Alaska’s Basic Economy is On Sale in Three Markets

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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