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My New Airline Crush: Alaska Airlines

by on May 8, 2014 · 28 comments

in Alaska

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I’ve always heard good things about Alaska Airlines- solid service, good on-time performance and an ever-growing route map that connects the Pacific Northwest to various points throughout North America. I’ve been a big fan of their frequent flyer program, MileagePlan, especially since I was able to redeem for Emirates First Class from Mumbai to Dubai to JFK last year. However, I’m a loyal American Airlines Executive Platinum, so when it comes to domestic flights I try to fly them as much as possible, however AA partners with Alaska so you can bank elite qualifying miles to American when flying Alaska and vice versa. This week I took my relationship with Alaska a little further and actually flew them up the west coast. 

My First Alaska Flight
My first Alaska flight was a one-way, two and half-hour flight in First Class on one a Boeing 737-900s from Los Angeles to Seattle. I enjoyed my flight, but be aware that the first-class experience on Alaska is best for a short trip rather than a longer, transcontinental route–the seats aren’t particularly comfortable and (for someone of my considerable height, anyway) the legroom’s none too impressive.

Alaska's signature logo is of an Eskimo, or Native Alaskan

Alaska’s signature logo is of an Eskimo, or Native Alaskan

My costs
This Seattle trip was a bit last minute with Coach costing $330 and First Class $486. For $156 more, I sprung for the front of the plane and to get the extra 50% first class bonus and 1.5 Elite Qualifying Points for the flight, since I banked it to American. I paid for my ticket with my Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card because Alaska purchases earn 3 miles for every dollar, as opposed to 1 mile for all other types of purchases. (If you’re an Alaska frequent flyer, be sure to see this post on Maximizing the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card.)

Flying LAX-SEA on Alaska, the price difference between a coach seat and one in first-class is $156

Flying LAX-SEA one-way on Alaska, the price difference between a Coach seat and one in First Class is $156

While I was at it, I took advantage of Alaska’s Fly and Buy Miles Program (which allows you to purchase Mileage Plan miles at a discounted rate when purchasing airfare) and purchased 10,000 Alaska miles for $215. Alaska isn’t in an alliance, but its Mileage Plan miles are especially valuable because it has several airline partners – including American, Delta, Air France/KLM and Qantas – that allow you to bank Alaska miles to them at various different earning ratios. Because I’m aiming for American Airlines Executive Platinum status this year, I banked my purchase of Mileage Plan miles to American, which in addition to being a partner airline, offers special benefits to elite members of Alaska’s Mileage Plan

My LAX experience

I hadn’t left a lot of time before for my 8:40 am flight to Seattle, but fortunately my Global Entry status made me eligible for TSA PreCheck and I breezed through LAX’s notoriously long security lines in just under a minute.

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At LAX, Alaska Airlines is based at Terminal 6, and includes the carrier’s Board Room lounge. I didn’t have much time on my hands and chose to skip it, but my first-class ticket would have gotten me access to the Board Room. You could also enter with your Priority Pass membership card, which I have as a cardholder perk of my American Express Platinum.

Otherwise, Board Room privileges must be purchased, either as an annual membership or in the form of a $45 day pass on your day of travel. However, note that day passes are sold based on a particular lounge’s capacity restrictions, and reservations aren’t accepted; this means that you could hoof it all the way to a Board Room only to find you can’t purchase a pass, after all.

Anyone can purchase a $45 day pass to an Alaska Board Room lounge, but entrance is subject to capacity restrictions

Anyone can purchase a $45 day pass to an Alaska Board Room lounge, but entrance is subject to capacity restrictions

Bypassing the Board Room – and not knowing what kind of food I might be served aboard an Alaska flight – I headed to the small food court on Terminal 6′s Departures level and grabbed a breakfast burrito at a deli called Monet’s. Be aware that Terminal 6 has some of the most lackluster food and beverage choices at LAX (unlike Terminals 3 and 5, which have much better options), offering a Ruby’s Diner, a Coffee Bean (with a line down the terminal), a sports bar and Jodi Maroni’s Sausage Kingdom. You’ll also find an outpost of a local LA-area pub called  Redondo Beach Brewing Co., but my flight was way too early for beer!

The design on Alaska Airlines' bulkhead is meant to be reminiscent of Native Alaskan clothing and art

This design on Alaska Airlines’ bulkhead is meant to be reminiscent of Native Alaskan clothing and art

Onboard Alaska’s B737-900

I managed to make it to my gate with time to spare, and happily, the flight boarded early. Service was really friendly from the get-go, and I was immediately intrigued by an unusual tapestry design along the bulkhead, the likes of which I’d never seen on a plane. Alaska left a comment on my Instagram post about the bulkhead, saying this pattern is meant to be reminiscent of Native Alaskan clothing and art. So cool!

Not cheesecake: breakfast polenta and marinara with eggs and a sausage patty

This isn’t cheesecake, folks:  breakfast polenta and marinara with eggs and a sausage patty

Within a few minutes of leveling off, I was surprised to find myself served a breakfast that looked like cheesecake with cherry topping. Skeptical (and with one hand still on my burrito), I asked what had been set down in front of me – and was surprised again to find that it was a wedge of polenta with marinara sauce, a typical breakfast selection up in the Pacific Northwest. Served with a side of eggs and a sausage patty, this tasty, hearty meal made my burrito feel highly unnecessary.

While some of Alaska’s 737s have been retrofitted, my plane was older and looked a little worn. The plane’s First Class cabin is in a 2 x 2 configuration, and the leather-upholstered recliner seats are 21 inches wide, with a 36-inch pitch. My picture of the seat did not come out, so here is a picture from Airreview.com of what to expect in a non-retrofitted 737-900:
Alaska 737 900 First Class
GogoWifi costs $4.95, there’s 110V AC power at every seat, and First Class passengers have complimentary access to a personal entertainment device called a digEPlayer loaded with on-demand movies, TV and more, which isn’t available to Coach passengers on the LAX-SEA route.

No, my First Class seat on Alaska wasn't amazing, but the view coming into Seattle sure was

No, my First Class seat on Alaska wasn’t amazing, but the view coming into Seattle sure was

My own seat was a little wobbly and didn’t offer a ton of legroom, but my LAX-SEA flight was only two and a half-hours long, so being a little cramped was by no means the end of the world. Service really was exceptionally warm and friendly, and we arrived early in Seattle. Overall, I was happy with my flight.

Alaska flies to a lot of places besides Alaska - or even the Pacific Northwest

Alaska flies to a lot of places besides Alaska – or even the Pacific Northwest

Alaska isn’t just for…Alaska 

Not being particularly familiar with the carrier before this trip, I was pleased to find that Alaska flies all sorts of places that don’t involve Alaska including Hawaii (Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai and Maui), Mexico, Canada, and even a few transcontinental routes, such as:

  • Seattle to Fort Lauderdale, Washington, DC (DCA) and Newark
  • Portland (PDX) to Boston and Washington, DC (DCA)

Alaska is also adding two new transcon routes this year: Seattle-Tampa (June 20) and Seattle-Baltimore (September 2).

On Alaska's SEA-EWR route in July, there's plenty of award space in Coach and First Class, but none in Premium Economy or Business

On Alaska’s SEA-EWR route throughout July, there’s plenty of award space in Coach and First Class – but none in Premium Economy or Business

I was curious to see what award availability is like on these transcon routes, and as an example, looked into Seattle-Newark (SEA-EWR) flights in July and there is surprisingly a good amount of availability in coach and first class.

Keep in mind, though, that a transcontinental flight on Alaska wouldn’t exactly be a luxurious experience. My seat on my non-updated plane was already less than comfortable, but apparently it could have been worse. If you scroll through the SeatGuru comments about Alaska’s newly retrofitted 737-900ERs, you’ll see people complaining that the newer seats offer even less pitch and space, and are none too fancy.

Overall, the service and experience was above average and the value and flexibility of Alaska MileagePlan miles really make Alaska Airlines a top airline choice in my book.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • http://www.truecoloursblog.com Casey

    Living in Portland, I fly Alaska a lot. Most often to Hawaii (I have work there) and it’s really one of the best airlines I’ve encountered and is hardly ever not on time!

  • bradR

    you’d have a bigger crush if you had checked up on boardroom access terms – a paid or award first class (not upgraded) ticket grants access to the boardroom. coulda had some pancakes! btw – were you at the mobile food truck thing sunday night in seattle? saw a tall dude that looked like you.

  • Tom

    Brian, you indicate in the post that you banked your purchase of Alaska Mileage Plan Miles to American in order to regain AA executive platinum. You can not bank purchased Alaska miles to AA. You can only credit the miles flown on Alaska to AA and these will count as elite qualifying miles. Perhaps that is what you meant? That whole paragraph is confusing and misworded.

  • thepointsguy

    I banked my flown miles- I’ll rephrase to clarify- thx!

  • mhenner

    Another way of looking at Alaska is not how good they are usually, but how super they are when things go wrong and they need to rebook you, etc.
    The staff really seem to make an effort.

  • andrew

    36 inches of pitch is just about as good as Delta…

  • McMunch

    Welcome to the club! I love Alaska and fly it all the time. When I have to go somewhere they don’t fly I just fly American and bank the miles back to Alaska. Then I churn gift cards to my United Select Visa and only fly United as a non-rev. Dollar for dollar, in my opinion Alaska is the best airline out there!

  • bsisolak

    I live in Seattle so fly Alaska a bit. Wait until you get on a plane with Boeing Sky Interior or the new Recaro seats. Your crush will be complete.

  • SDFlyer

    Alaska also has a surprisingly large amount of flights out of San Diego, transcon and to Hawaii.

  • Alex

    I started banking all my miles to Alaska. I’m half way to mvp gold again. I love their availability on awards with unique partners. :) Welcome to the club :)

  • Kimberley O’Connell

    As an Alaska employee I just want to say thank you for flying Alaska! We love our awesome passengers.

  • shay peleg

    Like

  • Ashker

    When you fly and buy miles, is it processed by points.com or Alaska Air?

  • somewhat noob

    Wow this looks like an article written by a clueless noob, not a miles expert… btw you do realize that the picture with the “great award availability” shows no saver availability on Alaska metal? 20k for economy is not good… you might as well show a picture from delta’s website.

  • funkiehouse

    You can’t beat Alaska’s service but the planes are old, along with the seating. Just flew up to Seattle from LAX last week on Alaska and made the mistake of flying United back. Thought I would give them another try after making them return to the gate after getting on a third plane that had issues in DC a few years back. United staff were a-holes in Seattle to people when boarding so I will not be boarding one of their death traps again. Alaska and American are the way to go on the west coast, or anywhere else at that matter if flying in the states.

  • thepointsguy

    Alaska- so you get bonus miles for airfare purchase

  • PJ

    Brian, did you touch the beauty of flying Alaska with Avios LAX SEA for 7.5K and $2.50 fees with quick booking close to zero on itinerary changes.

  • Leslie N.

    You didn’t mention Alaska’s partnership with BA. I fly PDX – BUR frequently and it costs me 15K avios + $5! Can’t beat that. Also fly to Boston a lot, so Alaska is the most valuable airline for me here in Portland :)

  • Explore

    How easy is it to fly AA as an EXP, and change the earning partner to Alaska at the gate?

  • Jaikannan Ramamoorthy

    How did you upgrade from Mumbai to Dubai? Did you use skyward miles or alaska miles? I have already bought my tix from Seattle to Dubai. I am wondering if I can use my Alaska miles to upgrade my flight.

  • Dizzy

    When I finish up with UA.bomb this year (unless I somehow magically get a ton more VDB certificates) I am really looking forward to switching to Alaska. I’ll be moving to PDX post-graduation which makes it a double plus.

  • MiamiMike2

    I agree. After reading it, I thought I could fly Alaska and buy miles for EQMs on AA. I knew it sounded to good to be true.

  • UAPhil

    It’s a no-brainer to credit Delta flights to Alaska. That way you can actually get decent value out of the miles!!

  • alaskanjackal

    Heh. This was just pointed out over on FT, where someone linked to this article: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/alaska-airlines-mileage-plan/1575602-g-help-us.html

    Also, AS doesn’t HAVE premium economy or business, so it’s no surprise there’s no availability in those classes. ;)

  • Fred Armison

    Don’t move to Portland after graduation if you’re looking for any type of professional work. It’s a “cool” city if you like to look like a Dapper Dan/farmer/1980′s background crowd movie extra with a dorky mustache and dirt under his nails. But again, unless you have a trust fund or think starting a food truck stand is awesome, (except of course there’s too much competition in that now too), then I’d try somewhere with clean water and actual opportunity. But then again, the price of “cool” is well worth it, right?

  • Dizzy

    I will be an acupuncturist with some people to collaborate with, who is also on the sublist of a couple orchestras in the area. Also many music gigs lined up in a variety of genres in PDX, SEA, YVR. Possibly university teaching as well for both acup and music. PDX is the most livable/affordable of those cities. I think I’ll be hipster enough…anyway the city can’t be any worse than my current town LAX. Actual opportunity? Not sure where that is in the US these days…we’ll see if overseas can become a reality or not.

  • Izzy

    Is it better to bank miles from flights on American to Alaska or to British Airways. Like the value of the distance based rewards from Avios, but like the flexibility of multiple parters with Alaskan. Home airport is LAX.

  • louisnye

    I bet Fred didn’t write this. Fred knows Portland to be the quirky wonderful big town it has become. Great and reasonably priced restaurants. Well educated demographic. Lots of good live music options. The ocean 75 miles west. The gorge even more accessible. And the cascade range w/in another 75 miles east. What is not to love. Fred is mean and stereotyping. He’s been watching too much Portlandia and likely has never been to Portland. Bad Fred. Bad Fred!

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