Alaska revamps its basic economy fares, but it’s not all bad news


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If you’re thinking about purchasing the cheapest ticket on Alaska Airlines, listen up: There are some big changes coming to the airline’s so-called Saver fares.

You’ll no longer earn redeemable miles and elite-qualifying miles at a 100% rate of the distance flown when purchasing a Saver ticket, according to a carrier spokesperson. Instead, the airline is slashing mileage earnings to 30% of the distance flown for all Saver tickets booked on or after May 22 for travel on or after July 19.

For example, a Saver fare from Seattle to New York previously would have earned 2,421 elite-qualifying miles, which are worth $43.58, according to TPG’s valuations. Going forward, however, the same Saver fare would only net you 726 miles, which are worth $13.07, according to TPG’s valuations.

Interestingly, American Airlines also recently slashed mileage earnings for Alaska Saver fares credited to the American Airlines AAdvantage loyalty program. Instead of the number of miles received equaling 25% of the distance flown, mileage totals for travelers who book these fares are now 10% of the distance flown.

Inside an Alaska Airlines plane. ALASKA AIRLINES

While this is no doubt a significant devaluation, Alaska is balancing the changes with some improvements to its basic economy offering.

For one, the airline is adding flexibility to these tickets that previously carried a use-it-or-lose-it policy. If you purchase a Saver ticket on or after July 19, you’ll be able to cancel your flight anytime until 14 days before departure for a 50% travel credit for the fare and a 100% credit for the taxes and fees. You can then rebook travel whenever you’d like using this credit. (Note that all tickets, including Saver fares, can be canceled within 24 hours of booking, as long as they’re booked at least 24 hours before departure.)

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Furthermore, Alaska will soon allow elites to enjoy upgrades on Saver fares. All MVP elite members will soon be eligible for extra-legroom premium class and first-class upgrades on basic economy tickets. This applies to flights on or after July 19.

Eligible basic economy flyers will be placed on the upgrade list within two hours of departure, and upgrades will clear based on priority order, with basic economy flyers being placed at the bottom of the list within each elite tier. If you’re not an elite member, you’ll be able to purchase an upgrade to first class at the airport, subject to availability.

First-class cabin. ALASKA AIRLINES

It’s worth noting that Alaska isn’t making any other changes to its basic economy offering, which remains one of the most generous of all the U.S. airlines. You’ll still be able to bring a full-size carry-on bag and a personal item when traveling on a Saver fare.

Depending on your perspective, Alaska’s changes may not be all that bad. In fact, for elites and those with unpredictable schedules, the flexibility and upgrade improvements should certainly outweigh the reduced mileage earning.

Of course, travelers in the points and miles world will no doubt miss the 100% mileage earning on Alaska’s cheapest fares, but all in all, the basic economy revamp could’ve been much worse.

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