The Seattle Times is reporting that Aer Lingus, based in Dublin, is planning to partner with Alaska Airlines in a reciprocal frequent flyer agreement. That means the ability to earn and redeem miles with Alaska’s Mileage Plan program when you fly Aer Lingus to Ireland or any of its onward European connections. Aer Lingus will use the Airbus A330-200 on the route.
It’s likely that once this deal is officially announced it could take six months or longer before the partnership is actually implemented. The story as reported only quotes the CEO of Aer Lingus, Stephen Kavanagh, and I’ve heard absolutely zero chatter from Alaska Airlines. Leave it to my skeptical side to read something negative into what is otherwise a positive story about Seattle’s expanding global marketplace.
There’s been a lot of turmoil in the Mileage Plan department of Alaska Airlines in the last few years. Not just the addition of new partners like Singapore Airlines, Condor, JAL, and (return of) Icelandair. They’ve also been shedding them at a greater rate ever since Delta started to muscle into the Seattle market. Fellow SkyTeam partners KLM and Air France will be leaving at the end of April.
Ironically, Air France just returned to the PNW market today with a new nonstop service from Paris to Seattle.
Losing major carriers like Delta, Air France, and KLM is not good for Alaska’s reach into Europe. Although never part of a formal alliance, these partnerships extend the utility of its frequent flyer program and the attraction of the airline in general. Replacing them with Condor, Icelandair, Finnair, and Aer Lingus? They are hardly an equal trade.
At best these new partners support Alaska’s hold on the West Coast market. Aer Lingus currently operates flights to San Francisco and Los Angeles and is planning new service to Seattle.
None of this means that Alaska Mileage Plan is a bad program. The airline works well for domestic travel within the PNW and for those based here who want nonstop service to the rest of the country. The miles are valuable, and Asian partnerships remain strong. It has always been about finding a way to make it work for you, and just as no one expects United MileagePlus to be the program of choice for Muscovites, I don’t think Floridians are the target market for Mileage Plan. But I am concerned about the way these changes are being made.
Old partnerships seem to end suddenly and quietly, swept under the rug. What makes it worse is that details on some of these new partnerships take so long to materialize. It seems to take months to learn more about earning and redeeming miles. Aer Lingus marks a new low, leaked to the press before a formal announcement. I’d rather see something packaged and ready to go even if it still takes a few weeks to implement the back end systems.
It seems like British Airways is leaning on its friends as a favor to Alaska (Aer Lingus and British Airways are both part of IAG; Finnair is part of oneworld), and these minor deals trickling out over time don’t create confidence that Alaska has a grander strategy in mind. Even American Airlines, though it’s sticking around, is serving in a diluted capacity as domestic flights lose a lot of their earning potential. Constantly jumping the gun on new partnerships to shore up support just seems desperate.