Alaska Airlines Joins the Basic Economy Game

by Shelli

Rogue Pacific Northwest contrarian Alaska Airlines had been the lone holdout in the “basic economy” fare game thus far. Basic economy means airlines discount fares and then strip as much as possible out of the service. That will change by Christmas.

Yesterday during a second-quarter earnings call, Alaska Airlines executives said the airline will implement changes in the coming year to offset rising fuel prices, including basic economy.

Alaska Basic Economy = Saver Fare

Before Christmas 2018, Alaska Airlines will launch basic economy fares. Alaska has modeled their basic economy fares as “Saver Fares”. So far, the restrictions to Alaska’s Saver Fares are not as restrictive as American or United basic economy.

Alaska Airlines Saver Fare, basic economy.

Alaska Airlines Saver Fare (basic economy) customers will actually be able to choose their seats. Image by Alaska Airlines.

Passengers who purchase an Alaska Airlines Saver Fare will be able to choose a seat. They will have the same carry-on policies as regular economy fare passengers.

But Saver Fare passengers will be the last group to board the planes. They will not be able to change or cancel their flights. They will not be able to take advantage of complimentary MVP upgrades.

Alaska Airlines saver fare basic economy first class upgrade

Alaska MVPs traveling on Saver Fares won’t be eligible for upgrades to first class. Image by Alaska Airlines.

How Alaska’s Saver Fare Compares to Other Basic Economy Seats

United basic economy passengers are not assigned seats and are not allowed to put any luggage in the overhead bins. United’s basic economy also means no elite-qualifying miles, paid upgrades, or flight changes. Even when United is at fault, passengers flying basic economy are most often the last passengers to be re-accomodated in the event of a flight disruption.

American just made their basic economy fare less restrictive by allowing their basic fare passengers a carry-on as well as a personal item. American’s other basic economy restrictions still apply: Ticket holders do not get a seat assignment until they check in for their flight.

For an added fee, American basic economy passengers can change the seat assignment, or pick a seat beforehand. Even with elite status, basic economy flyers can’t upgrade tickets after purchase and can not make same-day flight changes or try to board an earlier flight on standby.


It was only a matter of time before we saw Alaska Airlines add basic economy fares to their fare bucket. As American realized, too many restrictions on a fare class can, in the end, turn away customers.

Hopefully Alaska learned something about just how many restrictions passengers will accept, even in exchange for saving a few bucks.

It’s likely that Alaska’s basic economy fares will correspond with an increase in standard fares. This seems to be the standard motive among the other three carriers, seeking to eek more cash out of the pockets of business flyers and elite frequent flyers willing to pay up to retain upgrade and other privileges.

As an Alaska flyer, though not currently an elite, I’m in wait and see mode on these changes.

Shelli Stein is a health and fitness entrepreneur who travels the world in search of culture, food, and fun! Besides contributing to PointMeToThePlane, you can find her at Joy in Movement.

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dhammer53 July 27, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Time to book my fall trip (before all the changes).

Shelli July 27, 2018 - 12:32 pm

I think you speak for a lot of us!

Eva s July 27, 2018 - 1:05 pm

This stinks. I fly AK 6 times a year. I hate to say it but I guess I’ll be flying southwest.

Shelli July 27, 2018 - 11:12 pm

HI Eva, Agreed. I’m hoping the AS changes won’t affect my airline choices. Time will tell.


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