Alaska Airlines vs. American Airlines

Alaska narrowly beats out American in this head-to-head comparison of the two major domestic carriers.
Alisha McDarris
By Alisha McDarris 

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The two U.S.-based carriers in the Oneworld alliance, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines, have a lot of similarities in terms of partners and destinations. But if you're trying to choose one airline to collect miles, earn status or get the best in-flight experience, you'll need to compare the pros and cons. So we’ve broken down the major differences between Alaska Airlines vs. American Airlines, so you can pick the one that’s right for you.

Where they’re based and where they fly

Winner: American Airlines

When it comes to destinations and the sheer number of flights available, American is the clear winner. The only exception: nonstop flights on the West Coast. That said, both airlines are part of the same airline alliance, which opens up a world of destination possibilities.

American Airlines

According to American Airlines, the fleet offers 6,700 daily flights to 350 destinations in 50 countries. It is based in Dallas, but flies in and out of airports nationwide, including some of its major hubs:

  • Atlanta.

  • Boston.

  • Charlotte.

  • Chicago - O’Hare.

  • Dallas - Fort Worth.

  • Los Angeles - LAX.

  • London - Heathrow.

  • Miami.

  • New York - JFK.

  • New York - LaGuardia.

  • Philadelphia.

  • Phoenix.

  • Raleigh/Durham.

  • San Antonio.

  • San Francisco.

  • Washington, D.C. - Ronald Reagan.

And because American Airlines is part of the Oneworld alliance, it offers flights around the world thanks to partner airlines like Qantas and British Airways. This partnership with the Oneworld alliance essentially expands American Airlines’ footprint to about 14,250 daily flights to 1,000 destinations in 150 countries.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska has a fairly expansive network within the U.S., including more nonstop flights on the West Coast than any other carrier. Alaska offers 1,200 daily departures serving 115 destinations, with the lion’s share of those routes serving states in the west, including Hawaii. The airline does fly as far east as Boston, though service to New England is limited. Seattle is the airline’s headquarters and its hubs include:

  • Anchorage, Alaska.

  • Los Angeles.

  • Portland, Oregon.

  • San Francisco.

The airline also has flights to international destinations such as Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica and Belize. Alaska is also part of the Oneworld alliance, which offers access to a much larger network of international flights.

Travel credit card availability

Winner: Alaska Airlines

When it comes to comparing an Alaska Airlines credit card vs. American Airlines credit card, our vote for the favorite goes to Alaska. American may offer a longer list of card options, but when looking at the welcome bonuses, free checked bags and the Famous Companion Fare, Alaska offers more value.

American Airlines credit cards

While American offers several personal and business credit cards that earn AAdvantage miles, these are our top picks.

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® (Annual Fee - $0 intro for the first year, then $99): Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. As an added plus, with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® your first checked bag is free.

  • American Airlines AAdvantage® MileUp® (Annual Fee - $0): Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

Alaska Airlines credit cards

Alaska has one personal credit card and one business card.

  • Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card: Get 60,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) with this offer. To qualify, make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account. This card also comes with a free checked bag. The annual fee is $95.

  • Alaska Airlines Visa® Business card: Get 50,000 bonus miles, $100 statement credit and Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) after you make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account. You also get a free checked bag, all for an annual fee of $70 for the company and $25 per card.

Airline loyalty programs

Winner: Alaska Airlines

While mile valuations are close between the airlines, Alaska came out on top after comparing rewards earning rate, basic economy offerings, elite status, additional fees, on-board entertainment and pet policies.

American Airlines loyalty program

American’s AAdvantage Miles are worth much more than Alaska's, coming in at 1.7 cents each based on NerdWallet calculations. And other than flying, there are several ways to earn miles: through car rentals, vacation packages, cruises, plus dining and online shopping.

The airline offers dynamic award pricing, so the cost of your ticket in miles will vary based on demand. When it comes time to book award travel, it’s easy to do online. As for AAdvantage elite status, American made it easier than ever this year to work your way up via their new Loyalty Points.

Alaska Airlines loyalty program

Alaska’s loyalty program, Mileage Plan, is easy to use. Miles are worth a lesser (but still reasonable) 1.4 cents a piece according to NerdWallet valuations. Earn miles by flying, but also through hotel and rental car bookings and via Mileage Plan Shopping and Dining.

But despite the fact that is rewards aren't worth as much, Alaska still wins because its miles are generally easier to earn. In fact, Alaska has one of the best reward earning rates of any U.S. airlines, meaning you get more value back per dollar spent than with other frequent flyer programs. This is because Alaska still awards miles based on distance flown, not the amount spent.

Plus, you can book with Money & Miles if you’re short on miles and Alaska publishes an award chart so you can get a good idea of what award flights will cost (domestic flights start at 5,000 miles). If it’s Alaska’s elite status you’re after, Alaska will likely get you there faster than any other airline thanks to its earning structure.

Extra fees

Winner: Alaska

According to NerdWallet research, Alaska takes the trophy in the fees department. While baggage fees are comparable, seat selection and other fees aren’t. That means you’ll likely spend less on upgrades and add-ons with Alaska.

American Airlines

On American flights, a personal item and carry-on are free, but checked bags cost $30 for your first bag, $40 for your second, and up to $200 for your fourth. Some of the fees are waived for many international flights unless you're flying basic economy.

Seat selection costs more, too, starting at $20 for Main Cabin Extra. Only Premium Economy and above offer free seat selection, leaving Basic Economy and Main Cabin passengers to pay a fee for preferred seats.

Alaska Airlines

When flying on Alaska, all passengers get a carry-on and one personal item. For checked bags, it costs $30 for the first one and $40 for the second.

On Alaska, only the cheapest fares, Saver fares, don’t include seat selection. But any fare can upgrade to a Premium Class fare.

In-flight experience

Winner: Alaska

Alaska and American are neck-and-neck when it comes to the in-flight experience, but Alaska barely squeaks out ahead thanks to free in-flight texting.

American Airlines

American offers the option to stream TV, movies, music and more using your own devices, all for free. You can also purchase Wi-Fi access on most aircraft if you need to browse the web or check your email while you’re in the air. American offers a monthly subscription if you are truly a frequent flyer.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska also offers tons of free entertainment like movies, music and TV, plus USB and seat outlets on most flights so you can keep your devices charged. Most of the airline’s fleet offers satellite Wi-Fi for purchase, plus free texting.

The bottom line

In the competition of Alaska Airlines vs. American Airlines, there’s a clear winner: Alaska. The airline has the most rewarding credit card offers, the higher-rated frequent flyer program, fewer fees and an overall better in-flight experience.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:

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