Alaska Airlines has completed its acquisition of Virgin America, the company announced early Wednesday.



The $2.6 billion purchase, which came eight days after antitrust regulators at the Department of Justice approved the deal, has a total estimated value of $4 billion, including Virgin's debt and aircraft-operating leases.

Alaska said it would spend the next year working to secure FAA certification to allow the airlines to operate as a single carrier. However, no decision has been made about whether the Virgin America brand, which is flashier that its Alaska counterpart, will be retained.

"Alaska plans to continue to operate the Virgin America fleet with its current name and product for a period of time while it conducts extensive customer research to understand what flyers value most," the company said.

The merger leaves the combined company as the fifth largest U.S. airline behind Southwest and the legacy carriers American, Delta and United. The Alaska Air Group now offers 1,187 daily flights to 118 destinations and deploys a fleet of 286 aircraft.

For customers of Alaska and Virgin America, some changes will come quickly.

Starting Monday, customers can purchase Virgin America tickets at Alaskaair.com. Those tickets will also remain available at Virginamerica.com.

Also starting Monday, Alaska Mileage Plan members will be able to earn miles on Virgin America flights, while Virgin America Elevate members will be able to earn points on Alaska flights. In addition, elite-status loyalty members of both airlines will receive priority check-in and boarding on each company's flights.

As of Jan. 9, members in both frequent-flyer programs will be able to redeem miles across both networks.

The merger received significant scrutiny from the justice department, which ultimately approved it after months of delay, with the stipulation that Alaska scale back its codesharing partnership with American to facilitate competition on routes involving the carriers' respective hubs.

On Wednesday, Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said that his company planned to make this "the most customer-friendly merger ever."

As if to back up that point, Alaska on Wednesday announced new flights from San Francisco to Orlando, Minneapolis and Orange County, Calif.'s John Wayne airport beginning next summer.

The Orlando route will operate daily, the San Francisco route will operate twice per day and the San Francisco-Orange County flights will launch four times each day.

Tickets for the flights go on sale Dec. 21.
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