SEATTLE — News of Alaska Air buying Hawaiian Airlines sent loyal travelers dreaming of warm destinations and more international travel. But questions remained: Will I be able to use Alaska Airlines miles on Hawaiian? What about the companion fare?
Both airlines offer frequent flyers who join their loyalty programs generous rewards, including ways to collect miles and a discounted companion fare for their credit card holders. Details of how the two airlines will ultimately merge their programs were not available a day after the $1.9 billion transaction was announced. But no change is imminent.
The deal is likely to face regulatory scrutiny and is estimated to take more than a year to close, according to an Alaska spokesperson on Monday. Until then, “nothing about the Alaska Mileage Plan program or the HawaiianMiles program will change for members,” the spokesperson said in an email.
Once the deal closes, the two airlines will combine their loyalty programs. “This is going to be a journey between the two airlines,” Alaska spokesperson Ray Lane said in an email. “We don’t have all the answers yet.”
[Proposed merger of Alaska and Hawaiian airlines a promising fit, observers say]
Alaska said Sunday it will continue to operate Hawaiian under its separate brand. The merger will bring Hawaiian to the Oneworld Alliance, a global airline network that Alaska joined in 2021.
If the merger goes through, Alaska and Hawaiian will share a single loyalty program that will allow travelers to “to earn and redeem miles on more than 25 global partners and receive elite benefits on the full complement of oneworld Alliance airlines,” according to Alaska.
The current loyalty programs of the two airlines encourage travelers to accumulate points and miles that can be redeemed for air travel or other rewards. Both airlines offer additional perks for their credit card holders. Alaska’s cardholders receive priority boarding, a companion fare, 3 miles for every $1 spent on Alaska Airlines purchases and a 20% rebate on eligible in-flight purchases.
The future remains uncertain for Alaska’s companion fare, which offers cardholders the opportunity to book one ticket at $99 plus tax and fees annually when they are booking for themselves. Hawaiian also offers a one-time 50% off companion fare with its credit card, according to its website.
Alaska’s loyal program remains popular. For nine consecutive years, it ranked as the best airline reward program by U.S. News & World Report. Alaska has 9 million Mileage Plan members, according to Lane. Hawaiian had 11.7 million loyalty program members as of the end of last year, according to its annual report.
Aside from the Alaska-Hawaiian deal, tying rewards to credit cards has triggered scrutiny from lawmakers and criticism of airline loyalty programs.
Airlines have moved away from offering rewards programs as a way to build brand loyalty with customers to a way of increasing profit, according to a November article by management consulting giant McKinsey.
“Over time, many travel loyalty programs became wildly successful — not just as a way to boost sales or strengthen customer relationships but as major profit centers,” the article said. “Along the way, however, some travel players have shifted their focus away from the original purpose of these programs.”
Sens. Roger Marshall, R- Kan., and Dick Durbin, D- Ill., criticized frequent flyer programs for “unfair and deceptive practices.” In October, the two senators said the loyalty programs may have started to incentivize and reward frequent flyers, but “they have evolved to include co-branded credit cards and now often exclusively focus on dollars spent using these co-branded credit cards.”
Alaska and Hawaiian have not announced changes to perks offered exclusively to cardholders.