Watching the evolution of the Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines partnership in Seattle has been fascinating, quickly turning from an episode of Millionaire Matchmaker to one of Jerry Springer. It got serious last year when Delta announced huge international expansion out of Seattle, which Alaska was justifiably excited about, since they were being tapped to provide the feed for that international service.

But it seems Delta had a bit of an epiphany, and said “hmm, why should we be outsourcing all this domestic flying to Alaska, when we could do it on our own?” So they’ve announced huge domestic expansion in Seattle, including to Fairbanks, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Vancouver, etc. Basically they’re going to be going to head-to-head with Alaska on just about every one of their “bread and butter” routes.

And even though they’re technically still partners, both airlines are now offering double miles promotions on several routes to drive passengers away from one another. Alaska is offering double miles on six west coast routes, and Delta matched by offering double miles on six west coast routes as well.

Well, it seems like the battle isn’t over, because now Alaska is making their “move” on Delta. Alaska Airlines has just announced that they’ll be adding service from four west coast cities to Salt Lake City. Alaska Airlines will begin daily nonstop service between Salt Lake City and Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose, starting June 9, 2014. They’ll also add an additional third daily nonstop flight from Seattle to Salt Lake City. To celebrate the new route they’ll be offering double miles as well.

Here are the schedules for the new routes:

Alaska-Airlines-New-Routes

Alaska’s Vice President of Marketing gives this as the reason for the new route:

“Salt Lake City has long been a top requested market by our customers and we are pleased to add to our successful Seattle-Salt Lake City flights with additional service from four other West Coast gateways,” said Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of marketing. “This new service connects travelers with Alaska’s strong network on the West Coast. In addition, our customers will enjoy double miles that apply toward elite status in our award-winning Mileage Plan program.”

I believe the more accurate reason would be this:

Simon-Cowell

My thoughts

Let me be clear, I’m totally on “team Alaska” in this saga. Alaska and Delta voluntarily went into this partnership together, and I think Delta isn’t acting in good faith. It seemed like in good faith their plan was to expand internationally out of Seattle and let Alaska provide most of the domestic feed, because it’s tough to compete with their domestic route network out of Seattle, especially on the west coast. However, they’re slowly expanding to go head-to-head against Alaska on many routes, and at some point they should probably think about whether it’s really worth it or not.

While I’m sure it makes short term financial sense for Delta to fly the “popular” routes on their own metal, they have a lot to lose if the partnership is discontinued and they no longer have access to feed from Alaska’s more “unique” destinations.

While I’m on “team Alaska,” they’re just being plain silly here. Sure, add another Seattle frequency or add Portland service. But Los Angeles, San Jose and San Diego… really? Do they really think they’re going to steal market share with one daily flight to San Jose, when Delta offers four? Or steal market share with one daily flight to Los Angeles when Delta offers roughly eight?

The thing they don’t seem to get is that they have nothing to offer to passengers in those markets that Delta can’t offer already. Delta’s expansion might be sleazy and a bad long term decision, but at least it’s justifiable to a bean counter, because the demand is there.

The same can’t be said for Alaska’s new routes, in particular to Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose. And Alaska is a fairly small airline, the reason they’ve remained profitable is because of how lean their operation is. They can’t afford to operate inefficient routes just to prove a point to Delta.

Alaska and Delta need to either go to couples counseling or Divorce Court. This passive aggressive approach is only sustainable for so long.

What do you guys think?

  1. December 6th, 2013 at 11:30 am

    derek said,

    Hi Lucky. I was wondering: If I book an LAX-SEA flight (Alaska Airlines) on Orbitz, will I still get double miles from the promotion? I’ve already signed up for the promo. Thanks.

  2. December 6th, 2013 at 11:33 am

    lucky said,

    @ derek — Assuming the flight is marketed and operated by Alaska Airlines then I believe you would qualify.

  3. December 6th, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    Jeff said,

    Who cares. Avios avios avios!

  4. December 6th, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Matt said,

    I can’t agree with you on Delta not acting in “good faith.” You seem to be suggesting that the Delta and Alaksa partnership essentially includes an agreement not to compete – such an agreement would normally violate US antitrust law without an exemption.

  5. December 6th, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    sunny said,

    Could this push Alaska into a closer relationship with their other domestic partner? American will still be weak on the West Coast and the Northern Rockies post merger?

  6. December 6th, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Steve said,

    Lucky I think you might be wrong on this one. SAN is becoming bigger for AS with those flights to HI and is a real possibility that they can build a following there. They already own North/South, HI is well established (a lot better than driving to LAX), have flights to BOS and MCI and will likely continue to add service to the East Coast.

    Think of this service as to SLC for people already dedicated to AS rather than from SLC for people committed to DL.

  7. December 6th, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    lucky said,

    @ sunny — I would definitely think so. The way I see it, either Alaska and Delta will merge (though at this point I don’t see the DOJ approving that), or Alaska will get into a much closer relationship with American.

  8. December 6th, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Markj said,

    I am not so sure we know the whole story. I suspect there are things that both sides would cite. What seemed like a realistic win/win looks like it could morph into win/lose or lose/lose. The final chapter hasn’t been written yet.

  9. December 6th, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Carl said,

    Obviously there is a competitive message to DL in these flights, and if AS wants to hurt DL revenue it can offer low fares on these routes. However, I think the service does have some potential connectivity benefits for the AS route network. AS operates a raft of Mexico flights out of LAX, and the LAX will connect to the Mexico service. Out of SAN & SJC, AS operates a bunch of Hawaii flights, and the SLC flight times will connect to those, and they are both min-focus cities for AS. And AS has connections over both PDX and SEA. So all of the flights do create some new connecting opportunities.

    If AS really wanted to raise the middle finger, they’d need to add more ATL flights, and maybe MSP, DTW and JFK.

  10. December 6th, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    JohnnieD said,

    Whats wrong with Alaska giving DL a taste of its own medicine? DL has always scheduled flights at about the same time as B6 and FL. They always seemed to try and siphon just enough off these two carriers to make their loads less then capacity. Seems to me………

  11. December 6th, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Jeremy McMillen said,

    The day we see Alaska go toe-to-toe with DL on the SEA-ATL flights is the day they stop code sharing with each other I am 100% sure of that yeah this is Alaska saying we are mad at you but we still like you but if they go toe-to-toe with DL to ATL its now we hate you

  12. December 6th, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Carl said,

    3 daily SEA-ATL is the move AS has to make if they really want to send a message. I don’t think they’d have enough flow to support LAX-ATL

  13. December 6th, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Kevin said,

    @Lucky,

    I think you’re missing one thing that actually makes this not so crazy. Take a look at the three non-hub routes they’re adding: Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Diego. Alaska isn’t just s SEA / PDX hub airline… it runs a LOT of flights to Mexico / Hawaii from those cities. So while SLC itself might not make THAT much sense, the routes they added from there do.

  14. December 6th, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    DBest said,

    From a business POV they should have selected Provo instead. From my POV, I’m with Jeff – thrilled about more Avios options to SLC!

  15. December 6th, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Kevin — To be clear, I totally get why the flights are from San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Portland. My confusion is over the fact that they could have launched service from those cities to anywhere, yet they chose Salt Lake City. That’s the bad move, in my opinion.

  16. December 6th, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Ed said,

    What we really need is more direct flights from STS

  17. December 6th, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    brit44 said,

    I am really happy with this move. We currently drive SAN to LAX to use Avios to go to SLC and we do it 3-4 times per year for a family of 5. This is going to be so nice to go direct from SAN.

  18. December 6th, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    SAN Greg said,

    It would be nice to see SAN-ATL service on AS! Maybe it could work with some connecting traffic to/from FAT and MRY.

  19. December 6th, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    Aeroman380 said,

    It’s all part of a guise to for it to seem like DAL and AS are feuding, when in fact, they have a backroom deal. They are trying to fool the feds and competitors to stay away and then CHOMP DAL and AS will take the NW along with NE and form one company.

  20. December 6th, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    SAN Greg said,

    Tagging on to what Steve stated – There will be SLC-SAN flights that connect to AS’s service to Lihue, and the morning flight that connects with their flight to HNL. Too bad they can’t coordinate the return from HNL and flights to Maui.
    Perhaps a little project for the AS schedulers. Their terminal at SAN is ridiculously convenient to connect at.

  21. December 6th, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    SAN Greg said,

    Sorry Carl – I see I’m late to the party on my last comment as you’re all over it already!

  22. December 6th, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    NcSam said,

    DL is also specifically targeting SEA flyers with large credit card bonuses (if you spend a TON of $ flying DL).

  23. December 6th, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    Ron said,

    I’m curious about all these CR7 flights. Where are the planes coming from? Obviously they’re Skywest, but Alaska has only a handful of those contracted for longish thin routes like SEA/PDX to Long Beach. So is Alaska bringing an extra plane or two on board, or is it cutting some other CR7 flying?

  24. December 7th, 2013 at 8:26 am

    M said,

    As a SLC resident interested in Avios to SAN, SJC LAX, I am disappointed in the flight times. These new flights are obviously meant for connecting to/from Hawaii.

  25. December 7th, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Carl said,

    Alaska’s announcement didn’t make any mention of changes to other CR7 flying. So there’s no way to know if AS will cut some of the present CR7 service, which I believe also includes SBA and FAT, as well as LGB, or replace some of it with 737 flying, or is increasing the number of CR7′s which SkyWest will operate for them. I’m sure SkyWest would be more than happy to operate more CR7′s for AS!

  26. December 8th, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Ramsey said,

    Son, this has been going on since the birth of deregulation.

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