This year, I've been fortunate to experience the benefits of flying with top-tier airline status with American Airlines AAdvantage as an Executive Platinum member. To my surprise, I flew just over 100,000 miles with American in 2016. It's the first time in my flying career that I've managed to reap these type of benefits, which includes complimentary upgrades on all domestic flights, 4 systemwide upgrades, access to more award booking availability, and free food and alcohol in economy. Of the dozen or so American flights this year, I've managed to be upgraded on almost every segment I've flown, including a few San Francisco - New York (JFK) flights which feature their exclusive 3-cabin service.
However, airline loyalty has quickly diminished in the last 5 years as airlines shift from distance-based flying programs to revenue-spent. American was the last of the three major carriers to introduce a revenue-based program earlier this year, bringing their loyalty program from the top, directly to the bottom.
With 2017 coming to a close, I'm already considering my next move into 2018, with Alaska Airlines as the front-runner for all my flying. To all my West Coast flyer friends, take note and consider the new Alaska Airlines as your go-to airline. Here's why.
Expanding Route Network
Post-Virgin America merger, the new Alaska Airlines network now boasts118 destinations across the US, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Cuba. The excitement continues with their upcoming West Coast expansion plans, totaling 33 new nonstop routes. Bay Area flyers can now enjoy more Virgin America flights from San Francisco to New Orleans, Kona, Philadelphia, Nashville, and more.
What makes the new-Alaska Airlines compelling is their frequent flyer program, Mileage Plan. My approach to accruing miles is simple: stay clear of tying all your airline miles to a single airline program with the exception of Alaska, as their miles are incredibly valuable. Like the major carriers, miles earned through Mileage Plan can be transferred to a portfolio of airline partners including Cathay Pacific, JAL, British Airways, Emirates, and more. International award redemptions are incredibly reasonable too. For instance, you can fly on Cathay Pacific Business Class one-way between Asia to North America, and include a free stopover, for just 50,000 miles. That's unheard of.
Across the board, Alaska Airlines consistently scores high marks for customer service. It must be a Northwest thing but I always find their staff to be helpful, friendly, and competent. However, service goes beyond their front-line interactions, and into the their customer-friendly approach to accruing miles. Alaska Airlines remains as one of the few airlines to continue to offer a distance-based frequent flyer program, meaning your miles are earned based on miles flown versus revenue spent. This is a huge differentiator and one of the reasons why I'm giving up my American Executive Platinum status in favor of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
Over the past few years, the three major US airlines have managed to royally muck up their loyalty programs, leaving little to no incentive to give any loyalty. The industry's recent consolidation has left flyers with less competition and even greater spend requirements to reach status. While 2017 was a great run for me, having experienced top-tier status with American Airlines, I've decided not to renew with American in favor of other options, with a keen eye on the new Alaska.
For those on the West, take note, the new Alaska now boasts access to 118 destinations, a valuable loyalty program, and avoiding high spend requirements. To me, those are all compelling reasons to say farewell to American Airlines, and hello Alaska.