United Pulls Back, Delta Moves In, and Alaska Looks More Compelling

Around the time of their recent investor conference, United announced that they were cutting their service from Seattle to Tokyo as well as Tokyo to Bangkok (HT to Tanaka07 and O Sora on FlyerTalk). This means a Seattleite can no longer get to Asia via United Airlines unless connecting through another U.S. city and that United won’t serve Bangkok at all.

Why do I care about flying on United? ANA will still have its own service from Seattle to Tokyo as well as other routes beyond Tokyo, but that won’t earn me any Premier Qualifying Dollars. Lots of miles without corresponding PQDs makes it likely I would be stuck without status. United’s claim that ANA “will provide the appropriate amount of beyond-Tokyo connectivity” doesn’t mean much if customers who use it are treated as second-rate.

There’s also no Economy Plus, the number one benefit of elite status that got me to join United Airlines and obtain Silver status so many years go. I’ve flown in coach on ANA’s SEA-NRT route and I won’t do it again.

United Abandons Routes and Other Carriers Step In

Every time I say that I won’t leave United, there’s usually some element of “Alaska Airlines has no international routes” and “American Airlines has no presence on the West Coast.” It certainly helps that United has a network that expands throughout the U.S. as well as to Europe and Asia. Even if I were to combine Alaska and American to get around the West Coast, I would still be missing a lot of flights to Asia.

It seems fortuitous that Delta has just recently been expanding its network into Seattle with flights to Tokyo (both the more international-focused Narita and the domestic-focused Haneda closer to Tokyo), as well as Beijing and Shanghai. With elite status I can get Economy Comfort seats that offer the extra legroom I was used to getting from United. (It won’t be free, but Alaska’s MVP and MVP Gold members get 25 and 50% discounts, respectively. At least it’s an option, while on ANA I’m stuck.) And Delta’s growing Seattle presence isn’t just in the international market.

United and American offer a premium service with lie-flat business class seats on domestic routes from SFO and LAX to JFK. Delta does the same, but they have added Seattle to JFK as a third alternative. I recently flew United’s p.s. service for the first time and was left unimpressed (review forthcoming). It was certainly better, but not good enough to merit connecting in SFO. I would be more interested in Delta’s offer.

Delta is also adding lots of routes to destinations along the West Coast including Anchorage, San Diego, and Portland. It’s in competition with Alaska, but it means more flights that I can credit to Alaska’s Mileage Plan.

Replacing United with the Three Musketeers

Switching to Delta’s loyalty program is out of the question due to their SkyPesos (other than that, I actually think it’s a well run airline). Thus, most of my discussions about switching involve moving to American, Alaska, or some combination of status on both.

I have been speaking of Alaska as a kind of extension of American, to fill in American’s West Coast gaps, but I have neglected to think of Delta as an extension of Alaska to fill in Alaska’s international gaps. The combination of all three carriers can easily replace United, and may even be better for those of us in the Pacific Northwest.

SEA Delta International Routes

Delta has a lot of international flights out of Seattle

Seattle used to be a focus city for United back in the day, but as quoted by Wandering Aramean at their investor day conference, that attitude is clearly changing: “Seattle is not a hub for us. Competition in the market has grown.” As they leave us, it makes sense to leave them.

I still hesitate because it seems so much more complicated than relying on a single carrier, so I sat down to sketch out what my travel might look like. Keep in mind I can credit Delta, American, and Alaska to Alaska’s Mileage Plan. I can credit Alaska and American to American’s AAdvantage program. For the sake of this analysis, I’m ignoring the existence of US Airways. They won’t be leaving Star Alliance until March 1, 2014, but I haven’t flown with them in years and don’t think I’m likely to until the two carriers begin to integrate their network.

Trips to Amarillo (gotta visit the in-laws)

Fly Alaska or American via DFW
Fly Alaska to DEN or LAS and connect on United or Southwest

Trips to Santa Rosa (gotta visit my family)

Fly Alaska nonstop since I’m tired of the three-hour drive from SFO

Trips to Colorado Springs, Los Angeles, DC, Austin, Las Vegas, etc.

Alaska has nonstop flights to all these destinations. While mileage runs normally require connections and detours, visiting places with Megan is a lot easier with nonstop travel.

Tokyo, Shanghai, and Beijing (I’m a little tired of Bangkok and Singapore right now)

Delta has nonstop flights to all these cities from Seattle

Europe (in general, there are tons of flights)

Fly Delta or American. Connections are available, but Delta has nonstop service from Seattle to London, Paris, and Amsterdam.

Latin America (haven’t been here yet, and really want to go)

American Airlines has a better network here than any other U.S. carrier

About 

Scott created Hack My Trip while traveling on a budget during graduate school and continues to share his thoughts on better travel. He maintains elite status with American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Hyatt, and Starwood.
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  • Kris

    You can earn PQD on SEA-NRT on ANA fwiw

    • Scottrick

      Since when? I thought the joint venture flights weren’t included?

      • Kris

        Book on 016 stock and you get PQD. There were a few days where I got united to show ANA NRT-BKK codeshare as well.

  • Chris G.

    It’s hello Alaska for me as well! Thanks for the great write up, Scott.

  • shay peleg

    Why would you fly coach? lol a true churner would never do that

    • Scottrick

      I’m not a true churner nor have I ever claimed to be. I pay for most of my tickets.

      • shay peleg

        Each to his own (:

  • Mike

    With UA pulling out and devaluation using ANA after Feb, how would one fly from SEA – SIN using MP miles? DL (any fuel charges?)? or BA via LHR (w/ high fuel charges)? Any other choices?

    • Scottrick

      You could fly United via SFO and either HKG or NRT.

      You could fly Delta via NRT.

      I don’t think I would bother with flying BA via LHR. Get yourself to Tokyo and you can connect onwards with JAL.

      • Jim

        ANA from SEA to NRT is still an option

        • Scottrick

          An option, yes, but not one I would recommend for using MP miles after the devaluation.

        • Mike

          UA is devaluing ANA J/F redemptions from Feb onwards, one other thought was to do SEA – HKG (not sure if this is possible, any idea anyone?), and use CX or BA to connect to SIN. Redemption rate might be lower? But I don’t think anyone flies from SEA – HKG?

  • jackline

    how well does Alaska allow you to mix partners in an award ? e.g. Am I allowed to have AA+CX+EK on a single award ? Keep that in mind if you want to switch (unless your travel plans are mostly direct routings and nothing complex or fancy)

    • Scottrick

      They allow one partner in one direction and another partner in the other direction. It’s a drawback. But after United’s partner devaluation, they’ll have a similar if less serious problem since you will pay the higher partner award level if you start on United and want to continue on a partner to your final destination (e.g., UA for SFO-FRA and LH for FRA-MXP).

      http://www.alaskaair.com/content/mileage-plan/earn-use-miles/partner-award-travel.aspx

  • Jim

    Hey Scott, do you know if we can apply for a visa at the Chinese embassy in Vancouver?

    • Scottrick

      There’s nothing prohibiting it. There is a point about having approval to be in the country where you are applying if not already a citizen. I don’t know if a Canadian stamp in a U.S. passport would qualify. Probably. That’s evidence of a lawful stay in Canada. See question 1, part 3.

      http://vancouver.china-consulate.org/eng/visa/Visa/t1071071.htm

  • Mark

    Don’t forget Delta is adding non stop SEA to Hong Kong, Seoul and London next year. They did drop Osaka, but I don’t see that as much of a loss…

    • Scottrick

      I didn’t know about SEA-HKG. Thanks for sharing!

  • disqust101

    Alaska is popping up in all the blogs as a great program for international. So when does AS announce a devaluation for their partners? We all know it’s coming – and sooner than later is my guess.

  • Carl

    I didn’t think that DL’s economy extra is complimentary on international routes for AS elites, nor even for DL’s own low and mid tier elites. Also forget about GPUs/SWUs on DL, they are limited to very high fare classes.
    The problem with using a mishmash of 3 airlines to replace one is that if you credit to one airline to maintain that elite status (and I agree that AA or AS miles are much more valuable) then you are generally treated as a very low elite on the partner airlines, so virtually no elite benefits.
    I’m struggling with the same dilemma as you are given UA’s cutback in SEA. However, UA still has a lot more service from SEA than does AA, and connecting at DFW isn’t exactly a great experience. UA still has a great mileage program and fleet-wide lie-flat seating in international widebodies and 752′s that are accessible with GPUs/SWUs at moderate coach fares. But they have gotten harder to use out of SEA.
    It really depends on your travel mix. If just west coast or the limited destinations AS serves, then AS is a solid choice, but no economy plus, not a very comfortable first, and a difficulty upgrade on transcons and some midcons, and low frequency. DL has the poor mileage program but good service. AA has limited flights from SEA and a limited international network outside of Latin America, and few lie-flat seats. And a likely future of merger blunders and hiccups.
    I wish UA remained stronger in SEA. And I wish UA decided to compete instead of run away at the prospect of increased competition.

    • Scottrick

      You’re correct, and I should make clear in the post that Economy Comfort only receives a 50% discount on international flights for Alaska MVP Gold members (25% for MVP). However, my criticism of ANA is that it isn’t even an option.

  • asar

    you will almost never get upgraded on DL flying as an AS elite.

    • Scottrick

      I don’t plan to/need to. My primary goal is to earn elite qualifying miles when I fly internationally to Asia, which I can’t do on Alaska or American. My secondary goal is to earn elite qualifying miles on some short West Coast flights, which I can’t do on American and for which Delta provides some competition to Alaska.

  • Matt

    To be fair, you can earn UA PQD on ANA flights, provided the ticket is issued on UA ticket stock. This is easily accomplished, even for somewhat of lesser skill than yourself.

  • Matt C.

    I switched from United to a combination of Delta and Alaska when I moved to Seattle earlier this year. The routes were a big consideration, but two things pushed me over the edge. One was the free Delta lounge access (plus two guests) I get with my Amex platinum, vs. having to pay for United’s lounges. Two was the flat-bed seating in business from SEA-JFK and, even more attractively for me, SEA-ATL on occasion (though that route is not guaranteed).

  • geoduck_007

    I was taken back that the two SA partners, operating 787s in a metal-neutral JV couldn’t make it work. Even with Delta’s growth in Seattle, they lack a Japanese partner (for domestic connections), which should have made the (2) competitors more even.
    There’s talk of JAL of resuming Seattle service now, which would truly bring us full circle (the original foreign carrier to service Seattle) with their BOS/SAN routes doing well w/o oneworld feed

  • Shane

    It sounds like United retreated in Seattle rather than Seattle giving up on United.

    • Scottrick

      Are you referring to this line?

      “As they leave us, it makes sense to leave them.”

      Those are my words, not United’s, which would be consistent with United retreating first.

      • Shane

        Understood but the reality is they are retreating from a battle that Delta started. United seems more about consolidating it’s network rather than try to fight battles it used to fight. It’s no wonder they are losing HVF’ers to the competition (not to mention how they are treating their elites with a death by a thousand cuts).