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Alaska Air Upgrades Mileage Program, Signals Bright Future

Alaska Airlines has been much in the news lately, with its acquisition of Virgin America and the announcement that it will be severing ties with longtime marketing partner Delta.

Eclipsed by those high-profile stories was this week’s announcement of enhancements to its Mileage Plan loyalty program, and, more importantly, a forward-looking statement regarding the program’s future form.

But first, the changes.

  • Lower award prices for shorter flights. Award prices for flights less than 700 miles are reduced from 7,500 to 5,000 miles. And flights less than 2,101 miles are reduced from 12,500 to between 5,000 and 10,000 miles.
  • More miles when flying on select airline partners, plus mileage credit on more coach fares.
  • Elite upgrades for Mileage Plan members flying on award tickets.

Those are positive changes, to a solid program. The bigger news, however, is what’s not changing.

The key question in the minds of both travelers and industry-watchers has been if, or more likely when, Alaska would succumb to Wall Street pressure and follow American, Delta, and United in converting its loyalty program to a spend-based scheme. That move would likely increase revenue from Alaska’s most profitable customers, but would strip the program of value for average travelers.

Alaska has addressed the question in the past, assuring customers that there were no plans to switch from the current mileage-based earning scheme. But such pronouncements only apply to the short term; they hardly rule out such a change in the medium or longer term. And, as frequent flyers know all too well, airlines’ plans do change.

But the latest Alaska news release included the following:

At Alaska Airlines, we remain committed to our miles-based program. While many other airlines are heading in a different direction and simply looking at how much people spend, we’re focused on rewarding people across the board for how much they fly.

Again, that’s no guarantee that Mileage Plan will remain mileage-based forever. But it’s a clear signal that the company has explored the alternatives and made a strategic decision to maintain a program that works for the many, not just for the few.

For the great majority of travelers, that’s great news.

Reader Reality Check

Is Alaska’s Mileage Plan on your “Best Programs” list?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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