Monday, December 19, 2016

Each Virgin America point becomes 1.3 Alaska Airlines points

Alaska Airlines and Virgin America have been slowly merging. Since I moved away from the west coast I've not had much opportunity to fly either airline, but I have 20,000-ish miles with both carriers that I'll probably put to use at some point. I've used both Virgin and Alaska's shopping portals to earn a few miles here and there and keep my points from expiring.
Virgin's First Class recliners – a midpoint between two domestic First Class extremes

Now that the merger is nearing completion they've announced that each Virgin point will become 1.3 Alaska points. Details about the transfer process are still TBD.

(Let's not forget the other awesome use of Virgin points – getting a 30,000-point match from JetBlue earlier this year!)

At this point the most exciting thing about Alaska miles is all of the great partner redemptions you can do with them (like Japan Airlines or Iceland Air). Since they're spending a lot of money on this merger in hopes of becoming a national rather than regional airline, I hope they put some thought into their transcon services.

Alaska is very used to having legions of hub-captive customers and has consistently underwhelmed with their plane choices (slow to roll out Wi-Fi and at-seat power, no seatback entertainment, etc). This might be fine for shorter regional flights, but in recent years JetBlue Mint has completely upended the transcon market by offering incredible onboard amenities (fast and free wifi, at-seat DirecTV, enclosed First Class suites with lie-flat beds) with prices half that of the legacy carriers.

I'm not sure how Alaska plans to position themselves in this marketplace. Virgin's planes have a First Class somewhere between the two extremes of the other airlines. On one hand, their 55" recliners are inferior to the luxurious suites of Mint, Delta One, American Flagship and United PS; but on the other hand, they're much nicer than the 38" recliners on most domestic runs (including Alaska's). With no hub-captives chasing status, do they race to the bottom and undercut price, or do they retrofit Virgin's planes to compete (or surpass) Mint and go that route?

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