Checking In On Alaska Airlines (Not Literally)

It has been a very long time since I wrote about Alaska, and that’s a shame. After all, the airline has been doing a lot of good things lately. But it has also done some things that some of you won’t like. I figured it was time to do a little round-up of all-things Alaska.

Me and an Alaska 737 Model

Change Fee Goes Up, With a Twist
Back in April I wrote over at Conde Nast about how Alaska would install new slimline seats with power outlets. I won’t write more about that here, but the point was that every time Alaska made a change that might negatively impact the traveler, it made sure to include a positive as well. That’s exactly what Alaska did with change fees.

First, it is giving plenty of advance notice. The current change fee of $75 ($100 if you call in to reservations) will be good on all tickets purchased before October 30. After that, however, any tickets purchased will come with a two-tier change fee. If you need to make a change and you’re still 60 days before departure, there is no change fee. Within 60 days of departure, it’s a $125 fee.

In this case, Alaska saw the legacy airlines raise their change fees to $200 and it knew it had to room to increase. So it will pull in millions by going to a $125 fee. At the same time, however, those who need to change further in advance will gain. Naturally the number of people who need to change that far in advance is small, but it’s still a nice gesture. Like JetBlue, Alaska is trying to create policies that make some sense to the traveler.

Bag Fees Go Up, But So Does Compensation If There are Problems
For the longest time, Alaska held its bag fees at $20 to check the first bag when others had standardized around $25. In fact, Alaska charged $20 for each of the first three bags. Now it’s getting closer to what the others do by having $25 for each of the first two bags and $75 for the third and beyond. Unless you check three bags a lot, this won’t mean a huge change, but it probably makes sense to standardize especially with partners American and Delta. (You used to be able to buy a codeshare ticket under the Alaska code and save money on the fees.)

But when the fee goes up, so does the compensation. Alaska is the only airline to really push a Baggage Service Guarantee. The idea is that if your bag gets to the carousel more than 20 minutes after your airplane parks, you get a $20 discount code for future travel or 2,000 bonus miles. That will increase to $25 or 2,500 miles. So, you pay more and you get more if they don’t live up to their end of the bargain.

Award Travel Gets Better
I’m not a miles and points guy, as most readers of the blog know. But that doesn’t mean I have some weird moral objection to earning and using them. Every time I buy a flight, I always make sure to earn miles. I’ve always liked Alaska’s program but the airline has really stepped it up this year.

The beauty of the program is the ability to earn miles on multiple, useful carriers (including elite qualifying miles on both Delta and American) as well as being able to use those miles on a bunch of partners for travel around the world. In addition, the credit card is pretty good as well, so you can build up miles pretty quickly to use. You probably just don’t hear about it very often, because I don’t believe Bank of America (the issuer) participates in those lucrative affiliate programs that you’ll often see pitched on other blogs.

The earning side of things hasn’t changed much, but the redemption side is where things have changed a lot. It used to be that if you weren’t using miles to fly on Alaska, you had to redeem your miles only on a roundtrip itinerary and you couldn’t mix and match partners. That was a pain, because Alaska has a lot of excellent partners and combining carriers was sometimes the only way to find the availability you needed.

But now, Alaska has changed things and you can now redeem miles for one way awards or you can mix and match partners on pretty much every airline in the program. And nearly all of these airlines are finally bookable on AlaskaAir.com so it’s much less painful than it used to be. Since Alaska has a lot of partners that are aligned with oneworld and SkyTeam, the selection of carriers is pretty great. In Europe, it’s Air France/KLM and British Airways. Beyond Europe, Alaska is the only US airline that partners with Emirates. You can do Qantas to Australia or Fiji Airways to the Pacific.

Cathay Pacific in Asia is part of the program but that has to be booked over the phone. Meanwhile Korean Air in Asia and LAN in Latin America should be up and running “by the end of the summer.” And Alaska just added Aeromexico as a partner as well. In the US, of course American is a part of this and Delta, well, it’s sort of participating. You can mix and match Delta with another airline, but you can’t do one way awards. I’m assuming this is because Delta’s backwards program won’t even let its own members have one way awards.

So there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on with the Eskimo. I just haven’t had a chance to write about it.


24 Responses to Checking In On Alaska Airlines (Not Literally)

  1. “””””Alaska is trying to create policies that make some sense to the traveler.”””””

    Well that’s different, airlines usually try and create policies that screw the traveler.

    Funny how times change, there was a time airlines did all kinds of wonderful thinks for every traveler to get them to fly their airline. Now a days it seems like airlines do what even it takes to make it more difficult to the traveler or just drive travelers away.

  2. Aaron says:

    Cranky,

    There’s been talk that Alaska Airlines has interest in acquiring Frontier? Do you feel this has any merit?

    • Brandon says:

      …..and I heard a rumor that Southwest was interested in buying AS. Specificially to get there hands on Hawaii routes.

    • CF says:

      Why on Earth would Alaska want Frontier? I see absolutely no reason for Alaska to want that. They have completely different models and wouldn’t benefit from the purchase in any way. As for Southwest, they might want Alaska but they can’t even handle the AirTran integration. And they’d have to pay a silly amount of money to acquire Alaska (as has been mentioned in another comment).

  3. Ron says:

    1. Change fees: Waiver of change fees 60 days out could bring about an increase in advance bookings, because people will be less concerned. I typically try to lock in a fare several months out when I’m fairly certain I’ll fly; with this policy I’d be happy to lock in a fare even when I’m less certain about the exact dates. It won’t be like the games my mother-in-law plays with Southwest (she uses them as a “bank” for future alternative tickets), but it will bring additional bookings at the margins.

    2. Bag fees: With both fee and compesation going up to $25, I’m happy they kept the time limit at 20 minutes :-)

    3. Award travel: One recent unpublicized negative change is that children under 13 can no longer sign up for Mileage Plan online or open an online profile. I just found out about this a few weeks ago when trying to open an account for my son, who will be taking his first flight since turning 2. In the past (2010 and 2012) I was able to sign up online for my older kids, and in both cases I received a special Parent/Guardian Notification email, beginning with the statement “In accordance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), this email is being sent to let you know that your child has created a My Account profile at alaskaair.com.” I guess they’ve reinterpreted the rules to disallow online profiles altogether, though other airlines aren’t doing this. I need to consider whether I want to open a Mileage Plan account for my son and spend the next 10 years without online access to it, or just credit the miles to a different program (the upcoming trip is on Delta anyway).

    • Zack Rules says:

      Ron has it right on the money. I suspect Southwest makes money on not having a change fee because people who change a flight are usually likely to spend more on another ticket, leaving their old seat for the airline to resell at a higher price. Alaska is trying to do the same thing but make even more money in the process. Should be interesting if it sticks around.

    • AFAIK COPPA requires written (as in paper/fax/scanned) permission from the parent for a kid’s online account. They probably could/should just incorporate this into a paper signup form for kids.

      • Ron says:

        OK, I understand there have recently been some changes to COPPA, so this might explain Alaska’s change in policy. Though other airlines do allow opening children’s accounts online, so there seems to be some room for interpretation.

  4. Kathleen says:

    Love AS, always able to book my award flights to Hawaii and with my B Of A Alaska Visa I get a $100 companion ticket once a year and use that all the time too. sadly, I used to be able to fly 1st and use that companion ticket.
    Living in a small rural oregon community I love that AS goes where ever I want to go! Family in Alaska is a short hop away when flying on my AS miles!!

  5. From what I’ve seen, it seems that a more consumer friendly fee policy hasn’t hurt Alaska’s bottom line much at all.

  6. Seems like Alaska/Horizon have a lot of positives going on with their customer airport and in-flight experience, too. I took my first flights with them earlier this summer and was impressed; great people, efficient operations and — I felt — a quality, high-caliber experience from checkin to baggage claim at my destination. If they flew more to the midwest (where I live), they would be one of my top choices. Thanks for another interesting post, Brett.

  7. Ernesto says:

    ” You can mix and match Delta with another airline, but you can?t do one way awards. I?m assuming this is because Delta?s backwards program won?t even let its own members have one way awards.”
    However, I just bought a one-way tkt on Delta with my Air France Flying Blue miles, so that might not be the reason…

  8. Randy says:

    I am just glad we finally got AS service in SLC. :)

  9. ancdude says:

    For those of us in Alaska, AS pretty much has a monopoly on flights in and out of the state. That said, after I fly a partner airline, I’m always glad to get back to the smiling faces of the AS cabin crews and the prompt baggage delivery at the end of the flight. Here in Anchorage, we’re usually out the door to the parking shuttle within 20 minutes of parking. We could have a lot worse airline for a monopoly.

    As to the rumors of acquisition, AS Senior Management has made it abundantly clear, repeatedly, that they wish to remain fiercly independent. I see no reason to screw up a good (profitable) thing.

    • Todd says:

      Also, as a practical matter, with its stock near record highs, it would be very expensive for another carrier to acquire Alaska (i.e., Alaska’s market cap is higher than U.S. Airways’ right now).

  10. SAN Greg says:

    With a lot of new service from SAN I started flying AS more and more. One other tangible very nice thing I’ve noticed is that when I’ve called them I always speak to an agent who is here in the states and converses with me like I’m a neighbor.
    It didn’t used to be a big thing with me until 2 months ago when I made a last minute award reservation with a phone agent based overseas and she spelled my middle name incorrectly on the partner airline’s ticket. It took many hours and was a complete nightmare getting it corrected.

  11. bobsmith says:

    Living in PDX- I love AS, like many of the commenters I feel that it is a cut above the other major carriers. This may seem picky, but I also like the certainty that I will be flying on a 737 (aside from the legacy Horizon routes). Comparing Alaska to the large carriers is probably unfair but I feel like the condition of the interior cabins of the American and United planes very considerably as does the age of the planes.

  12. Pingback: Some Basic Suggestions on Airline Frequent Flier Programs (Guest Post) - >> The Cranky Flier

  13. Matt Sattler says:

    Actually Cranky, JetBlue also has a code share agreement with Emirates (EK) which I believe was just expanded, per an announcement in the 2Q earnings call.

  14. Pingback: Why Does Delta’s Change Fee Schedule Make No Sense? (Ask Cranky) - >> The Cranky Flier

  15. Chris Smith says:

    I flew on Alaska for the first time in August and had a very positive experience. I got the Alaska Airlines card in October 2013 after my kids moved from the east coast to Seattle (great non stop connection from PHL). So now I have a companion ticket to use. I would like to give it to my kids to fly into PA this summer but not sure if I can do that. Anyone know? Do they check?

    • CF says:

      Chris Smith – You can definitely use the companion ticket for your kids. No problems there under the rules.

  16. Nana541 says:

    To use that Companion fare for someone else “not flying with you” but to give it to them there are some rules. I do this for my grand kids often. The tickets need to be purchased thru “your” Alaska frequent flier account and if the account owner is not traveling on the reservation you need to use a credit card in the name of the account owner to use the companion ticket.
    Not sure if this makes sense, but I simply book the ticket for my daughter and grandson thru my acct using my credit card. They then pay me back, but to use my companion ticket I need to use my credit card in my name and not my daughters.

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