In early 2016, Virgin American let the world know the airline was open to a sale much to the dismay of Richard Branson. Shortly thereafter Alaska Airlines and Virgin American announced an agreement for Virgin America to join the Alaska Air Group. For several months it became unclear if the acquisition was going to be approved and for a brief period it seemed Alaska’s special 737-900 aircraft (N493AS), which was painted in a special “merger livery,” would have to be repainted again. Luckily the deal has finally been approved and at first glance the deal appears to be great news for both Alaska and Virgin frequent fliers.

The New Alaska Airlines

It seems the best part of the delay may just be the extensive planning by both airlines for this day. Beginning as early as Monday December 19, 2016 Virgin America flights can be booked directly from the Alaska Airlines website, but at this point it does not seem as though Alaska Airlines flights can be booked via Virgin America’s website.

The new combined airline will now have nearly 1,200 daily flights (1,187?) to 118 destinations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Cuba (early 2017), and Costa Rica. All in all, the new combined airline will be the 5th largest airline in the United States transporting approximately 40 million passengers annually.

Per Alaska/Virgin’s DifferntWorks website the combined airline will still maintain codeshare agreements with American Airlines (and other OneWorld partners), Delta Airlines (KLM and AirFrance), Emirates Airlines, and Iceland Air. Many of these codeshare agreements will allow passengers to earn 100% EQMs when purchasing a ticket with their primary carriers flight number.

Virgin America Elevate Program

Beginning Monday, December 19:

  • Virgin America Elevate members will continue to earn Virgin Elevate points on Virgin America flights, but also earn Elevate miles when traveling on Alaska Airlines.
  • Elevate Elites (Gold and Silver) will begin to receive priority check-in and boarding on Alaska flights.
  • As mentioned above, Virgin American tickets can be purchased at www.alaskaair.com.

Beginning Monday, January 9:

  • Virgin Elevate members will be “invited” to activate a new account in Alaska’s (award-winning) Mileage Plan.
  • Elevate Silver and Gold member will be status matched into Alaska’s Mileage Plan.
  • Further information regarding the merging of the two loyalty programs will be announced.

For now there is no word on what a combined loyalty program will look like or the transfer ratio between programs, but it is overall great news for Virgin Elevate members who will earn Elevate miles on both airlines until at least Jan 9, 2017. It is also fantastic to see Elevate status’ recognized by Alaska until Jan 9, 2017 and then matched. However, I speculate Virgin Silver will match to MVP Silver and Virgin Gold will match to MVP Gold based on the current elite status criteria which may prove to be frustrating for top Virgin elites.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Program

Beginning Monday, December 19:

  • Alaska Mileage Plan members will begin to earn Mileage Plan miles on Virgin America flights.
  • Alaska loyalists will now have more options when flying to the east coast. This could be welcomed news as the holiday travel season approaches!
  • Mileage Plan elite status will be recognized on Virgin America operated flights.

Beginning Monday, January 9:

  • Mileage Plan miles will be redeemable for Virgin America flights.

The only major change to Alaska Mileage Plan members will be the wider offering of flights thanks to the Virgin America network.

Two Brands?

For now the two airlines will continue to operate separately. As many may remember the American Airlines and US Airways merger, acquiring the single operating certificate takes a significant amount of time. Even then it takes even more time for the airlines to merge reservation systems and begin operating as one single airline. There is no word how the combined airline will operate, but I highly doubt the two airlines will continue to operate separately indefinitely, especially with customer satisfaction in mind.

Why I Am Excited

I have flown on Alaska Airlines a few times in the past as an American Airlines Platinum elite. Due to the codeshare agreement I was granted priority check-in and boarding, access to express security lines, preferred seating, and 2 free checked bags. I hope these benefits are recognized on Virgin America flights after December 19 or January 9. I have been looking to fly with Virgin America for some time, but now that I may be able to earn EQMs for a Virgin America flight it might be time to book a flight.

I also also excited to see Alaska Airlines finally unveil their special livery 737-900 (N493AS) which has been in hiding for months.

Final Thoughts

Interesting the delay seems to have proved beneficial for the two airlines as the merger plans seem very well organized and most importantly will be implemented quickly. Since it appears Alaska Airlines would like all bookings for both airlines to flow through the Alaska website it seems reasonable to assume Alaska has plans to eventually kill the Virgin America brand in the distant future rather than operating as two separate airlines. Lastly, there were rumors the combined airline would have to drop codeshare agreements with Delta and American in order to achieve approval, but it appears (for now) those relationships are safe, but I imagine going forward the agreements will have to be terminated.

I am really excited to see what the new Alaska Airlines means for consumers. Both brands offer exceptional customer service and one can only hope the new brand will combine the best practices from each airline to further improve that reputation.

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