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When airlines merge there are many, many different steps that happen along the way until the airlines are truly one entity. This process literally takes years, and if you don’t regularly fly the airlines at hand, it can be very easy to lose track of where they are in the process. With that in mind, let’s look at where Alaska and Virgin America are in their merger since this month marked some pretty big milestones in their journey.
January 2018 Alaska and Virgin America merger milestones
As of a few days ago on January 11, 2018, the airlines became one as far as the FAA is concerned when they acquired a single operating certificate. This really doesn’t impact you as the traveler, but it is a big deal for the airline(s).
On January 1, 2018, the Virgin America Elevate program was essentially no more, but you have until January 31, 2018, to transfer your Virgin America points to Alaska Airlines MileagePlan miles at a rate of 1 point = 1.3 miles. If you don’t do the conversion yourself by January 31st, you will not have access to your Elevate points for a few days while the system (hopefully) does it for you. This process should be complete by February 8, 2018, when all the Elevate points should be converted to Alaska miles.
Also happening this month is that the first Virgin America Airbus plane will get painted with the Alaska Airlines brand and colors. It will take some time before all of the Virgin America planes are repainted, but you have to start somewhere. At some airports, the airlines have consolidated their operations, while at others they are still separate for the time being.
For several months now you have been able to use your Alaska Airlines Companion Certificate you get with the co-branded Alaska Bank of America Card on Alaska or Virgin operated flights, as well as use your Alaska miles to book Virgin operated awards. Elites get some reciprocal benefits on each airline, but complimentary first class upgrades have not yet become a reciprocal benefit and aren’t scheduled to become available one until late 2018.
More changes coming in April 2018
That said, the airlines plan to combine their systems to a single reservation system in April 2018, so that VirginAmerica.com redirects to AlaskaAir.com and there is just one mobile app and website where you book and manage travel. Beginning April 25, 2018, I am able to see what was a Virgin America operated flight with the Alaska name that is apparently also now eligible to use an Alaska MVP Gold Guest upgrade certificate. I couldn’t find one of those flights with actual confirmable upgrade space at this time, but I also didn’t look terribly hard so perhaps there are confirmable first class seats now for flights on April 25, 2018, and beyond.
Ultimately they will be swapping out the cool looking Virgin America 8-seat first class for a 12-seat first class that will more closely mirror what the Alaska planes are working towards. These seats will offer “41 inches of pitch, improved seatback storage pockets, cup holders, footrests and personal power outlets throughout the cabin. The redesigned Airbus cabins will also feature 18 new Premium Class seats with 35 inches of pitch and complimentary beer, wine and cocktails.”
For a while though you will still be able to find the current Virgin America first class seats on the aircraft where the seat map shows 8 first class seats.
While we are on the topic of updates, coming in April 2018 will be the new Alaska Airlines Lounge at JFK in New York City.
Looking further ahead
In late 2018, Alaska is scheduled to launch service to 8 destinations from Paine Field, a little north of Seattle.
Looking even further ahead, in 2019, Alaska and Virgin America are scheduled to operate as one airline, there will be new uniforms, a new $650 million dollar 20-gate North Satellite Facility in Seattle, and a 15,000 square foot flagship Alaska lounge.
Virgin America and Alaska have already come a very long way in their merger, but there are some big steps on the horizon as they work towards being fully integrated into one from a traveler’s perspective. If you have had some recent Virgin or Alaska flights, I’d love to know how they went!
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