducing a third daily flight between Seattle and New York JFK, with the following schedule:

Seattle to New York JFK departing 7:05AM arriving 3:35PM
New York JFK to Seattle departing 6:55PM arriving 10:26PM

While they show 3x daily flights for summer and fall, as of November 4 the Seattle to New York JFK route goes back to two daily flights, with the elimination of the redeye.

Given that JFK is a restricted airport, my guess is that these new routes are coming at the expense of some of Virgin America’s other transcon flights. However, based on looking at the schedule as of now, I can’t spot any route cuts.

Both of these routes will be operated by A320 aircraft, initially featuring Virgin America’s current eight first class seats. However, over time these planes will be reconfigured with more seats, as complimentary upgrades are introduced on Virgin America flights as well.

Virgin America’s current first class seats

With these updates, Alaska will operate flights from New York JFK to six west coast(ish) cities, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle.

Alaska’s transcon strategy still confuses me

What still makes no sense to me is that going forward, Alaska doesn’t intend to offer a special premium product on transcon flights. On flights between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco, American, Delta, JetBlue, and United, all offer flat beds in business class. While Virgin America hasn’t historically offered a special product on this route, they do have spacious recliner seats that are significantly better than what you usually find in domestic first class.


JetBlue Mint, available between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco

Going forward Alaska plans to configure all planes in the same way, and doesn’t plan on having a special subfleet for these routes. The interesting thing about these markets is that we’ve seen fares driven down and have also seen a huge amount of innovation with the products. If Alaska doesn’t install a special premium product, they’re going to lose any chance of capturing premium cabin market share.


The new first class coming to Alaska & Virgin America

I guess they’ve decided that they’re fine with that, and that they hope to have decent yields in economy. It’s puzzling, though. Maybe Alaska will come around and change their mind.

Bottom line

It’s interesting to see the evolution of Alaska as they finish their takeover of Virgin America. This whole merger still seems like a bad fit in many ways. I get that Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America was largely motivated by their desire to keep the airline out of JetBlue’s hands. The airlines just have such different DNAs, and they seem to be struggling with how to combine the two. Their stock certainly isn’t doing great…

Comments

  1. Alaska: Barista in club but no flat bed seating
    Delta: Flat bed seating but no Barista in club.

    Delta wins here.

  2. Well Lucky, look at Copa. They’re doing fine even tho they dont have beds on their 73s. That also reminds me, whats the travel time between NY and Anchorage again?

  3. Virgin America’s first class was always fine for a non-redeye flight. I flew it many times by making use of the discounted upgrades that you could call and pay for within a certain number of hours before departure (I can’t remember what it was, but I remember stepping out of a club to make the call in the middle of the night numerous times lol). The seats were really nice back in the day, and the pitch is ridiculous. It’s a shame that Alaska isn’t keeping more of what made Virgin special.

  4. @ Juan M — the difference is that there aren’t four other airlines flying nonstop between Panama and Los Angeles with flat beds. It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.

  5. @ echino — In the US I’d usually tip bartenders in an airline lounge. If I recall correctly Alaska used to stand out from the rest in discouraging tipping, but maybe I’m misremembering.

  6. I would’ve thought Alaska would offer ‘light’ premium fares more along the lines of economy comfort, but they haven’t. I have absolutely no idea how Alaska charges $600-$1,000.00 for a transcon F ticket. Even their upgrade pricing for MVP Golds is higher than Mint fares. Not only is their hard product worst in class, their soft product is below economy of other carriers on this route. For example, recently they recently eliminated the snack basket on transcon first class flights with their new catering, and still are too cheap to provide PDB’s. Meanwhile, JetBlue has a fridge and snack bar in the middle of the plane for -coach- passengers (not to mention free WiFi and live TV.)

    The Alaska lounge at JFK can’t open fast enough- I’m sure they’ve lost some customers to JetBlue and Delta because of the total clusterf*** their ground operations are in. Despite construction starting nearly a year ago the terminal is in awful shape, with most of the escalators/elevators still broken, practically no concessions, and 20 minute long lines to use what few bathrooms the terminal has (which are in a shocking state of disrepair) , and no TSA Precheck or fast track security.

  7. The flight timings make sense especially for techies, especially given the existing JetBlue nonstop flight timings SJC-JFK. And AA award mileage can be used for these flights, which can be a nice alternative to crazy busy SFO and the horrible SF traffic. Though I do love those A321 transcon flights on AA.

  8. Not to mention Jetblue (and Delta) will win out on premium flyers to Alaska’s Seattle hub as they ramp up their Mint product from JFK and BOS.

  9. @Alpha, agreed, I assumed they would try to hit a price point with their first class that was below what the flat bed carriers are charging, but looking at the pricing it looks like they’re basically just matching what JetBlue is charging for Mint.

    The impression I got earlier was that Alaska was trying to target people who wanted first class but did not think paying for a flatbed on a daytime trancon was worth it.

    @Lucky, do you think it’s feasible for Alaska to offer this product if they hit a pricepoint between coach and what the flatbed carriers are charging on this route?

    Is it possible the fact that they’re relatively generous with upgrades for elites a factor in why they’re nto offering a more premium first class product? I wonder if the fact Delta has now started to include “Delta One” flights in complimentary upgrades changes the equation.

  10. Very few businesses allow their employees a business class seat, especially domestically. If AS is going for the FF who can buy Economy and get a free upgrade to their First product, then that is a market they can capture. As an MVP Gold, I get upgraded to First much, much more on AS than on other airlines where I am also a Gold.

  11. @Lucky the reason they aren’t introducing lie flat seats is because they have no interest in competing with all the rest of the airlines in the lie-flat market and would much rather use their first class cabin to attract frequent flyers by offering upgrades. Not saying I agree or disagree with the strategy but that is their thought process though.

  12. @ Al — Not even sure they’ll attract many of them, since American and Delta also offer upgrades to elite members between NY and LA/SF.

  13. @lucky – Even top level elites rarely clear upgrades on premium transcon routes. So if most paid premium traffic goes to AA/DL and frequent economy flyers start to understand that AS premium isn’t as nice, but upgrades clear far more often… I certainly would consider switching my coach bookings to AS.

  14. The only reason why I have ever been ale to make sense of the Alaska/Virgin buyout was to kill West Coast competition. Jet Blue would have made so much more sense!

  15. Let’s map out the transcon market

    1) AA only offers JFK to SFO and LAX with their premium transcon product. They fly JFK to SEA with a limited schedule and a regular plane, don’t fly JFK to PDX, etc. Plus, AA doesn’t offer many economy seats on their premium transcon planes. Alaska can’t really compete with AA for paid premium transcons in J or F, but they can compete for a normal economy customer. Frankly Virgin was doing this pretty well too.

    2) Alaska’s real competitors in the transcon market are Delta and JetBlue. Here, they look a bit weaker in terms of product. Alaska does have better FF programs than both (particularly JetBlue), but “premium” customers based on NYC will likely prefer Delta and JetBlue.

    I think you have to think of this from a West coast perspective. Alaska probably isn’t going to “win” transcon routes, but they do offer enough service to JFK now from all of their West Coast cities that will allow them to win passengers in those markets, especially if they are doing daytime flights.

  16. @Al: that’s indeed their thought process. However i think the business world evolves faster than ever, one cannot survive this brutal competition without innovating.

  17. As somebody who’s been elite on both American (EP) and Alaska (75k), I’m telling you I’d much rather take my upgrade chances with AS than AA. And most folks who are in an Alaska hub city know this.

    Smart move.

  18. Lucky: Alaska’s transcon strategy still confuses me…What still makes no sense to me is that going forward, Alaska doesn’t intend to offer a special premium product on transcon flights. On flights between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco, American, Delta, JetBlue, and United, all offer flat beds in business class.

    Possible answer: I prefer a non-red eye. I know that some people have unlimited stamina and can work in LA during the day, half work / half nap on a red eye, and continue to work in NY, but I am not one of them.

    If not on a red eye, I don’t want to lie flat. I want to sit up. Flat beds offer no benefit.

    Airlines could raise the ante. Have walls so there are lie flat beds and sex. That would attract some people, particularly if sex were provided by male or female FA, depending on your preference.

  19. “Not even sure they’ll attract many of them, since American and Delta also offer upgrades to elite members between NY and LA/SF.”

    I abandoned AA platinum last year because I wasn’t getting upgraded any longer, and other plat members had anecdotal evidence they weren’t either given how many EP’s got upgrades. And on the latest NY-SF transcon I was seated as usual in row 11 next to an EP who couldn’t even score an upgrade that day.

    Hence why I also went MVP Gold and was more hopeful about upgrades…at least for now.

  20. Even if the new lounge is accessible with Priority Pass, will it be closed to PP due to capacity constraints like at LAX? I haven’t been able to get into the LAX Alaska lounge using PP for over a year. Maybe it’s just bad luck / timing on my part.

  21. Alaska needs to recycle the puffy white first class seats from VX into their Alaska Lounges 🙂 They’re so lux ! Or offer them for points.

  22. @Michael C- I recently entered the LAX lounge using PP on Sunday evening. It was awfully crowded but there seemed to be no restrictions on PP entry even as I left. Likely a timing issue?

  23. For those passengers willing to pay $500 and up one-way, the AS transcons will probably only attract west coast AS elites and east coast Mileage Plan devotees. Why else pay such high fares for an upgradable fare, even with an immediate upgrade on booking? Regular first class fares are even further in the stratosphere.

  24. @Lucky
    You remember correctly. Currently Alaska lounges have a no tipping policy so I’d assume it will be the same with the Barista.

  25. Lounges: Alaska does have no tipping signs at all lounges. An SFO club can’t open soon enough!

    Regarding the transcon product, I think you aren’t seeing the entire picture, and I’m also assuming you aren’t a frequent flyer with Alaska – or you’d see the true value proposition.

    AA/DL/UA/B6 nail their folks with change fees . As a Delta Gold, I spent nearly $2,900 in one year ALONE on change fees (NOT difference in airfare). Alaska lets us book & cancel on a whim, even on partners booked thru alaskaair.com That alone is HUGE. Alaska, being based in Seattle, has something Virgin America never did: an in with corporate accounts with super large companies. So they’ll get a lot of corporate traffic, and also folks who want more than 900 miles for a transcon flight. The First product is *GOOD*, and the buy-up instant fares into F were pioneered by Alaska, and I believe all 4 airlines limit upgrades or make it hard on the transcons. Alaska, there will be a standby list for “U” space to open, or people will buy instant-upgrade fares to get out of steerage and into First. If you recall some of the Alaska quarterly SEC calls in the early 2010s, you’ll remember Alaska saying how they were getting significant upgrade revenues into F – and they still do, to this day. I’ll bet you its still more than what Virgin got, since they required a pure $$$ upgrade amount, whereas Alaska was able to go from 18% of F sold to nearly 65%-ish today, which is probably higher than any of The Big 3.

    The “new” Alaska First is a nice upgrade for us AS Gold/75Ks. I used to hate getting any seat except row 1 as I liked to work on my flight. I can NOT open my laptop on AA, DL, or UA in a 737, but I can on Alaska. The new first class has 41″ of seat pitch, which also lets me get in and out without the person at the aisle having to get up when I have a window. I’ll miss the red rope, autopilot kits, PDB – but Alaska has time to add more to F to make it closer to what VX had.

  26. Delta only has flat beds on JFK routes to LAX and SFO, and soon to SEA. If Alaska flies JFK to San Jose, they aren’t competing with Delta One on that route. And this article, based on the title, is about JFK San Jose

  27. Looks like Alaska (the old Virgin America flights) are no longer going to fly their twice-daily flights from SFO to DEN. June 5th is the last day these flights are scheduled. I can’t find them after that date. Anyone hear about this cancellation?

    Also, Delta just added a flight from SJC – JFK starting June 8th. Before that, the only flights from SJC to JFK was on jetBlue BUT on a plane with no Mint product. Both of these Delta and jetBlue flights are redeyes.

    The other two flights from San Jose to New York are SJC – EWR on United and Alaska.

    I think this move is a smart move for Alaska to add a daytime SJC – JFK flight!

  28. @haolenate

    JetBlue doesn’t have change fees for Mosaics and has a more generous 24 hour same-day-change policy (though apparently Alaska’s changing this to match, too.)

    I’m an MVP Gold (rare for an east coaster) and a Mosaic and Alaska’s transcon offering isn’t particularly compelling. In fact, for last-minute fares or desirable travel dates I’m seeing a mere ~$100 price difference between JetBlue Mint and Alaska *coach* , so unless I’m getting a comp’d upgrade to F on Alaska at a rock-bottom fare (in which case, smashing!) , jetBlue is the way to go. Even if i’m trying to fly on the cheap, the Y experience on their A321t’s is very good, and as a Mosaic I can secure an EMS seat in advance for points (which is usually a nominal amount.)

    I understand their value prop as a regional airline, but I just don’t think they know how to compete on the transcon market, where airlines bring their A game and pax just don’t want to gamble and risk getting stuck in their miserable coach product on a 6 hour flight when they can secure the experience they want for a fair price.

  29. @alpha,

    There are some lame quirks to the Alaska SDC policy… it bit me recently when flying ANC-SEA-XXX as I was on a 2:20AM flight but wanted to hop on the 11:50PM flight… apparently that’s not possible, so I hope they make it more lenient moving into the VX territory of more red-eyes and transcons. I <3 the ability to do SDC at 10PM day prior, rather than the restrictive 6 hour window for everyone else.

    Regarding the insta-fares, 75Ks can get into F with "U" space open on Y, S, B, M, H, and Z fares. On SFO/JFK, the H fare is $389.00. Mint's lowest is $859 (published).

    I think the Elevate flyers will soon find a new appreciation for Alaska – yes, its not the same Virgin America product, but an instant upgrade for a transcon into F for $389 is a steal… they'll probably gladly take that F seat with less food and no PDB. I think the corporate travelers will find this much, much more appealing while remaining in their travel policy rules.

  30. I was offered Delta One on SFO-BOS for $1100, a route where they have no meaningful competition at this caliber. I don’t see how AS can offer this first class with all the competition for the same price.

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