Greetings from Alaska’s newest special livery! The Better Together plane is en route to San Francisco with dozens of employees and a few of the media on board to learn more about what to expect from the completed merger. There are so many excited people today — there’s even a second charter flight following just after this one to ferry all the Virgin America and Alaska Airlines employees to hear Brad Tilden and other employees speak.
With the completed merger of Alaska Airlines and Virgin America, many open questions are beginning to be answered. First up: the combined carrier will operate under the Alaska Airlines name and be headquartered in Seattle (more about the Virgin America brand at the bottom of this post). It will also share the Alaska Mileage Plan loyalty program. What does this mean for earning and redeeming miles if you’re a current Virgin America Elevate member or if you’re an Alaska Mileage Plan member who sometimes travels on Virgin America?
Starting Monday, December 19, Mileage Plan and Elevate members will be able to earn miles/points on both carriers. Keep in mind you’ll still be earning Mileage Plan miles if you credit to the Mileage Plan program. You’ll earn Elevate points if you credit to the Elevate program. The programs themselves are not merging yet.
Next week also marks the start of ticket sales for Virgin America flights on AlaskaAir.com. That means you can book flights on either carrier at one destination. However, tickets for Virgin America will still be available on Virgin’s website for the time being.
A Single Loyalty Program
Integration of the loyalty programs will begin on January 9, 2017. Elevate members will be invited to sign up for new Mileage Plan accounts if they don’t have them already and will be encouraged to start earning Mileage Plan miles when they fly on either carrier or on Alaska’s global partners (including American Airlines and Delta Air Lines). I presume this is when we’ll be able to redeem miles and points on flights operated by either carrier, but that has not been stated explicitly; I’ll follow up when I have more details.
Alaska is really promoting the strength of its global network as a benefit of this merger. Rocky was correct in his post earlier this week about the challenges of booking some routes that aren’t to/from the United States. However, the carrier’s approach to building its own partnerships has had some benefits.
Alaska’s media relations team mentioned that these partners account for 44% of all international seats to and from the U.S., which is more than any of the big three alliances. And while booking an award to some partner destinations may be challenging with Mileage Plan, you can still earn miles on paid fares to over 800 destinations. That’s a three-fold increase over the current network available to Virgin America Elevate members.
Finally, there are freebies to celebrate the merger! Because the combined carrier will have nearly 1,200 daily flights, Alaska Airlines is giving away 1,200 round-trip flights starting today. You can enter the contest at twogether.differentworks.com. Follow along with the festivities at Seattle and San Francisco today with the hashtag #DifferentWorks.
The Future of Virgin America
The name of the combined company is Alaska Airlines, and the loyalty program will be Mileage Plan, but that doesn’t mean the Virgin America brand is going away. At least not yet. Alaska Airlines has been careful to re-iterate the point that “No decisions regarding the future of the Virgin America brand have been made.”
The carrier plans to continue operating the VX fleet with its current name and product as it continues to perform market research. This means you could get different on-board experiences if you fly on an Alaska Airlines plane or a Virgin America plane. However, a decision is expected in early 2017.