On March 31, 2021, Alaska Airlines was welcomed as a member of oneworld airline alliance in accordance with an agreement announced just last summer. Membership in one of the three global alliances is a feather in the cap for an airline that a few years ago was regarded as a minor, regional carrier and resets the balance of power in the U.S. domestic airline market.

To celebrate, Alaska recreated its famous Safety Dance video. The latest version includes some bad, as in bad not “bad,” dancing from CEOs from several oneworld airlines.

So what is an airline alliance and why is Alaska joining a deal that is big enough to make CEO’s dance?

Airline Alliances

Essentially, an airline alliance is an agreement between a group of airlines to work together to share flying routes and resources, and extend reciprocal benefits to one another’s frequent fliers.  Currently, there are three major airline alliances — Star Alliance, oneworld, and SkyTeam.

Star Alliance is the biggest and best alliance. Among its 26 members are iconic airlines such as Singapore, Lufthansa, Air New Zealand, ANA, Turkish, Thai and Swiss. United Airlines, a Star Alliance founding member covers the U.S. market.

SkyTeam with 19 members is the next largest alliance. It is led by Delta Air Lines, Air France/KLM and Korean Air. Overall it is the weakest alliance, at least for customers in North America.

With 14 members, oneworld Alliance is the smallest. Members, though, include some of the superstars of international air travel like Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Japan Airlines, and Qatar Airways. American Airlines, the world’s largest airline and the custodian of my primary frequent flyer account, is also a member. These are the members of oneworld:

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oneworld Membership Is A Big Deal for Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines is an American airline headquartered in Seattle, WA. Because of a merger with Virgin America in 2016, it is the fifth largest airline in the United States when measured by fleet size, scheduled passengers carried, and the number of destinations served. With its regional partners, Horizon Air and SkyWest Airlines, Alaska operates a domestic route network, primarily focused on the west coast of the U.S. and Alaska. Alaska serves over 120 destinations in the contiguous United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Costa Rica, and Mexico. It operates hubs in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, OR and Anchorage.

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Alaska Airlines lounge Seattle, WA

Becoming part of oneworld gives Alaska a big boost in terms of prestige and international travel options for its customers. They can now enjoy seamless connectivity to 1,000+ destinations in more than 170 countries and territories, an enhanced international travel experience, and more valuable loyalty offerings. Becoming part of oneworld transforms what had been a large regional airline serving only a handful of international destinations into an airline with a global presence.

Members of Alaska’s frequent flyer program, Mileage Plan will earn Alaska miles on all 14 member airlines when they credit those flights to their Mileage Plan account. Mileage redemption for award flights on airlines that Alaska did not previously have partnerships with will occur in the coming months. 

Alaska extra-legroom coach seating

Mileage Plan members with elite status will automatically receive matching oneworld tier status. Members who have MVP Gold 75K now automatically receive all the benefits of oneworld Emerald status when flying a oneworld airline. MVP Gold equates to oneworld Sapphire, and MVP equates to oneworld Ruby. Depending on tier status, Alaska elites will enjoy a variety of privileges on all other oneworld airlines, including access to more than 650 international first and business class lounges, fast track security, enhanced baggage allowances, priority check-in, and priority boarding.

It is noteworthy that American Airlines, a oneworld founding member and an Alaska competitor domestically, fully supported Alaska’s membership application. The relationship between American and Alaska was strong for years. There were code sharing agreements and reciporacal frequent flyer benefits and lounge access. Lately the relationship had been falling apart largely at American’s insistence and was scheduled for total dissolution.

Last year, American and Alaska suddenly went from break up to make up. American may have finally realized that supporting Alaska made sense as a check on Delta Air Lines, which had created a hub in Seattle and did its best to drive Alaska out of business or at least get it to play ball with Delta’s plans.

The Benefits For oneworld Are Less Obvious

oneworld is a marginally better alliance with Alaska as a member. On the positive side, Alaska Airlines is an outstanding airline. It is one of the best U.S. airlines from an operational, financial and customer-service standpoint. oneworld passengers connecting from abroad can enjoy Alaska customer service and operational efficiency. That will be an improvement over the customer service and operational efficiency of American Airlines. Alaska will also be a minor source of new customers for the international routes of other oneworld airlines.

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SeaTac Airport (SEA) Seattle, WA

On the flip side, Alaska does not offer much, if any, new connectivity in North America that American Airlines doesn’t currently provide. That is one of the reasons alliances almost never have two member airlines from the same country.

Final Thoughts

Alaska Airlines is my favorite North American carrier. I’m glad that Alaska joined oneworld. It’s membership strengthens oneworld marginally but is a great achievement for Alaska that will help ensure its survival. A strong Alaska Airlines provides needed competition in the U.S. market for traditional airlines. Without Alaska, Delta, American and United would have an easier time imposing customer unfriendly changes in prices, frequent flyer programs, and other terms and conditions affecting passengers.

Have you flown Alaska Airlines?