Devaluation Alert: Alaska Airlines Introduces New Top Tier Status in 2022

In an email to their Mileage Plan members today, Alaska Airlines officially announced intentions to introduce a new, top-tier in 2022 for those who fly 100,000 miles per year:

For members who fly 100,000 miles per year, we’re also introducing a new tier starting in 2022. This will recognize our absolute top echelon road warriors and offer perks such as increased bonus miles, top upgrade priority on Alaska flights, lounge benefits, and more. Look for more details later in 2021.

What does this mean to Alaska Flyers

I had been expecting this for a while. As Alaska is due to join the oneworld alliance in April, their current, top tier 75K is obtainable at 75,000 miles flown and simply does not align with other programs’ non-invitation top-tier counterparts. Most notably: American Airlines’ Executive Platinum status, which also requires 100,000 miles of flying. There simply is no way Alaska can join the alliance with a top tier that is 25% easier to obtain than American Airlines.

Now for the good news, this will not be introduced until 2022, so until then, 75k is still the top tier. As Alaska announced last month, you will only need to fly 75,000 miles to obtain this status, and no longer need to fly 90,000 miles if you also collect miles on partner airlines. Beyond this year, however, there is no doubt 75K status will be devalued; it remains to be seen what benefits Alaska will keep for its future-second tier status members. My first thought is the upgrade benefits on 75Ks will be nerfed.

Is it Realistic to Fly 100,000 Miles on Alaska?

One very big difference between Alaska and American Airlines is that Alaska, for all intents and purposes, is a domestic carrier who only flies within North America. It does not fly across the Pacific Ocean to Asia, nor does it fly across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. It does not even fly down to South America. See the two airlines’ route maps 

Alaska Airlines' Route Map
Credit: Alaska Airlines
American Airlines' Route Map

Is it a fair, or even realistic ask, for Alaska Airlines’ members to fly 100,000 miles per year, on Alaska-operated flights, given the fact that they do not have trans-ocean routes? Yes, they will be joining oneworld and they already have codeshares and reciprocal earning and redemptions with American Airlines, Japan Airlines, etc, but that is kind of beside the point. The point I’m trying to make is that Alaska Airlines has a relatively small footprint compared to huge international airlines like American, so why is it trying to match its top tier requirements exactly?

More random thoughts:

  • To accomplish 100,000 miles of flying within Alaska’s own route network, you have to be a very active business traveler. Alaska has substantially smaller corporate contracts and business travelers compared to American. 
  • While Alaska flies to the east coast, it does not have a big presence there for the aforementioned reason. The main flyers are all west coast and Alaska based, which translates to low mileage yield. Another reason it will not be easy for their own members who travel mostly on Alaska to achieve 100,000 miles flown per year.
  • Given all this information, one can make the conclusion that Alaska is making its non-business traveler members fly more international business class on partner airlines to reach the new top tier threshold, which defeats the purpose of having airline status at all, and especially with Alaska.
  • Will Alaska’s top tier members even have an edge over American’s Executive Platinum, Delta’s Diamond Medallion, or United’s 1K non-invitation top-tier statuses anymore? The answer, in my opinion, lies in the expected upcoming devaluation on partner redemptions (most notably Cathay Pacific flights). Alaska Mileage Plan miles are still very valuable right now, which gives it an edge over the other 3 programs. But how valuable will it be when Alaska is finished with realigning its program and benefits to match American’s?

Impact on Mapping to oneworld Status

It also remains an unknown what the current 75K statuses will map to in 2022. In April this year, Alaska’s 75K members will become oneworld Emeralds, the highest tier in oneworld’s tier hierarchy. It is to be noted that, unlike Star Alliance and SkyTeam which have only 2 tiers, oneworld has 3 tiers, which puts 2nd highest tier members at a disadvantage when compared to the other alliances.

We we can get a hint on how Alaska’s 75K will be mapped by looking at American Airlines:

As expected, Executive Platinum members are mapped to Emerald, the highest tier. But notice how 2nd tier Platinum Pro maps to oneworld Sapphire, same as Platinum? Not to worry. Because in early 2021, American’s Platinum Pro members will be upgraded to oneworld Emerald:

This is a fair indication that Alaska Airlines’ 75K members will keep oneworld Emerald in 2022. But of course, this is only a guess.

Just in case 75K members will be downgraded to oneworld Sapphire, here’s what it’d mean: Comparing to Star Alliance which have only 2 tiers, United Airlines’ flyers have it easier, where 3rd tier Gold members are already Star Alliance Gold status, the highest tier in Star Alliance. However, the most significant benefit of oneworld Emerald is access to first class frequent flyer lounges, which is unique to the oneworld alliance.