7 Things You Need to Know Before Flying Alaska Airlines’ New Basic Economy

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We’re all about saving Big Money by redeeming miles and points earned from the best travel credit cards for nearly-free flights.  But sometimes it makes more sense just to buy a cheap discounted ticket!

Alaska Airlines has rolled out details of their new Basic Economy fare, which will be officially available to purchase in November 2018 for travel beginning in January 2019.  Alaska Airlines’ version of Basic Economy will be called Saver Fare and it might just be the most customer-friendly version of Basic Economy that we have seen yet!

There are still plenty of restrictions, but for some flyers the restrictions might be palatable considering the savings.  And it won’t limit your award mile earning rate, which is great given how useful Alaska Airlines miles are for booking partner award flights!

Alaska Airlines has Announced Its New Version of Basic Economy Fare, Which it Calls "Saver Fare".
Alaska Airlines Has Announced Its New Version of a Basic Economy Fare, Which They Are Calling Saver Fare

Let’s break down the good and bad of Alaska Airlines’ new Saver Fare to see if it is worth considering for your next flight.

Alaska Airlines Rolls Out New Basic Economy Fares, Called “Saver Fare”

Alaska Airlines has been teasing the idea of introducing a Basic Economy fare since April of 2018.  But just recently we finally got the full scoop on what a Basic Economy fare from Alaska Airlines would look like and what it means for you.

Here are the good and bad that you need to know about Alaska Airlines’ new Saver Fare.

My 3 Favorite Features of Alaska Airlines’ Saver Fare

These are 3 areas where the Alaska Airlines Saver Fare is actually very friendly to flyers.

1.   Carry-On Bag and Personal Item Are Both Included

One of the biggest sources of contention across various airlines’ Basic Economy fares are the restrictions to baggage.  Luckily Alaska Airlines won’t be restricting baggage on their new Saver Fare.  Each passenger will be allowed 1 carry-on bag that fits in an overhead bin and 1 personal item.

Alaska Airlines’ Saver Fare Will Include 1 Carry-On and 1 Personal Item per Passenger

Alaska Airlines says that the checked bag benefit for elite members will apply.  Also, if you have a Bank of America Alaska Airlines card, you should still get a free checked bag (for you and up to 6 companions) as long as your Alaska Airlines rewards number is attached to your flight reservation.

It’s possible that once Saver Fares are officially available for purchase, this could change.  But currently the way the terms are worded, the free checked bag benefit does apply to all Alaska Airlines flights.

2.   Earn Full Elite Qualifying Miles For Flying Basic Economy

This is arguably one of the best features that we’ve heard so far about Alaska Airlines’ new Saver Fare.  Passengers will be eligible to earn elite qualifying miles for their flight at the same rate as normal coach passengers!  This is great considering the fact that Alaska Airlines awards miles earned based on miles flown, as opposed to dollars spent.  This means that basic economy passengers will earn the same number of miles as those in normal coach tickets.  These miles will also earn you progress toward elite status.

This is great news, because other airlines have been far more restrictive on mileage earning for Basic Economy fares:

  • United Airlines does not award elite status miles, segments, or dollars when flying in their Basic Economy fares
  • American Airlines cuts your earning rate for Elite Qualifying Miles & Elite Qualifying Segments by 50%
  • With Delta you’ll earn miles & elite status are the normal rate

If you want to earn elite status on the cheap, this new Saver Fare might be the best way to do it.

3.   Buy Upgrades to Premium Economy

Alaska Airlines is allowing basic economy ticket-holders to upgrade their ticket for a fee to a higher fare class.  This is very different than what we have seen from Delta, United Airlines, and American Airlines who don’t let you upgrade your seat after you have purchased a basic economy fare.

So if you get buyer’s remorse after buying an Alaska Airlines Saver Fare, then you can always upgrade later (for a fee).  I appreciate this flexibility and am shocked that other airlines are so restrictive on this.

4 Alaska Airlines Saver Fare Restrictions to Watch Out For

There are a few restrictions that you want to watch out for before booking a Basic Economy fare on Alaska Airlines.

1.   No Same-Day Changes or Standbys

When you buy a Saver Fare on Alaska Airlines you need to make sure you are 100% confident with the ticket you book.  Alaska Airlines will not allow any changes to this ticket.  Basically once you purchase the ticket, you either need to use it, or lose it.

The Saver Fare Will Not Allow For Standby or Flight Changes. You Either Use Your Ticket or Lose It.
The Saver Fare Will Not Allow for Standby or Flight Changes.  You Either Use Your Ticket or Lose It

This also means that standby will not be allowed for earlier or later flights if you have a Saver Fare ticket.  This includes elite status fliers.

If you no-show a flight, the ticket is automatically forfeited.  There are no exceptions to this rule.  If there is the possibility that your schedule might change, then you do not want to book a Saver Fare ticket.

2.   Seats Assigned at Check-In:  No Guarantee That People Traveling Together Will Sit Together

This comes as no surprise – one of the restrictions that is the most noticeable is that you will NOT be able to select a seat when you purchase a Saver Fare on Alaska Airlines.  Your seat will be assigned at check-in and Alaska Airlines specifically states that you will most likely receive a middle seat near the back of the plane (as these are the seats that are normally unclaimed at that time).

Alaska Airlines also specifically warned passengers traveling with families that these fares may not be for you unless you are ok being split up.  No accommodations will be made to group passengers on the same reservation together if they have Saver Fare tickets.  It is surprising to see this stated by an airline, but I also appreciate their transparency.  In fact they will be working with online travel agencies to make sure that this is well established before booking.

3.   No Complimentary Upgrade for Elite Status Members

If you have elite status on Alaska Airlines then you most likely appreciate the complimentary upgrades you normally receive.  I recently wrote how my MVP Gold status earned me First Class upgrades on virtually all of my Alaska Airlines flights this year.  Unfortunately, purchasing a Basic Economy fare on Alaska Airlines will not be eligible for any complimentary upgrades.

This is a huge blow for Alaska Airlines elite members because it is an incredibly easy-to-get perk for most flights.  For me, this one restriction is enough to get me to pass up on a Saver Fare the next time I see one.

4.   Final Group to Board (Overhead Space is Not Guaranteed) – But There’s Hope for Elites

As a Basic Economy passenger, you will be the very last group to board.  This will most likely mean that overhead space could be gone by the time you are on the plane.

The One Perk That Elite Members Can Still Enjoy With Saver Fare Is Priority Boarding
One Perk Elite Members Can Still Enjoy With Saver Fare Is Priority Boarding

There is hope for elite members though!  Elite members will still get priority boarding.  This means that finding overhead space will be no problem at all since you will be boarding with the First Class passengers and other elite status members (who probably got seat upgrades).  In fact this is the only elite perk that Saver Fares are eligible to receive.

Are Alaska Airlines’ Basic Economy Saver Fares Worth It?

Overall I think that Alaska Airlines’ version of basic economy is probably the best (least-restrictive) basic economy fare on the market.  But does it still make sense for you?

Solo Travelers

This fare is a great option for solo travelers as long as they are ok being in a middle seat.  Many solo travelers pack light and will be just fine using a carry-on bag and personal item.  Plus the potential of being split up won’t be an issue.  You will still earn full miles towards elite status and could save some money along the way.

The biggest downside for solo travelers is that they are not eligible for standby flights.  Just something to consider if you frequently standby on earlier flights like I do, which is normally easy to get when traveling solo.

Family Travelers

For families I think that Alaska Airlines’ Saver Fare is NOT worth it.  You most likely want to be able to sit with your children, and this fare offers no guarantee you will be anywhere near them.  Also, family travelers tend to pack more gear and getting overhead space is going to be tricky when you board last.

My Family Spent 480 Each For Flights 7 All Inclusive Nights In Cuba Part 2 Sunwing Flights From Toronto To Holguin
If You Travel With a Family, the Saver Fare Might NOT Be for You.  You Probably Won’t Get To Sit By Each Other

Elite Status Travelers

If you have elite status with Alaska Airlines, I do NOT think this fare is worth it for you.  Elite Status travelers usually get upgrades to First Class and Premium Economy which makes the normal fare worth far more than it actually costs.

By selecting the Saver Fare you are forfeiting your complimentary upgrades (and everything that goes along with it like premium beverage and food) and the option for free standby flights or flight changes.  Elites simply earn so much more value from a standard coach fare that the gap between basic economy and standard coach is far larger than for other flyers, making the small cost savings not worth it.

Budget Travelers

Yes, if staying on a budget is your primary concern, then Alaska Airlines’ new Basic Economy Saver Fare IS GOOD for you.  This fare offers far fewer restrictions than other airlines.  So if you are shopping for the next great deal on travel, then the Saver Fare from Alaska Airlines might just offer the best bang for your buck compared to other airlines’ basic economy fares.

Alaska Airlines states that the Saver Fare tickets are targeted to travelers who might normally choose Spirit or Frontier Airlines for flights.  When we compare the benefits of an Alaska Airlines Saver Fare to a standard fare from Spirit or Frontier, there is no question that your Alaska Airlines Saver Fare is empirically a better ticket.

Bottom Line

Alaska Airlines is rolling out their version of Basic Economy.  They are calling this Saver Fare and it might just be the best Basic Economy fare we have seen yet.

The restrictions include:

  • No same-day flight changes or access to standby flights
  • Seats are assigned at check-in (you will probably not be seated with other people on your same reservation)
  • No complimentary upgrades for elite status flyers
  • Board in the final boarding group, making overhead space hard to find

But there are some perks I think are great:

  • You can purchase an upgrade to a better seat
  • You will earn full elite qualifying miles for your flight
  • You can bring 1 carry-on and 1 personal item for free

This new Saver Fare will be available starting in November 2018 for travel starting in January 2019.

Keep in mind, there are lots of ways to avoid paying for airfare altogether with the best credit cards for travel.  And check out our list of the top airline credit cards!

What do you think of this new Basic Economy fare?  Is it likely to win your business?

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Alex Curtis is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, he covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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