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Alaska Airlines CEO said a loyalty program for a combined Alaska-Hawaii may look similar to Marriott Bonvoy, an idea that is somewhat unusual for the airline industry.

When Alaska Airlines said Hawaiian Airlines would maintain its independent brand under a merged company, it was unclear how the two carriers would combine their loyalty programs. 

Alaska CEO Ben Minicucci gave a clue Sunday evening when he said Alaska and Hawaiian would operate under a single loyalty program, and compared it to Marriott Bonvoy. 

“So think of something like Marriott Bonvoy, right? You’re part of Marriott Bonvoy, but you could stay in different hotels right under this house of brands. So that’s how we’re thinking about it,” he said.

The idea of two separate brands under a single frequent flier program is a novel idea in the airline industry, given that most airlines either have their own frequent flier program or allow travelers to earn miles through codeshares or alliances. 

The closest example of two airlines operating under a single company with the same loyalty program may be Air France and KLM, but it’s more so out of national pride. 

Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines: 2 Brands, 1 Program

Minicucci and Hawaiian CEO Peter Ingram said they wanted separate brands under the same loyalty program in part due to each airline’s local culture and history.

“As the two airlines rooted in the 49th and 50th state, both of which are uniquely reliant upon air travel, Alaska and Hawaiians share a great deal in common,” Minicucci said. 

Alaska’s decision to maintain Hawaiian’s independent brand, even under a combined loyalty program, may also be related to its experience with the Virgin America acquisition in 2016. 

It worked quickly to integrate the brand. But even though Virgin America had only existed for around a decade, it had developed a loyal following because of its mood lighting, leather seats, snack selection and tech-driven approach. 

By 2019, Virgin America’s brand was essentially erased and loyal customers weren’t happy. 

At the Sunday night press conference in Honolulu, where the two CEOs donned aloha shirts, they reiterated it would take time for customers to see any changes.

Loyalty Timeline

“The HawaiianMiles benefits are exactly the same,” Ingram said. “The Alaska loyalty benefits are exactly the same. And then post-merger, once we have all the approvals, once the deal closes, that’s when the two loyalty plans will come together.”

Minicucci added that if the merger closes — which would be in the next 12 to 18 months — they would then look to see how tier statuses from the Alaska Air Mileage Plan and HawaiianMiles would match up under a combined loyalty program. 

The Alaska CEO added that they would also match the status tiers of the merged loyalty programs into Oneworld’s frequent flier program. 

This time around, Minicucci said the only option for Alaska’s merger with Hawaiian was to keep the brands of the two airlines separate. 

“The one biggest question I have is Ben, how are you gonna do a dual brand under a single platform?” Minicucci said. “And I just say there is no other choice. We will figure it out because we need to respect the culture and the legacy that’s been created here for over 94 years.

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Tags: alaska airlines, hawaiian airlines, loyalty, marriott bonvoy

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