Category Archives: Alaska Airlines

Wow, This Is New: An Airline Actually ADDS A Frequent Flyer Benefit

Alaska Airlines just announced that their Mileage Plan members will now earn elite qualifying miles on all of its international partners (previously, I believe you only earned redeemable miles on nearly all – if not all – international partners). This is a really, really nice enhancement to the program, which I have called the “most underrated frequent flyer plan.” (I love when bloggers quote themselves, as if saying the same thing a few times makes it more true.) Alaska, for those who don’t know, allow you to earn and redeem on Delta and American, making it extremely flexible. Plus they have these additional partners:

AeroMexico
Air France
British Airways
Cathay Pacific
Emirates
Era Alaska
Fiji Airways
KLM
Korean
AirLAN
PenAir
Qantas

I don’t think any program comes close in terms of flexibility of earning and redeeming. In fact, if I weren’t a slave to United, I’d fly American & Delta (I live in NY) and post the miles to Alaska.

In any case, given all of the devaluations recently, it’s great to see a program continue to add value for its members.

Alaska Airlines Fights Back Against Delta, Adds Flights from Salt Lake City

Alaska Airlines announced new flights from Salt Lake City to LA, San Diego, Portland, and Seattle, clearly in retaliation for Delta’s recent announced growth in Seattle (Delta has announced new flights from Seattle to Anchorage, Fairbanks, Vancouver, LA, Portland, San Diego and San Francisco).

Delta’s incursion into Seattle is puzzling: They have a codeshare relationship with Alaska already, I’m not sure why they would add new flights — if their growth there is meant to help feed their international long-haul flights (Amsterdam, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, Shanghai and soon to London), surely that could have been accomplished with an Alaska codeshare. Instead, they chose to go after Alaska, adding routes already served by them.

The SLC news is clearly a response to that – it’s only a handful of flights, so it’s more about them making a point. The interesting question is, as a reader wrote me this morning, whether American Airlines looks to boost its relationship with Alaska now that Delta has made it clear that they’re not interested in continuing the tie-up. Seems like it would be a smart move for the new AA, growing out their business in the Northwest and further into Mexico. And while Alaska isn’t looking to be sold right now, in 18-24 months do they become the final piece of the US-AA puzzle? Perhaps…

Still, I have no idea why Delta would have chosen to pick on Alaska up in Seattle…love to hear what people think is going on.

Alaska Airlines Will Add In-Seat Power This Fall

Alaska Airlines announced that it will add in-seat power outlets on its 737-700, -800, and -900 aircraft this fall.

In addition to in-flight wi-fi, Alaska said they will soon announce a provider for in-flight streaming of movies, TV and music to wi-fi-enabled devices.

Where I Add My Inevitable Two Cents to the Discussion about US Airways and American

Oh, the Chicken Littles have been out in full force for the US Airways – American Airlines merger. The sky is falling for US Airways frequent flyer members, they say. The sky is falling for consumers who like cheap airfare. The sky is falling for American Airlines customers because US Airways runs such a low frills operation. And on and on – perhaps I’m reading more of this from bloggers than from anyone, but if I were to believe everything I’ve read about this impending link-up, absolutely everyone involved will be screwed over.

Fortunately, that’s simply not true.

Although we think of airlines as a consumer business (and airlines have – quite unfortunately – sold themselves to consumers as a service business), they are, depending on how you look at it, either a manufacturing business or, more simply, a utility.

I remember interviewing at Northwest Airlines a zillion years ago, and someone I met with said that Northwest’s then-CEO (I can’t remember who it was) described the airline as a manufacturing company – they manufacture connections at hubs. If you look at the decisions they made in the late 90s and early 00s, that philosophy explains how the airline was run — they put off replacing their then-25-year-old DC9s because, well, why replace them when they were low-cost and allowed them to make connections in Minneapolis between Minot-originating passengers and flights going to Milwaukee.

They’re also quite a bit like a utility – specifically, the telecom industry. Without blah blah blahing about it here, think back to the history of the long distance companies – starting as small regional players which then came together as AT&T, which the government broke up into smaller companies before re-merging and settling on 3 or 4 groups with a national footprint. Or cell carriers, which developed similarly with smaller regional companies combining into a handful of large national players with a few primarily-low-cost-focused regional players. Sound familiar?

My point is that the US Airways-American merger was inevitable. Following deregulation the US probably needed 3-4 national carriers with a handful of niche players focused on the low end. It took a while for that to happen – I guess because funding was so easy to come by for new airlines for so many years (good luck raising money to start an airline today). But it was ultimately putting off the inevitable consolidation that one would expect in either the utility or manufacturing industries (especially commodity manufacturing, which is pretty much what we’re dealing with in an airline).

Dozens of airlines started up in the US after deregulation and we’re left with JetBlue, Spirit and Allegiant (Frontier will be gone soon enough, no?). That’s pretty much it. Spirit and Allegiant lowered their costs enough to thrive as a low-priced commodity provider. JetBlue is an interesting case where (at least initially) they de-commoditized the product and kept costs low, allowing them to provide a low cost, high value product in a commodity marketplace. Nicely done.

In so many industries we see crowded markets evolve into 3-4 major players, and that’s where we’ll end up with United, Delta, American and Southwest driving the industry. (This probably begs the question of what happens to Alaska Airlines – conceivably someone would scoop it up to build out their West Coast presence, but more likely they’ll enjoy their deep Northwest footprint while continuing to innovate operationally and will be left alone for the foreseeable future).

When an airline merger is announced I always see articles suggesting that airline mergers fail because the combined entity will have too much route overlap; or too many hubs; or too many aircraft types. That’s all nonsense. If there’s too much overlap, the combined carrier can redeploy those aircraft elsewhere. Airlines used to focus on 3 or 4 hubs (if that), but the world has changed and carriers are thriving with many hubs — Delta has a significant presence in Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, New York City, whatever’s left of Memphis, and a handful of focus cities. Why is it a concern that US Airways and American will have sizable presences in New York, Philadephia, Washington, Charlotte, Miami, Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix and LA (I feel like I missed one)? If Phoenix doesn’t make much sense they’ll downsize it until it does. Is that a reason not to merge? No.

So-called “consumer advocates” complain that consolidation leads to higher fares. That’s probably true for flights between the hubs of two merging carriers (for example, in United’s case, between Chicago and Houston; or between Newark and Chicago). But according to the Wall Street Journal, airfares have dropped an inflation-adjusted 15% since 2000. You simply cannot argue that consumers are worse off because of consolidation. A healthy set of lowfare airlines keeps prices in check (complain about Spirit all you want, but people in Dallas and Houston should be thrilled they’re adding flights there). And you know what’s worse for consumers than slightly higher fares? No flights at all, which is what you would end up with if all of the airlines that have merged out of necessity over the years disappeared. Check out a route map from 1973 some time –you think we haven’t benefitted from nonstop flights? Consolidation has brought dozens (if not hundreds) of new nonstop flights while at the same time providing customers with cheap fares. This merger is just the final piece of that.

Finally, on the frequent flyer front. I can understand why there may be some concern, especially from US Airways Dividend Miles members. The tie up with Star Alliance (which will end at some point after the merger) provided some amazing fuel surcharge-free international redemptions. And you can kiss that 90,000 mile business class Asia award goodbye. But US Airways also had some annoying quirks (no one-way redemptions). Like with everything, there will be good and bad. And honestly, it doesn’t really matter what you think because this merger is going to happen, and Dividend Miles will disappear and in 18-24 months you can enjoy whatever the AAdvantage program has to offer. Northwest Worldperks had some pretty good awards too, and that’s gone and no one talks about it anymore. In 36 months no one will miss Dividend Miles, trust me (well, except for those of us who churned that credit card over and over).

That’s a lot of words to say this: consolidation is inevitable; US Airways has some of the best managers in the industry and will make AA a successful airline in a way that their own management could not; you won’t lose any service; your fares won’t go up; and you’ll still collect a ton of frequent flyer miles. You think there’s really anything bad about a world where you can print frequent flyer miles through credit card signups and then use them on alliance carriers to go wherever the hell you want for free? We’ve got it pretty good.

Nah, Alaska Airlines Doesn’t Really Want to Serve Paine Field Outside Seattle

Alaska Airlines put out a press release yesterday that included a proposed schedule for flights from the airport, located about 40 miles north of Sea-Tac. They say they would initially serve Vegas, Honolulu, Maui and Portland, eventually adding Phoenix, LA and San Diego.

The announcement was interesting, primarily because it’s pretty clear that Alaska does not actually want to serve the airport. As they note in the release, there’s currently no passenger terminal there, so that would have to be built.

And if we read closely, they say they’re happy at Sea-Tac, but:

“If one or more other airlines begin operations at Paine Field, we would commence service alongside these carriers. Submitting a schedule with the FAA along with a request for authorization to serve Paine is a necessary step in the process.”

In other words, if Allegiant were to start serving Paine Field, we will go after them.

It’s worth noting here that the cities they say they’ll serve – Honolulu, Maui, Portland and Vegas – are exactly the same cities Allegiant flies from a small airport in Bellingham, north of Seattle.

In short? Alaska likely put the announcement out to show Allegiant that if they plan on starting operations at Paine Field, they’ll be there right beside them.

Icelandair Allowing Redemptions on Alaska Airlines Again Beginning January 20

The biggest splash this site has ever made was when we wrote about the ability to buying Icelandair Saga points to redeem for cheap first class tickets to Hawaii. It was so successful that Icelandair stopped allowing it.

Gary at View from the Wing reports that Icelandair will allow points redemptions on Alaska Airlines again beginning January 20th, though at higher rates. Continental US and Canada are 25,000 miles for coach and 50,000 for First; Hawaii & Mexico are 40,000 in coach and 80,000 in First. Previously it was 20,000/30,000 for all flights.

You can buy Saga points at roughly $1.23 $.0123 per mile (I was an English major, sorry). That means that you can buy domestic first class tickets for $615 round trip within the US (assuming there’s availability for award tickets). That’s a pretty good deal in many cases.

This is also good news for everyone who found themselves stuck with Icelandair Saga points.

Happy to answer any questions.

UPDATE: Icelandair/Alaska Redemption Deal Ends Tonight (8/31) at 8pm Eastern

Hello all.

I just received an email from Icelandair telling me that the Icelandair deal as we know it will end at 8pm Eastern Time tonight, August 31st. I don’t know much more, but here’s what I do know:

- They are going to pull Alaska Airline redemptions tonight. They will come back at some point, but it will be at different redemption levels.

- They are still working through the taxes issue people have had – if you have emailed them, they will get back to you.

- The points are good for 4 years.

- If you are stuck with points that you purchased, you are basically stuck with points that you purchased. You can certainly wait until Alaska redemptions come back. You can redeem for a Radisson Hotel (34,000 points for a top level Radisson Blu, down to 18,000 points for a Park Inn (22,000 for a “Level B” hotel). See hotels here.

- If you feel you can’t let the points sit in Icelandair (which is what I would do – let them sit there), the best points.com exchange is with US Airways, which will get you 593 Dividend Miles for every 1,000 Icelandair Saga points.

- Redeeming on Icelandair isn’t a bad deal at all (at least not in coach), especially during the summer. The chart is here, but it’s 50,000 points to Iceland from the Eastern US and 60,000 to most of Europe (that works out to about $575 for a flight to Europe – not too bad).

- If you do wish to top up your account so you have enough points for a Europe trip, remember that the 20% mileage purchase bonus goes through September 28th.

- Thanks to the literally hundreds of people who have written me and posted comments here helping others through this deal. And thanks to Icelandair, which has been incredibly helpful as they’ve dealt with more calls than they’ve ever received before.

- And those of you who tend to post on blogs about how bloggers “kill the deal” please save your comments for elsewhere.

I’m on vacation, but I will try to answer whatever additional questions people have today. Unfortunately, this is all I know at this point.

Icelandair Update: What To Do If You’ve Been Overcharged on Taxes

Quick update this morning: A number of people have written me (and posted on other sites) that they feel they have been overcharged on taxes for tickets purchased with the Icelandair/Alaska Airlines deal. For non-Mexico travel, taxes and fees should be in the $60-70 range. For Mexico tickets, it will be higher than that (I don’t have the exact amount in front of me, but I seem to remember it was something like $125/ticket – let me know if I’m wrong).

If you have been charged taxes that are significantly higher than those amounts, my Icelandair contact has asked that you send an email to icc@icelandair.is — they’ll investigate. I believe that a couple of days ago they started charging taxes (US Departure tax, Passenger Facility Charges) that should not be charged on Award Tickets. I’m not 100% sure of that, but I think this may explain why some people are seeing charges in the $150 range instead of $70.

If you hear back from Icelandair, please post your experiences here.

UPDATE: a few (or more than a few) have said that they have emailed that address and not heard back yet. I spoke with my contact at Icelandair and they know about the emails and are working through them one-by-one. They will get to yours if you sent them an email, but it will take a bit of time. They’re swamped (again). Thanks for everyone’s continued patience.

Thursday Icelandair Update: Points Are Now Processing

Hi all. Good news: Icelandair is once again able to process points. Purchases from yesterday should now be processed – you will receive an email if you purchased yesterday with confirmation.

Today’s purchases are in-process and should be complete by end of day.

If you purchased yesterday and DID NOT receive an email, Icelandair asks that you contact points.com. Good luck with that :)

A Clarification on Stopovers and Connections for People Booking the Icelandair/Alaska Airlines Deal

I’ve gotten A TON of questions from readers who are trying to take advantage of the Icelandair/Alaska Airlines deal and book flights from Newark/Boston/DC/Chicago/Atlanta/Texas and are having difficulties. I (think) I now know why:

Icelandair has been kind enough to clarify the rules around stopovers and connections. You are permitted one stopover or one open-jaw on a ticket. As I guessed earlier, a stopover is any flight that has a 4-hour or greater layover. Virtually ALL flights from the East/Midwest/South have a 4-hour+ layover in BOTH DIRECTIONS when heading to Hawaii. That’s considered TWO stopovers, and the rules do not permit it.

The Icelandair team assured me that booking a connection UNDER 4 hours is not a problem, and booking ONE stopover (or what you might consider a long connection) is not a problem. But two 4-hour+ connections is not allowed.

I’m happy to answer questions – either post in comments or email me at jared (at) onlinetravelreview.com.