Alaska Airlines vs United: Which Airline is Better?

Got a trip coming up in the near future and looking to compare airlines?

I’ve been there. As a frequent traveler who lives on the road and out of my suitcase, I know the importance of airlines and airline policies and comforts.

Many of the major US airlines are often good choices when it comes to air travel, and in this article I go in-depth into one of the biggest traveler questions that I get: Alaska Airlines vs. United?

From flying routes to loyalty perks, overall comfort, in-flight amenities, baggage restrictions, and service quality, I have covered it all.

Here you’ll find side-by-side comparisons on all things Alaska Airlines and United Airlines. I have flown both airlines multiple times and go into detail about what makes each company stand out

Key Takeaways

  • Insight into the unique differences between Alaska Airlines and United
  • Which airline offers superior route options tailored to travel needs
  • A breakdown of the luggage policies and realities of check-in
  • Comparative analysis of the rewards and benefits of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and United's MileagePlus program

detailed comparisons on comfort, amenities, and loyalty perks to enhance your air travel experience.

Introduction to the Major Airlines

Alaska Airlines and United Airlines are two of the most well-known names in aviation. Here’s a brief rundown on how have shaped today's landscape of global air travel.

History and Evolution of Alaska Airlines

In 1932 McGee Airways, later known as Alaska Airlines, first took to the skies amidst the economic turbulence of the Great Depression.

Through tenacious mergers and a bold rebranding strategy, the airline not only survived but thrived, establishing a dominant presence in the aviation industry.

Today Alaska Airlines is a name synonymous with excellence, joining the renowned Oneworld Alliance in 2020 and continuing to innovate for the modern traveler. Its one of the most recognized names in air travel in the United States.

Background of United Airlines

Shortly before Alaska (McGee) Airlines was born, the legacy of United Airlines began in 1926 with the founding of Varney Air Lines.

Piloting through decades of advancements and pivotal moments like the creation of Boeing Air Transport, United's story is one of ambition and transformation.

The airline merged with United Continental merger in 2010 and now commands the skies on a global scale, serving all six inhabited continents and constantly reinventing the experience of air travel for passengers around the world.

Alaska Airlines vs. United: In-Depth Service Comparison

Choosing the right airline can be an important factor in having a good travel experience, especially when considering the services of the overall travel experience.

A closer comparison of customer service approaches, in-flight amenities, and loyalty rewards between Alaska Airlines and United offers valuable insights for passengers prioritizing these factors.

Customer Service Excellence

Alaska Airlines stands out for its more personalized approach. Alaska boasts fewer customer complaints and a higher rate of customer satisfaction, which is a testament to their commitment. Their flexibility, especially when unforeseen circumstances lead to cancellations or changes, is a cornerstone of the travel experience they promise and deliver.

As a traveler who’s had their share of travel delays, snags, and disappointments, I can tell you that good customer service makes a painful experience much less painful. The cabin crew who care are a clear winner, but I think this is kind of a roll of the dice as well as your final destination.

I've noticed that both passengers and crew members are bound to be in a better mood if they're on their way to a tropical destination!

In-Flight Amenities and Comfort

Alaska Airlines offers a comfortable array of options, with generous space and amenities even in standard economy class seats. Their first-class seats and upgrades like the Premium Main Cabin feature additional benefits, ensuring comfort that goes beyond the standard.

In comparison, United also ensures choice and variety by segmenting their classes from Basic Economy to Polaris Business, complete with luxury bedding to workspaces equipped with video screens on some airliners.

Each is tailored to cater to the different preferences and needs of their passengers, and each aircraft and flight is going to offer something different, so make sure to check which aircraft and route you are considering to know what is offered on that flight.

Loyalty Programs: Mileage Plan vs. MileagePlus

The world of frequent flyer programs can be competitive and complex.

Still, rewards matter, and both financial products for the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and the United Airlines’ MileagePlus program bring unique perks. Alaska Airlines entices travelers with the simplicity of earning one mile for every mile flown, along with travel rewards from partners in dining and shopping.

United's MileagePlus stretches your mile's reach with credit card spending and flight purchases. United's Premier members enjoy even loftier privileges, enhancing loyalty through their visitor's travel journey.

Both programs reflect a robust commitment to engaging customers through meaningful travel rewards that go beyond the skies.

Flying with either of these renowned airlines, I'm reminded that the choice often comes down to whether you prioritize the a generous mileage scheme or the promise of a varied, luxurious inflight treatment. The decision, as always, rests in the hands of the traveler.

But also, it relies on your credit score, too!

Operational Reliability and Fleets

When we talk about the reliability of an airline, we're referring to a few key aspects that matter most to passengers: timeliness, operational reliability, effective fleet management, and the management of cancellations and flight changes.

Here is a brief summary of each service provider and what recent years have shown for their track record.

For industry giants like United Airlines and Alaska Airlines, maintaining an impeccable operational record is vital for keeping their promise to customers and securing their place at the top.

Let's look into how these airlines manage these crucial aspects, and if either offer a full refund depending on the circumstances.

Every traveler knows that time is of the essence. Timeliness becomes a primary measure of an airline's performance. On this score, both airlines strive to keep their schedules as tight as possible. However, the aviation industry is not without its challenges.

Flight Cancellations Historically

  • United Airlines: United Airlines has faced criticism in the past for frequent flight cancellations, particularly during periods of high demand or inclement weather. While they do have systems in place to handle cancellations, there have been instances where passengers experienced inconvenience due to last-minute changes.
  • Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines generally has a better track record in terms of flight cancellations. They have robust systems in place to manage disruptions, and passengers typically experience fewer cancellations compared to some other major carriers. However, like any airline, cancellations can still occur, especially during adverse weather conditions or operational challenges.

Flight Changes

  • United Airlines: United Airlines typically charges fees for flight changes unless passengers have purchased more expensive, flexible tickets. This lack of flexibility can be frustrating for travelers, especially those who need to alter their plans due to unforeseen circumstances.
  • Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines offers more flexibility when it comes to flight changes. They have policies that allow passengers to make changes to their flights without incurring hefty fees, particularly for certain fare classes or if changes are made within a specified timeframe before departure. This flexibility enhances customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Refund Policies

  • United Airlines: United Airlines has a standard refund policy that applies in cases of significant delays or cancellations. While they generally comply with regulations regarding passenger rights and offer refunds when warranted, some passengers have reported challenges in obtaining refunds promptly.
  • Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines has a similar refund policy to United Airlines, offering refunds in cases of significant delays or cancellations. However, Alaska Airlines is often praised for its efficient handling of refund requests, with many passengers reporting timely processing and resolution of refund issues.

Both United Airlines and Alaska Airlines, despite facing fleet and service disruptions, have maintained their dedication to operational reliability.

With speedy recoveries, transparent communication, and prioritizing passenger needs, they seem to understand the long-term impact that their policies and service have on customers and the likeliness of repeat business because of it.

Comparing Costs: Pricing and Extra Charges

Both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines showcase a variety of pricing tiers and additional costs that can impact the overall value of your journey.

In comparing them to the broad scope of airlines, I think they are in the same category and are relatively close when it comes to fees and changes, but let’s look closer.

A Breakdown of Ticket Prices and Fees

When I review Alaska Airlines and United Airlines ticket prices, the base fares vary depending on factors like advanced booking, seasonality, and route popularity. Alaska Airlines boasts competitive pricing and a travel credit card that offers reward points, which can be redeemed to lower travel expenses.

United Airlines, with its vast alliance network, often features a rich selection of fare options with opportunities for savings through bundled deals or flexible travel policies.

Pro Tip: for long-haul and international flights, the best time to book is about 6 weeks to 3 months in advance. Flight costs are also historically less late Tuesday night into early Wednesday mornings.

Extra Charges: Baggage and Changes

In examining Alaska Airlines and United Airlines reviews, additional charges such as baggage fees and change costs are commonly highlighted. Its my least favorite part of travel, next to getting stuck in the middle seat!

At the time of this writing, Alaska Airlines' first checked bag is still usually $30, while United has increased this charge to $35. But as I found out, using a branded travel credit card from either airline can reduce or even eliminate these baggage costs.

Change fees have been restructured, with both airlines promoting a more flexible travel policy to accommodate unforeseen itinerary adjustments.

Value-Added Services: Are They Worth the Additional Cost?

I've come across numerous additional charges for enhanced travel comforts, like the opportunity to select premium economy seats or to enjoy extra comforts in cabin baggage accommodation.

Both airlines offer extra legroom in their premium seating options; Alaska's Premium Main Cabin and United's Economy Plus.

So with either choice here, you have options, and options are always good to have.

Route Networks and Destination Flexibility

United Airlines flights stand out in this category with a vast route network serving all six continents. The airline caters to international travel needs as well as domestic, making it one of the few major airlines with true worldwide coverage.

Alaska Airlines’ network is more regional, but their partnership as part of the Oneworld Alliance significantly broadens their reach and provides valuable destination flexibility.

Here’s an at-a-glance look at the route destinations and highlights:

Your travel needs and route may directly influence whether you lean towards United Airlines for its broad network or Alaska Airlines for its specialized routes and alliance options.

Understanding these aspects of their service allows you to tailor your travel plans and optimize your flying experiences.


So the question may still remain when it comes to Alaska Airlines vs United: which is better?

Depends on if you prioritize Alaska's rewarding mileage scheme, or lean towards United's far-reaching network and array of travel classes.

I personally like both airlines and consider them neck and neck with each other in terms of service, fares and fees, and overall quality.

My final advice for fellow travelers navigating this choice is to weigh the facets that matter most to you.

Consider the Alaska Airlines advantages if customer-focused service and a generous loyalty program resonate with your travel style.

Conversely, if you're seeking an airline with extensive route options and diverse travel amenities, United Airlines could be your go-to carrier.

I’m a big proponent of travel so if you are really struggling to make a decision, I think your best bet would be to a trip on each and see which one you prefer first hand!

FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

What are the key differences between Alaska Airlines and United Airlines?

The key differences between Alaska Airlines and United include their route networks, with United offering extensive global coverage and Alaska focusing predominantly on the West Coast and Alaska. Alaska is praised for customer service and the Mileage Plan loyalty program, while United offers a wider variety of in-flight amenities and a robust MileagePlus program. Additionally, there are differences in their pricing strategies, baggage policies, and additional costs for premium services.

How do Alaska Airlines and United Airlines compare in terms of customer service?

Alaska Airlines generally receives fewer customer complaints than United, indicating a higher level of customer satisfaction. Alaska is known for excellent customer service and flexible travel policies, while United, although offering an expansive global network, can sometimes face criticism in the area of customer service.

What are the loyalty programs available with Alaska Airlines and United Airlines?

Alaska Airlines offers the Mileage Plan, noted for earning one mile per mile flown and additional rewards through shopping and dining. United's MileagePlus program allows earning miles through credit card spending and flight purchases, with Premier members enjoying extra benefits. Both programs aim to engage customers and offer unique advantages for frequent flyers.

How do Alaska Airlines and United Airlines handle operational reliability?

Both airlines manage a large number of daily flights and focus on operational reliability. They provide flight change options without additional costs and refunds for delays. Recent issues, such as the grounding of Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft, have tested their abilities to maintain schedules and passenger confidence.

What are the similarities and differences in the baggage policies of Alaska Airlines vs. United Airlines?

Both airlines charge for checked baggage, with Alaska typically charging $30 for the first bag and United $35. Additional fees apply for overweight and excessive baggage. Premium travelers and certain loyalty program members may enjoy additional allowances or fee waivers. The specifics of policy and pricing can vary, so it is recommended to check each airline's most current baggage policy before traveling.

Do Alaska Airlines and United Airlines charge extra for premium seats or added comfort?

Yes, both airlines charge extra for premium seating options. Alaska offers Premium Main Cabin seats with amenities like priority boarding and extra legroom, while United's Economy Plus also provides additional space and other perks. The value of these services depends on the individual traveler's preferences for added comfort during their journey.

Which airline should I choose for international travel, Alaska Airlines or United Airlines?

If international travel is a priority, United Airlines may be the better choice given its extensive global route network that serves all six inhabited continents. Alaska Airlines, through its partnership with the Oneworld Alliance, also offers international destinations but is more focused on domestic and regional routes along the West Coast and to Alaska.

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Beachy Brunette

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