Alaska Airlines slashes earning on basic economy fares (but adds elite upgrades)

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Alaska Airlines is one of the last airlines still awarding redeemable and elite-qualifying miles based on distance flown; most other airlines have revenue-based programs where earnings depend on the cost of the ticket. Also unique, Alaska has historically given customers that purchased saver (basic economy) fares 100% of the distance-based mileage earnings from their flights. These two things combined made Alaska one of the more rewarding airlines for passengers using regular and basic economy fares.

That’s now changed. Alaska has announced that, starting July 19th, saver fares will only earn 30% of the distance flown as redeemable miles. In addition, saver fares will have modified cancellation policies and complimentary upgrades for elite members.

a white airplane in the air

Alaska Airlines Basic Economy: What’s Changed

Below is a summary of what’s changed for basic economy fares on Alaska.

  • Mileage Plan members flying on saver fares will no longer earn 100% of the distance flown as redeemable and elite-qualifying miles (EQMs). Instead, for flights departing July 19th or later, they’ll earn 30%…a reduction of 70%. Basic economy flights marketed by Alaska and operated by American will go from earning miles at 50% of the distance flown to 30% as well.
  • July 19th, saver fares cancelled 14 or more days before departure will receive a 50% travel credit for the fare itself. 100% of applicable taxes and fees will be refunded. Within 14 days of departure, there will be no travel credit offered.
  • Alaska elite members travelling on saver fares will be eligible for free same-day upgrades to first and premium class starting July 19th (saver fares weren’t eligible for upgrades previously).
  • Elite members flying on saver fares will be added to the upgrade waitlist within two hours of departure and will fall within their tier at the bottom of the priority order.

Quick Thoughts

Alaska’s saver fares used to be vastly more appealing than most other domestic carriers. They used to give 100% of the miles of regular economy (Delta offers none) and a free carry-on bag (United charges for carry-ons in basic economy). In addition, they also provide assigned seats together for families.

Now, the earnings are cut by 70% and the family-seating and carry-on policies remain the same. This is more or less in line with their OneWorld partner, American Airlines.

Adding elite upgrades is a nice-ish touch, although my assumption is that most top and mid-tier elites on most flights would pay the extra cash to get 100% mileage earning, preferred or premium seating at the time of booking and a higher upgrade priority. Alaska has generous elite mileage bonuses, even MVP Gold (2nd tier) gets 100%. So, on a flight from Seattle to San Diego (~1000 miles), a Gold earning would go from 2,000 miles to 600 because of the bonus…and they’d miss their at-booking preferred seat selection.

Alaska used to have US industry-leading basic economy fares and the shine has been removed to a certain extent. Alaska saver fares are certainly not the worst in the US and still provide a few useful perks in comparison to competitors. While some travelers may like the “flexibility” of a partial credit 14 days out, on balance I’d say these changes will be broadly negative for most passengers that are into points and miles.

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