What the Alaska, Virgin America Merger Means for Flyers

“Merger mania is not over,” says air travel expert and FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney and the latest example is the recently announced union of stodgy (Alaska) and stylish (Virgin America) or what Seaney calls “old school consumer vs. new school consumer.” Neither description does either airline justice but beyond that, as Seaney points out, mergers are ultimately about money and competition.

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Why Alaska and Virgin America are Merging

Alaska Air Group’s planned acquisition of Virgin America will create what Alaska calls the fifth largest airline in the U.S. which will presumably provide a better competitive edge against the Big Four (American, Delta, Southwest and United). As Seaney notes, those airlines already control about 80% of air traffic in the U.S.

What the two airlines have in common says Seaney are loyal followings thanks to “consumer-facing cultures both internal and external.” One example is Alaska’s checked-bag guarantee backed up by a $25 voucher toward a future flight for late-arriving bags; another is Virgin America’s mood-lit cabins and fun promotions.

It’s a little different when it comes to fleets: Seattle-based Alaska is in “Boeing country” as Seaney points out and according to its website flies a lot of Boeing aircraft. Virgin America, on the other hand, currently flies Airbus aircraft.

What the Merger Means for Flyers: 5 Questions

At this point – so early in the merger process (the union was announced April 4) – little is known but in the short term don’t expected many changes.

1. Where will the combined Alaska-Virgin America airline fly? 

Probably some variation seen in the map from Alaska’s website (below) which shows current routes for both airlines.

Virgin America Alaska Airlines Expanded Route Network

2. What will this mean for miles program members?

For now, nothing. We do know in the past, airlines have been very careful about preserving perks for last-minute high-paying business travelers who tend to be elite miles members.

3. Will fares go up?

Here’s Alaska’s answer: “No. Alaska Airlines and Virgin America are both known for excellent service and fares that are lower than legacy carriers, and we expect to keep them that way.”

Does this mean fares will never go up? Of course not.

4. What if I currently have a flight booked on Alaska or Virgin America?

No problem. The airlines will continue to fly separately for some time and little will change but when it does you will be informed. Tip: Any time you make reservations with any airline, be sure the carrier has your contact information so they can reach you if necessary.

5. Where can I get the latest information?

Alaska has a complete Q&A section on its website (and Virgin America has similar info).


Updated: April 6, 2016