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.

Josh GarberMay 3, 2021
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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.

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