If you’re like me, choosing an airline to fly with can be a difficult decision- especially with how many unique options and destinations they have. Luckily, I’ve been traveling the world for five years now and have my fair share of experiences in the air. Today, my goal is to fill you in on the tough decision between committing to Alaska Airlines vs American Airlines.
By the end of this article, you’ll understand the main differences between the two, take a look at their key features, get some decision-making tips, and see a few alternatives to consider. Let’s dive in!
Bottom Line Up Front
The bottom line is if you’re looking to fly to a destination on the west coast of the United States, it’s in your favor to go with Alaskan Airlines. The flight will be significantly cheaper and relatively comfortable. However, if you’re flying internationally and want something a bit more luxurious, American Airlines can provide those options to you at a higher price.
Main Differences Between Alaska Airlines vs American Airlines
Here are the main differences to look at between Alaska Airlines and American Airlines.
- Alaska Airlines services most of its destinations on the west coast and Canada, whereas American Airlines services almost the entire world
- Alaska Airlines has a fairly simple class structure in their planes, whereas American Airlines has over eight classes with more bells and whistles
- Alaska Airlines is known to have the nicest staff in the world, whereas American Airlines simply has a “good” staff
- American Airlines is considered the largest airline company in the world, whereas Alaskan Airlines only caters to parts of the United States
- American Airlines has a solid entertainment system that allows you to stream movies and tv shows on any of their flights for free, whereas Alaskan Airlines charges for their entertainment unless you’re in Premium Cabin or First Class.
- American Airlines has a more expansive Rewards Program, whereas Alaskan Airlines has a Rewards Program that has better deals.
Now let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this post. What are the key features of both Alaska Airlines and American Airlines?
Alaska Airlines was first started in the early 1930s by Linious “Mac” McGee. The company started out as McGee Airlines, with the goal of chartering flights in and out of Alaska. As the company began to expand due to its remote niche, it rebranded into what it is currently known as today- Alaska Airlines. Today the company has over 20,000 employees worldwide and over 300 fleets.
Alaska Airlines is heavily based on the West Coast, with its primary headquarters being in Seattle, Washington. Most of its destinations are serviced in the United States, and if you’re going somewhere in the west, it’s usually very affordable. It’s also no surprise that they specialize in Alaskan flights, which means they are able to get to many smaller communities in the state that other airlines don’t have access to. I’ve used them several times for some of my more remote photography adventures.
However, if you’re looking to use them for international travel, you’ll find that their options are fairly limited. Outside of Canada and Mexico, they don’t have many options.
Alaska Airlines allows one carry-on bag (22” x 14” x 9”) and one personal item included with each ticket purchase. This is generally what I aim to go with, as I pack my bags very minimalist and do laundry once a week. However, if you are looking to check a bag, Alaska Airlines charges $30 for the first bag and $40 for the second bag. Be careful to make sure you’re bag isn’t overweight, or else they’ll charge you a $100 fee.
Luckily Alaska Airlines keeps it fairly simple with their class structure. The entire plane is broken down into three separate classes- Main Cabin, Premium Cabin, and First Class. You’ll quickly realize that the Main and Premium Cabins are almost exactly the same, minus the fact that the Premium Cabins provide a bit more leg room and onboard entertainment (via streaming.) Both these cabins are comfortable and have large trays, which is a plus for people like me who enjoy using their laptops on the plane to work (or goof off.)
The Alaska Airlines First Class experience is where things truly start to kick up a notch. You’ll get even more leg room, plus chairs that recline significantly more. If I’m exhausted, these chairs truly feel like a blessing. In addition, First Class comes with video screens to watch onboard entertainment with, alongside exclusive meals and drinks.
Alaska Airlines has a reputation around the world for having “the nicest staff on Earth.” I’ve never found them to be exceptionally amazing, but I have never had bad experiences with them. They’re also kind and attentive to your needs when they arise, which is all I can ask for.
For Main Cabin and Premium Cabin seating, you’ll get a free snack and drink for the flight. If you’re looking for something a bit more substantial, they do have a menu that provides a few more options. They have tapas, cheese plates, and even a couple of sandwiches to choose from. If you’re feeling frisky, you can get some beer, wine, or spirits or keep it low-key with a variety of soda options.
The great thing about Alaska Airlines is that they have entertainment no matter what part of the plane you are in. The back two cabins (Premium and Main) will require an external device to access the entertainment. It’s all done through onboard streaming. If you’re in Premium, it’s included in the price of your ticket. Some flights even have tablets you can rent, so be sure to ask before arriving if that’s an option you desire.
If you’re in First Class, you don’t even need to bring your own device. Each chair has built-in entertainment, so you can watch endless films and tv shows on your own time.
Another reason many people choose Alaska Airlines over other airlines is its Rewards Program. Known to go further than other programs, Alaska Airlines doesn’t reward you based on how much money you’ve spent but on how many miles you’ve traveled. This encourages you to be smart with your deals and leaves you feeling like you aren’t trying to be charged at every opportunity. These Rewards Points can be used for cheaper flights, discounts at hotels, and even the occasional upgrade to First Class.
Pros of Alaska Airlines
- Alaska Airlines has better deals on west coast travel
- Alaska Airlines has free streaming services if you’re First Class or Premium
- Alaska Airlines has a reputation for the nicest staff in the world
Cons of Alaskan Airlines
- Alaska Airlines doesn’t do much international travel
- Alaska Airlines seating isn’t amazing, but it gets the job done
Oddly enough, American Airlines is considered the largest airline company in the world if you look primarily at the fleet size. Its entire network services over 6,000 flights per day, which is quite the number. The company is headquartered out of Dallas, Texas, and was started way back in 1930.
In terms of availability, Alaska Airlines is the clear winner in terms of the sheer number of destinations. They currently service over 350 destinations in over 45 countries. In addition, American Airlines is part of the OneWorld Alliance, which partners with several international airlines. This means they have even more options available if you prefer to stay in one network.
American Airlines allows one free carry-on item (22 x 14 x 9 inches) in addition to one personal item per person, per flight. If you are savvy enough to pack small, this could save you some dimes for the trip. However, if you’re looking to pack a checked bag, it’ll cost you $30 for the first bag and $40 for the second bag. This is assuming you’re not part of their rewards program. If you’re an AAdvantage Member, then you’ll get free checked bags.
Unlike Alaska Airlines, American Airlines is a big larger company. This means they’ve divided their cabins into eight different classes, which may vary depending on if you’re flying locally or internationally. Available only for international flights are Flagship First and Flagship Business class, which are basically your full-fledged mini suites for international travel. I, unfortunately, haven’t had the privilege to test them out, but I’ve heard many good things.
On their more standard routes, they have First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy, Main Cabin Extra, Main Cabin, and Basic Economy. As you move up the ladder, you’ll get nice seats with more leg room and storage space. I wouldn’t say there are remarkable differences between all of them except for First Class and Business Class, so choose one based on your budget, and you won’t be missing out on too many differences.
I’ve got a couple of friends that work in the industry as flight attendants for American Airlines, and they all love the experience and feel like they are paid well. This transcribes well to the guests, who feel more appreciated when the employees are appreciated as well. In terms of my personal experiences, I’ve always had a good time on board and found the employees to be nice and engaging. Every once in a while, you’ll get a bad egg, but I think that’s inevitable anywhere.
You’ll be offered free snacks and beverages if you’re in the main cabin on American Airlines. Options include pretzels, Biscoff cookies, and a variety of soda/juice options. You’ll be offered a free alcoholic beverage if you’re an AAdvantage member.
If you’re flying internationally, you’ll be offered some more substantial meals based on the destination you’re heading to. I’ve never had a bad experience with the food, but I also wouldn’t say it’s “amazing” either.
In terms of on-board entertainment, you’ll find that American Airlines has plenty of options. For starters, most flights (note: not every flight) have wifi that you can purchase for $10. If you’re a frequent flyer, you can pick up a subscription service for $50 a month.
In addition to wifi, most flights have streaming services that you can connect your phone to. You’ll get hundreds of free movies and tv shows that can be accessed right on your device- with or without the wifi. American Airlines also has special partnerships with Apple+, Skillshare, Apple Music, and Rosetta Stone.
American Airlines has a rewards program called American Airlines AAdvantage, which lets you earn points when you fly with American Airlines or any airline company that’s part of the OneWorld Alliance. These points rack up to get you upgraded with hotels, cars, and classes within airplanes. The program is free to join and well worth it if you fly with anyone in the OneWorld Alliance often.
Pros of American Airlines
- American Airlines can service almost anywhere in the world- it has one of the largest networks on Earth
- American Airlines has many different classes to choose from depending on your travel budget and needs
- American Airlines has free streaming entertainment services, no matter what class you’re in
- American Airlines is part of the OneWorld Alliance- which can get you discounts on flights with other airlines
Cons of American Airlines
- American Airlines food is subpar at best
Decision Making Tips
Now that we understand the key features of each of these airlines let’s take a look at some decision-making tips.
How Far Are You Going?
If you’re looking for an international flight or are planning on going far and wide, American Airlines is the obvious choice. It’s the largest airline in the world, with over 6,000 flights a day. This means you’re far more likely to find a flight that will fit your destination if you choose American Airlines. However, if you’re traveling around the west coast of the United States or to a more remote spot in Alaska, you’ll most likely find that Alaskan Airlines has the best deals. This is because their headquarters are located right in Seattle, Washington, and they have been serving the area since the early 1930s.
What Kind of Experience Are You Looking For?
If you’re looking for a more luxurious experience, I wouldn’t hesitate to go with American Airlines. However, if you’re simply looking to get from one destination to the next for the cheapest and more relatively comfortable fare, Alaskan Airlines is probably the best option for you. American Airlines has over eight different classes in their airlines, with all sorts of features to provide you with the most relaxing experience possible.
Alternatives to Consider
Now that we’ve examined the two main airlines here let’s take a look at some alternatives to consider.
If you’re looking for the most high-end experience available, look no further than Delta Airlines. Their seats and meals are world-class, and you won’t be disappointed if you enjoy luxury. The best part is if you are still with the company long enough to get upgraded on a regular basis with their rewards program, Delta Skymiles, you’ll literally be treated like a king/queen from the moment you enter the airport lounge to the moment you step aboard your flight and take a seat.
If you’re looking for a budget airline but aren’t willing to stoop as low as a company like Spirit, Frontier is most likely the best option for you. It’ll get you from point A to point B with relative ease, and you’ll save a bunch of money in the process. Plus, you’ll get to fly on a plane that’s got a neat animal on it, which is never a bad thing.
Southwest isn’t a bad option to go with if you enjoy flying with style. I find their seats to be extremely comfortable, and I like how there are no “chosen” seats when you purchase tickets. It’s all first come, first serve, which puts you on an equal playing field with everyone aboard. I’ve found the people who fly Southwest to be the kindest, and the flight attendants always have some funny intercom sayings.
Frequently Asked Questions
Answer: This is a loaded question, but I would err on the side of American Airlines simply because it has more options to choose from and more destinations to fly to. However, if you’re flying anywhere on the west coast or Alaska, I’d be sure to check out Alaskan Airlines. You’ll generally find their flights cheaper, and they have a relatively comfortable cabin.
Answer: No, they are owned by two completely different companies. Alaskan Airlines started back in the 1930s, and American Airlines started around the same time frame. The difference is that American Airlines is a much larger company and is part of the OneWorld Alliance.
Answer: No, neither of these companies offers free checked baggage. However, both companies allow a free carry-on and a personal item per customer. Checked bags for both companies cost $30 for the first bag and $40 for the second bag.
In the end, if you’re looking for a flight that can get you anywhere on the west coast of the United States, Alaska Airlines is the option for you. You’ll find friendly service, great deals, and fun hospitality. On the flip side, if you’re going anywhere else in the world, you might want to go with American Airlines. You’ll find substantially more destinations, and the best part is all the inflight entertainment is free! I hope this guide has been helpful to you find which airline to choose from. Happy travels!
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