Why I Might Switch Loyalty From United to Alaska

After a decade of flying with United, one traveler has had enough with the devaluation of the MileagePlus program.
Published
Profile photo of Josh Garber
Written by Josh Garber
Profile photo of June Casagrande
Edited by June Casagrande
Fact Checked

Many, or all, of the products featured on this page are from our advertising partners who compensate us when you take certain actions on our website or click to take an action on their website. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

I’m a frequent traveler, having visited over 50 countries (sometimes multiple times) in the last 13 years. For over a decade, I’ve been loyal to United Airlines, but I'm now considering switching my loyalty to Alaska Airlines.

Why I’ve been loyal to United

Hub access to a variety of destinations

One of the main reasons that I’ve stayed loyal to United for all these years is that I’ve lived in United hubs. From 2009 to 2011, I lived on Guam, where United is the only major airline with a hub. In 2011, I moved from Guam to San Francisco, another United hub.

When I lived on Guam, United had direct flights to Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Fiji, the Philippines and Australia that I took advantage of (although it's ended a number of these routes in the last few years). United’s flight offerings from San Francisco were even more impressive, and I was able to fly United to dozens of international destinations, including Germany, Belize, Mexico, New Zealand, French Polynesia, Chile and the Netherlands.

Star Alliance membership

Another reason that I’ve stayed loyal to United is because it's part of Star Alliance, which includes some of my favorite airlines. Over the last decade, I’ve had the opportunity to fly on a majority of the Star Alliance airlines, all while enjoying priority boarding and lounge access with my United Premier Gold status.

MileagePlus

I’ve also stayed loyal to United because of its MileagePlus program, which made it easy to earn miles with my United℠ Explorer Card and gave me the chance to redeem my miles for some great flights, including business class to Indonesia, South Africa, Germany and Thailand.

What has changed?

Devalued miles

Last year, United devalued its MileagePlus program by eliminating award charts (instead switching to dynamic pricing) and increasing the award rates for partner flights.

Guaranteed status

United has extended MileagePlus Premier status through January 2022. That means I can use the flights that I’d usually dedicate to maintaining my United Premier status to go for status on another airline instead.

My relocation

I recently moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Of the five largest U.S. airlines (United, Alaska, Delta, Southwest and American Airlines), only United and Alaska have hubs in San Francisco, whereas United, Alaska, Delta and American have hubs in Los Angeles.

Moving to a city that hosts more airline hubs has given me the opportunity to more seriously consider switching loyalty to other major U.S. carriers.

Why Alaska Airlines instead?

Partner flights might be cheaper

While I could have switched my loyalty to Alaska Airlines while living in San Francisco, what kept me with United was being able to redeem my MileagePlus miles on partner airlines like Swiss, Air New Zealand, ANA and Lufthansa. But since United's made it more expensive to redeem MileagePlus miles for partner flights, the MileagePlus program is no longer enough to keep me loyal.

Even before United’s devaluation of its MileagePlus program, I toyed with the idea of switching loyalty to Alaska for a few reasons — mainly, its generous mileage rewards program with award charts, an impressive list of partner airlines (including Emirates, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Cathay Pacific) and overall being impressed with the customer service I've received on past flights.

Access to travel perks

However, I never made the jump from United to Alaska, in large part because Alaska had limited benefits with partner airlines — for instance, even top-tier MVP Gold 75K members didn't receive priority boarding on partner flights. But Alaska has since changed that policy, and MVP Gold members, as well as MVP Gold 75K members, now enjoy priority boarding on partner flights.

Oneworld Alliance membership

With Alaska recently joining the Oneworld Alliance, I’m now more tempted than ever to switch my loyalty. Alaska MVP Gold 75K members now get Oneworld Emerald benefits such as priority boarding and access to lounges (among many others), so the perks for switching are much more valuable than before. Plus, I'll get to take advantage of Alaska's partner award charts and customer service.

The bottom line

Although I haven’t yet made up my mind, I'm very tempted to switch my loyalty from United to Alaska Airlines in 2021. No matter what I decide, let my experience be a reminder to reevaluate your airline (and hotel) loyalty as circumstances change both in your personal travel preferences and the travel industry.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Points
Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1.5%-5%

Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Cashback

Intro offer

Up to $300

Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
4.7
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2x-5x

Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.

Miles

Intro offer

75,000

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Miles
See more travel cards
Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.