Alaska Air Overtakes American Airlines in Annual Loyalty Program Awards

  • Skift Take
    Mileage Plan from Alaska Airlines just won as the best airline loyalty program in FlyerTalk’s annual survey — largely because of its distance based earnings.

    The 2017 FlyerTalk awards, which name the best loyalty programs across the travel industry, were published on Friday, and AAdvantage from American Airlines has been dethroned as the reigning favorite among travelers.

    In its place, Mileage Plan from Alaska Airlines took the top spot, unseating the incumbent of five years.

    USA Today posted the initial FlyerTalk award results on Friday.

    The fall of AAdvantage, for many, was not a surprise. In the middle of last year, American moved its loyalty program from distanced-based to revenue based-earning, slashing the volume of award miles earned for most travelers. Earning AAdvantage miles on partner carriers, as well, has been slashed, leaving many international travelers with fewer miles.


    “It’s hard to imagine a program that’s done more to become less useful,” said Gary Leff, an influential blogger in a recent post highlighting the changes to American.

    Alaska, by contrast, bucked the industry trend last year and kept Mileage Plan distance-based. That decision led to wide accolade from both industry reports (U.S. News named Mileage Plan as the best airline loyalty program in 2016) and the community.

    The airline has also doubled down on its loyalty program. Asked about the industry shift to revenue-based programs, Ryan Butz, Alaska’s managing director of loyalty marketing said that a distanced-based program is “the fairest thing to do,” adding “…it is something our competitors have moved away from and it hasn’t been something that people have liked, other than the small percentage of customers flying on really expensive fares.”

    Needless to say, that strategy may change as investors continue to examine the benefit of revenue-based loyalty programs throughout the year. American Airlines held out a year on changing AAdvantage as the American-US Airways merger came to a close, and when the program transitioned in August, investors rejoiced. Now, as Alaska settles its integration with Virgin America (which runs a revenue-based loyalty program), Mileage Plan may soon be in the crosshairs.

    Photo Credit: Alaska Airlines' loyalty plan is one of the few that hasn't switched to a revenue-based earning formula. Alaska Airlines
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