Back in late 2018, Alaska Airlines introduced Saver fares, which is the carrier’s version of basic economy. In this post I wanted to go over the details of that, especially in light of the changes that were made to Saver fares in 2023. What restrictions are there when booking Saver fares, and are these tickets worth it? Let’s go over all the details. Separately, I’ve written about similar fares offered by American, Delta, JetBlue, and United.
In this post:
What is basic economy?
Basic economy was introduced several years back as a way for major US airlines to better compete with ultra low cost carriers, like Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit, etc. At least that was the claim, with the idea being that basic economy comes at a lower cost, but with more restrictions.
Basic economy is ultimately a tool for airlines to better segment the market. Those looking for the cheapest fares might book Alaska Saver fares rather than a competitor, while the airline hopes that most consumers are willing to “buy up” to more expensive fares, which come with fewer restrictions.
Airline revenue management is quite an art, and it’s all about getting as much revenue as possible from each customer. Basic economy fares are a major part of that.
Restrictions with Alaska Airlines basic economy
If you’re shopping for an Alaska Airlines flight and see a Saver fare, should you consider booking it? Let me go over the major restrictions of these kinds of fares.
Before I do, let me cover the things that aren’t different about Saver fares compared to regular economy fares (marketed as “Main”):
- Passengers traveling on Saver fares still get a regular carry-on allowance, so there are no limitations in place there, unlike at some other carriers
- Passengers traveling on Saver fares get the same perks once onboard, from complimentary non-alcoholic drinks and snacks, to streaming entertainment, and more
Now let’s talk about what is different with these fares…
Saver fares offer reduced mileage earning
If you care about earning Mileage Plan miles or elite status, there are major restrictions on Saver fares you should be aware of. Saver fares only earn miles at a rate of 30% of regular economy fares, and that applies to both redeemable miles and elite qualifying miles.
Alaska continues to award miles based on distance flown, meaning that a 1,000-mile flight on a Saver fare would earn 300 miles.
Saver fares have seat assignment restrictions
When traveling on Saver fares, you can’t select seats for free at the time of booking. Instead, a seat will be assigned to you at check-in. However, you are eligible to purchase Premium Class seating at the time of booking, should you want to pick specific seats, but that would be at an additional cost. This even applies to Mileage Plan elite members.
Saver fares come with last group boarding
When traveling on Saver fares, Mileage Plan non-elite members have to board with Group E, which is the last group to board the aircraft. So while those on Saver fares have the standard carry-on allowance, expect that you may have to gate check your bag periodically, since airlines often run out of overhead bin space toward the end of boarding.
If you have elite status with Alaska Mileage Plan, you can still board with your usual priority, so those restrictions wouldn’t apply.
Saver fares provide limited ticket flexibility
Nowadays Alaska Airlines no longer has change fees on most kinds of tickets, meaning that if you need to cancel a ticket, you’ll be issued a credit that you can apply toward a future reservation.
The one exception is on Saver fares, which don’t have the same flexibility. Saver fares do let you get a credit for 50% of the ticket value if you cancel your flight at least 14 days prior to departure. However, within 14 days of departure, you lose all value associated with your ticket.
Saver fares have upgrade restrictions
The good news is that if you have MVP Gold 100K, MVP Gold 75K, MVP Gold, or MVP status, you are still eligible for upgrades to first class and Premium Class. The bad news is that the upgrade window is very different than usual, as you’re only eligible for upgrades up to two hours before departure. That’s a major restriction, and it greatly reduces your odds of an upgrade clearing, since there are a lot fewer seats available at that point.
Are Alaska Airlines Saver fares worth it?
The answer is obviously “it depends.” There are lots of factors here, like how much cheaper a Saver fare is, if you have elite status, how much you value flexibility, etc.
If you’re just a casual traveler, have firm plans, don’t value earning miles or elite status, and just want the best deal, then absolutely book a Saver fare. However, for just about everyone else, I’d think twice about doing so, unless the price difference is huge.
You’re giving up ticket flexibility, the ability to select your seat, mileage earning and elite status qualification, and your best odds of getting an upgrade.
I generally find the cost to avoid Saver fares to be somewhere around $30-50 one-way, and I think for many consumers, that’s money well spent. Admittedly I wouldn’t approach this the same in every market.
For example, I’d be less likely to spend $30 to avoid a Saver fare from Seattle to Portland, where the flight is less than an hour, and is operated by an Embraer E175, where there are no bad seats (as there are no middle seats).
Meanwhile I’d be much more likely to spend $50 to avoid a Saver fare on a nearly six hour flight from Fort Lauderdale to Seattle. Heck, the difference in mileage earning as a non-elite member is roughly 2,000 miles, and based on my valuation of Mileage Plan miles, that’s like $30 worth of miles right there. If you value things similarly, you’re only paying $20ish to buy your way out of a Saver fare.
Saver fares are Alaska Airlines’ version of basic economy. These tickets are typically $30-50 cheaper than standard economy tickets one-way, and come with restrictions like no advance seat assignments, limited ticket flexibility, limits on upgrades, and more.
In general, I’d recommend avoiding Saver fares when possible, but everyone values things differently, so there’s no one size fits all answer.
What’s your take on the value proposition of Alaska Saver fares?