Skift Take

Alaska may not be the sexiest carrier in North America, but its brand management and consistent execution across various customer touch points is a masterclass.

Series: On Experience

On Experience

Colin Nagy is a marketing strategist and writes on customer-centric experiences and innovation across the luxury sector, hotels, aviation, and beyond.

You can read all of his writing here.

Alaska Airlines recently introduced an innovative year-end initiative for its frequent fliers. Instead of the usual “mileage runs” to accumulate miles at the last minute for elite status, the airline now allows customers to purchase carbon offsets to boost their status for 2024.

This move saves passengers time and also discourages unnecessary travel.

Loyalty members can earn 500 elite-qualifying miles for every $100 spent on carbon credits, up to a limit of 5,000 miles. Although this initiative might have gone unnoticed by many, it’s a significant and thoughtful gesture.

Earlier in October, Alaska also embarked on a collaboration with Stumptown, a well-known Pacific Northwest coffeemaker, to create a blend that tastes great even at 30,000 feet. This wasn’t just a publicity stunt; the airline genuinely worked on developing a quality product through extensive tastings, research, and customer feedback. It was a small detail that actually has a ton of impact for those early morning commuters from Seattle down to San Francisco, or on any morning flight where you need a jolt.

Both of these tactics may seem minor, but they are indicative of the airline’s consistent and effective branding strategy. As a frequent flier of some of the world’s best airlines like Qatar, Singapore, and Emirates, I still find Alaska Airlines appealing due to its clear mission.

Its 737s don’t have luxurious flatbed seats like JetBlue or United. There’s not a lot of glitz or glamor.

But it has Pacific Northwest pragmatism, good vibes, and execution – from a cozy fireplace in its new Seattle lounge to the healthy catering in premium cabins.

Employees share the mission, a sharp contrast with other U.S. airlines, where staff often appear irate and at the end of their rope.

Alaska’s Happy Campers

A more positive work environment at Alaska Airlines is apparent in my interactions with its employees. In over 100,000 miles of travel with the airline this year, most encounters with flight attendants and staff have been positive. There’s always a little more cheer in the boarding announcement (now boarding group B for “Beautiful!”) or in small interactions. This suggests that the airline treats its staff well, valuing them beyond mere labor.

No Nickel-And-Diming

In my customer service dealings, Alaska consistently exhibits fairness, especially in compensating customers for inconveniences. Proactively, they often issue miles for minor issues like baggage delays or late arrivals, contrasting with other airlines that are much less forthcoming.

Valuing loyalty

In a year where many airlines have devalued loyalty programs or raised the bar for spending, Alaska stands out for still valuing genuine loyalty based on miles flown.

The airline has also made improvements for its top-tier fliers, allowing miles over 100,000 to roll over to the next year and eliminating minimum segment requirements on its own flights. This approach goes against the prevailing industry trends, reflecting the core beliefs of the airline’s executive team regarding loyalty and their focus on frequent flyers.

Future expansion

The recent news about Alaska Airlines’ plans to purchase Hawaiian Airlines is another point of interest. Many aviation experts, like Brian Sumers, have shared their views on the details of the strategy. I can only say that if the level-headed management and strong brand cohesion can be applied to the M&A transaction, it seems interesting for a carrier like Alaska to continue its expansion: It is a force for sanity in a very cutthroat North American market.

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Tags: alaska airlines, luxury, On Experience, Travel Trends

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