Alaska Airlines and Virgin America are marching towards becoming one airline. After agreeing on a merger last year, they set a date of the beginning of 2018 to merge the two loyalty programs.
Let’s cover just a bit of history here before we get to the lifetime status issue. We already knew that Alaska Airlines would be forced to stop cooperating on some routes with American Airlines. And, in the most predictable move ever, once friends Delta and Alaska ended their relationship. In less of a surprise (but still somewhat predictable) American and Alaska watered down their partnership to pretty much nothing.
Still, Alaska Airlines made noticeable improvements to certain parts of their program. This was at the same time that the Big 3 US airlines were continuing to take benefits away from customers. Alaska has a much smaller footprint than the big guys, but Virgin America would help a bit here and there.
Fast forward to a few months before Virgin America’s Elevate program is due to be merged into Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. To qualify for lifetime MVP Gold status with Alaska Airlines, a customer needed to earn 1 million miles. So, how would Virgin America Elevate points figure into this equation?
This hadn’t been on my radar, but a reader put it firmly there with a recent e-mail he sent me. He reached out to Alaska Airlines Gold customer service and asked them that question. The answer? None of the Elevate activity he accrued as an elite for a decade would count to Alaska Airlines lifetime status.
I reached out to Alaska Airlines to see if I could get more information. They directed me to customer service where I got the same answer as Steve. I called back and got a slightly different answer. Essentially, no plans to count Elevate activity towards lifetime status, but that could change in January.
What Does Alaska Airlines Lifetime Status Entitle You To?
Quite a bit, actually. 1 million miles flown earns MVP Gold status. You can see the full list of benefits on the Alaska website, but here’s an overview:
- 100% bonus on base miles earned.
- Two free checked bags for you and folks traveling with you.
- Discounted Alaska lounge membership.
- Free same-day stand-by and flight changes.
- Unlimited First Class upgrades for you and a companion.
- Four First Class guest upgrade certificates per year.
- Fee waivers for award tickets.
As you can see, a pretty rewarding set of benefits. Not surprising, given that 1 million miles is a lot of flying.
Why Shut Out Virgin America Members?
Assuming Alaska customer service has the correct information, there’s two factors I think may have played into this decision. First, Virgin America is/was a revenue-based program. So, you couldn’t just make a straight transfer of Virgin America point totals to Alaska. Second, Virgin America had no lifetime status program (to my knowledge). It’s possible Alaska felt that there was no expectation from Virgin America customers for lifetime status.
The Final Two Pennies
If this is really the final decision, I think it’s the wrong one. For starters, lifetime status only costs an airline something when customers are actually flying. I’ve made a habit of picking up lifetime status in various programs (Hyatt, SPG, American) and it absolutely motivates me to stay loyal.
It’s a pretty cheap acquisition cost for future business. Some of those benefits are “soft benefits”. Free First Class upgrades don’t really cost anything. Virgin America has to have flight history on their customers. Even if it’s only a partial history, someone could run a database query to figure out the number of miles flown.
The marriage of two airlines should be exciting for everyone. Bigger network, more opportunities to earn and redeem. Alaska should be focusing on exciting those new Virgin America elite members, not disappointing them.
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