Alaska Airlines is one of my favorite airlines to fly. Every time I fly the airline I get the feeling that the company has done a ton of research to figure out what flyers value and has managed to put together a sort of “best of” airline incorporating best practices from each existing airline. Everything about flying with Alaska Airlines is a pleasant experience. It is one of the few airlines that offered snacks at 35,000 feet for the past several years, a perk that is just now coming back to other legacy carriers. The airline offers several codeshare flights with United Airlines, Delta Airlines, and American Airlines. Booking an American Airlines codeshare on Alaska Airlines will earn 100% mileage credited to American. The airline also recognizes other airlines’ elite statues which makes flying Alaska Airlines a pleasant experience if you are looking for variety or a break from your typical carrier.

The only thing the airline seems to lack is route coverage. When you look at Alaska Airlines route map you can see the airline has several options on the west coast, but is lacking in the mid-west and east coast. Alaska Airlines is still a relatively small carrier, in 2010 the company only captured 3.1% of US market share. Now the airline is growing rapidly and the airlines intentions to become a major US carrier are starting to show.

In early 2016 the company announced some major brand changes including an updated logo and livery. Alaska Airlines continues to grow and recently decided it was time to update their brand. Prior to this update the brand had remained unchanged since 1992. The new livery looks great and will hopefully attract flyers as they begin to notice the relatively unknown airline. Personally, I did not know the airline existed until roughly two years ago when I purchased a AA marketed flight operated by the carrier. The updated livery should help raise brand awareness and get flyers to chose Alaska when flying to the west coast.

The company’s biggest news of the year came today when the airline announced plans to purchase Virgin America. The news provides insights into the company’s long term intentions. The airline, which for decades had remained content operating with very little market share is trying to become a major US carrier. Acquiring Virgin America helps the airline secure its position on the west coast. Virgin American was largely a west coast based carrier and had the airline not acquired Virgin the increased competition from other established carriers could have hurt Alaska’s market share. Through the acquisition Alaska Airlines also gains several gates throughout the US. Importantly through the acquisition, Alaska Airlines gains access to gates at New York’s LaGuardia airport. The airline currently only operates flights from Newark and JFK to Seattle. Gaining a few gates at LaGuardia should help the airline expand its route options from New York for business travelers.

The next few months should be incredibly interesting to see how Alaska Airlines’ acquisition of Virgin America will play out. Alaska Airlines has always been a unique offering in the world of miles & points. Points could be earned on various airlines and redeemed on various airlines. Alaska Airlines is unique because it is not part of an airline alliance. Mileage Plan points can be used to redeem flights on American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Emirates, and many others. I imagine as Alaska Airlines grows it will have to make several tough decisions in aligning with a specific alliance. Alaska Airlines will also have tough decisions when considering the acquisition of Virgin America’s lounges. Alaska Airlines Board Rooms are traditionally a little less flamboyant than Virgin’s lounge décor. Alaska will gain lounge space at SFO, IAH, JFK, and LAX airports. Overall, the acquisition should prove to be a great improvement to travelers based in the northwest and west coast and should help make Alaska Airlines a serious contender for domestic travel.

This is an exciting time for Alaska Airlines and if their past performance is any indication of their future, I think they are going to become a serious contender for domestic travel. Part of what makes Alaska Airlines great is their loyalty program. Alaska’s Mileage Plan is one of the most flexible plan out there and many travelers based on the west coast should be pleased to see an increased flight network in the coming years. If you have not had a chance to fly on Alaska Airlines, I hope you consider giving it a try for your next trip.

Safe Travels!