With restrictions that could leave you stuck in a middle seat or without a carry-on bag, basic economy fares are always a pain. But Alaska Airlines basic economy was long the best of a bad bunch among the big U.S. airlines. Not anymore.
Last summer, the airline axed a unique seating policy that allowed travelers on their so-called “Saver fares” to pick some seats at the back of the plane for free – now, you'll get randomly assigned a seat. Starting this summer, it gets worse.
Alaska basic economy fares will soon earn just 30% of the redeemable Alaska MileagePlan miles they do today – and the same 30% rate applies toward earning elite status with Alaska. That change takes effect for tickets booked as of today (Monday, May 22) for flights departing July 19 and onward. One Mile at a Time first flagged these negative changes.
Here's how Alaska spells it out on its Mileage Plan hub.
Even after this downgrade, Alaska Saver fares still aren't as bad as the likes of JetBlue basic economy or United basic economy: You still can bring a carry-on bag with Alaska. And Alaska is also making some positive changes to its cheapest fares if your plans change and you need to cancel, or if you've got elite status with the airline – more on that upside later.
Still, this is a huge blow for earning some of the most valuable airline miles out there.
Unlike all the other major U.S. carriers where it hinges on how much you pay, Alaska still credits mileage based upon how far you fly: A mile for a mile. If you were to fly from Seattle (SEA) to Cancún (CUN) and back today with a Saver fare, you'd earn 5,370 miles.
Come July 19, those exact same roundtrip flights will earn you 1,611 Alaska miles instead. And the same goes for earning credits toward Alaska elite status. Ouch.
It's a familiar move, but Alaska still hasn't gone as far as Delta … and that's not a compliment. Back in late 2021, Delta dealt its penny-pinching flyers a serious blow with an unprecedented change: Delta basic economy fares no longer earn any redeemable SkyMiles nor build toward Delta Medallion Status. That's farther than even ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier have gone.
A few other airlines like American exempt basic economy fares from building toward elite status – or give just 50% of the elite credits.
At least Alaska is still giving travelers who buy their cheapest tickets some miles for their troubles, but really, this stings.
The Silver Lining
It's not all bad news, though.
While making that big, negative cut to Saver Fares, Alaska is also rolling out a few good changes to its cheapest fares.
- Currently, Alaska basic economy tickets can't be changed or canceled, period – except for under the 24-hour rule. Starting July 19, you can cancel Alaska Saver Fares for a credit worth 50% of the ticket price so long as you cancel at least 14 days before departure.
- Flyers with Alaska elite status who buy a Saver Fare will now be eligible for same-day complimentary upgrades to first class or premium class extra legroom seats
Adding some flexibility back to the cheapest fares is a good thing, but the cost is steep. Forfeiting 50% of your purchase price when you cancel should be reason enough to pay the $40 to $60 or more surcharge to avoid basic economy altogether with Alaska.
Other airlines including Delta and United have added similar policies to their cheapest basic economy fares, allowing flyers to cancel for a credit minus a fee of up to $200. And American Airlines basic economy also puts customers with AAdvantage status in the queue for upgrades.
What This Means for Alaska Basic Economy
With these changes in motion, here's a look at what you'll get with an Alaska Saver fare starting in mid-July.
- Baggage: Get a personal item and carry-on bag for free; pay $30 each way for a checked bag.
- Seat Selection: Assigned at check-in.
- Boarding: Final boarding group.
- Earning Alaska Mileage Plan Miles: Yes, but only 30% of standard economy fares.
- Earning Status: Yes, but only 30% of standard economy fares.
- Upgrades: Eligible for complimentary upgrades with MVP status.
- Ticket Changes and Cancellation: Saver fares can be canceled for a travel credit of 50% of the ticket price.
On the plus side, Alaska isn't stooping to the level of other carriers that have even more punishing basic economy fares. You still get a carry-on bag and a personal item. And while Alaska now randomly assigns seats at check-in if you've got a Saver fare, its family seating policy guarantees “that children 13 and under will be seated next to at least one accompanying adult at no additional cost, including for Saver fares.”
But giving travelers just 30% of the Mileage Plan miles (and 30% of the credits toward elite status) is a tough pill to swallow. That alone will be enough to scare many travelers into paying up for a more-inclusive economy fare.
And that's the entire point. Alaska is hoping more flyers will pay that extra $30 or so each way to earn more miles, get a free seat assignment, and free change and cancellation.
Related reading: Alaska Airlines Baggage Fees
The trend is clear: Airlines are going to keep making their basic economy fares worse and worse in hopes of convincing travelers to pay up for a better fare.
Starting this summer, Alaska Airlines basic economy fares will earn just 30% of the redeemable miles they do today – and the same goes for credits toward elite status with the airline. While the Seattle-based airline is also making some positive changes to its cheapest fares, it's not enough: This is yet another unmistakable downgrade.
Makes you wonder why they don’t just do away with basic economy altogether, if their goal is to sell more regular economy.
Feels like basic economy fares are more just bait and switch opportunities to market the flight at a lower rate than people will actually end up paying.