Alaska’s Basic Economy is On Sale in Three Markets

Alaska Airlines, Fares

Last week, Alaska released its first Saver (aka Basic Economy) fares into the wild in three test markets for travel in a 10 day window between December 6 and 16.  Presumably Alaska didn’t want to test this over the holidays when less experience travelers are flying. Let’s see if it lives up to what was expected.

Initial Markets

The three markets that received the test fares are all from San Diego.  Fares are filed from there to Baltimore, Salt Lake City, and Puerto Vallarta.  That’s a good cross-section of short-haul (operated by a regional partner), long-haul on a 737-800, and international medium-haul on a 737-900.

The Mechanics of The Saver Fare

Alaska appears to be using X as the fare class for Saver availability. Like United (N), American (B), and Delta (E), the X bucket should largely stay open with Basic being a discount off whatever regular coach fare is selling in the market.

At least for now the Saver fares are only being offered if regular coach is selling in H and below in the short-haul market.  (That means anything in the higher classes, Y, Z, S, B, and M will only have regular economy fares.)  In Baltimore and Puerto Vallarta, there isn’t a Saver fare in H, Q, or L class either, so it’s more restrictive. They are also currently available only on nonstop itineraries domestically, but in Puerto Vallarta it’s allowed on any itinerary.  I assume that’s just for testing purposes.

Fare Differential

As expected, Alaska took its existing lowest fares and turned those into Saver fares.  Then it added on a fare increase to regular economy.  For now, that increase is $15 per direction in Salt Lake, $25 per direction in Puerto Vallarta, and $30 per direction in Baltimore.

Seat Assignments

Alaska’s big differentiator compared to the other guys is that it’s going to offer some seat assignments for free to people on Saver fares.  The seat maps have already been loaded out into eternity in all markets, so we can see what will be available when Saver fares come to the rest of the network. For now, let’s just look at these three markets.  First, here’s San Diego to Salt Lake on an Embraer 175 far out in the future.

I realize my old-school Sabre seat map needs some explanation. 

  • The first three rows with dots are actually Premium seats that aren’t available in Sabre.
  • Rows 9-12 are Q seats which mean they’re reserved for elite frequent fliers only.
  • Rows 13-16 with a D mean they’re available only for regular economy tickets.
  • Rows 17-23 are available for Saver and anyone else who wants them.

That is the basic layout, but in reality, it’s not true.  I couldn’t find anything where rows 19 and 21 were available for assignment at all.  I assume 19 may be held back to seat families together while 21 may be for the same or another reason.  (And by the way, the U next to those seats means “least preferred” either because of no recline or something like that.) 

Effectively there are 12 seats available to be assigned to Saver travelers.  It appears the Q400 has the same, which is funny since on that airplane seats in the back are much better than ones in the middle next to the engines.

The 737s don’t look much different.  Here they are:

Best I can see, the 737-800 has 18 seats available for Saver but the larger 737-900 only has 15 (same on the 737-700).  That’s odd.  Again, you’ll notice the last row is blocked on these airplanes. The Airbuses also look to have 18 seats.  

In other words, it looks a lot like what Alaska promised. These fare levels are about what I’d expect to see, though undoubtedly they’ll change a lot once Alaska has data.  And the seating thing, well, I will be very curious to see if it ends up being good or bad for the airline.

Look for wider release of Saver fares for travel starting sometime in January, if all goes well.

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7 comments on “Alaska’s Basic Economy is On Sale in Three Markets

  1. I understand the case for and the appeal of basic economy, however, when it’s being touted as an extra choice for the consumer while in reality is just a money grab (economy tickets suddenly becoming basic economy at the same price), that’s just not cool.

    Living in San Diego, I’ve looked into flying Southwest, Alaska, and Delta to Salt Lake City. The prices were the same but Delta was selling basic economy at that price so I really ended up choosing between Alaska and Southwest.

    With Alaska and Southwest competing on many direct routes out of SAN, I guess I’ll be choosing Southwest more and more. Can they start flying to Hawaii already??? ;)

  2. Hi Brett,

    Thanks for the report on Alaska’s new Saver fare. So, if I understand your report correctly, Alaska basically is charging as a Saver Fare the previous lowest economy fare, but restricting it more. At the same time it is increasing the existing economy fares by around $15 to avoid the new restrictions of the Saver fare. That looks like a barely disguised fare increase to me. So, as a 75k flyer I get a fare increase to keep my benefits such as the possibility of an upgrade? That would mean the airline is using its best customers to attract infrequent flyers and/or to improve its margins. I know the stock is hurting because of lower margins related to fuel cost increases and merger integration issues, but it may cost goodwill with its most frequent flyers. I have no objection to adding a Saver fare, but not the way you described they’re doing it. Am I missing something?

  3. Welcome, AS, to the world of airline pricing, where not 1 in a million consumers/travelers has a clue about the differences among Economy-Basic, Economy-Standard, and Economy-Standard-Flexible classes. The ability to choose your seat, bring on a carry-on, sit with your group, and willingness to live with a ticket you can’t change, and miles(?)–we’ll give you a $30 discount from Standard Economy (UA, typically), and we charge you a $50 premium from Standard for the ability to change your ticket (“additional fees and restrictions may apply!”) That’s all it is, skip all of the crap about some new fare class or classes and super-duper new fares. If you’re willing to take less, we’ll give you a discount. You want more, we’ll charge you a premium. And say what the discounts and premiums are. On, but that would be too simple. Complexity is what we are about!

  4. United uses the “N” fare bucket for domestic BE itineraries, but when I tried to book an SFO-LHR roundtrip, I found that UA used the “K” fare bucket for both BE and regular E. At the time, this meant that some third party portals (such as Chase UR and Citi TYP) could not distinguish BE from E, and only allowed you to purchase BE (mis-identified as E).

    United still uses “K” for both SFO-LHR fare buckets, but I think the third party portals may now be handling the situation correctlyt,

  5. Not entirely unexpected but certainly disappointing. I’m a Platinum on Delta and MVP 75K on Alaska and have opted for AS over DL on several recent trips solely to avoid DL’s basic economy.

    Yes, both DL and AS will now have the same approach, but looking at the more comprehensive route structure, alliance and global partners, I’m fast approaching the point where it makes more sense to simply favour Delta when it comes to maintaining that status. Given the new JV between DL and Korean, flying KE metal and crediting to DL is now suddenly a no-brainer and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alaska’s partnerships with KE end entirely, just as it did with AF, KL and AE, adding even further pressure.

    I’m just one data point, but I hope Alaska knows what it’s doing.

  6. They’ve already broadened the markets, and now have a bunch of Saver fares to and from SEA.

    I am seeing the $30 “long haul” premium each way on short haul markets like SEA-SFO and SJC

    That’s a 30-40% fare increase to use the elite benefits you earned by giving them a ton of business.

    Like a lot of folks in the PNW, I’m starting to regret not having done a DL status match sooner…

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