My New Airline Crush: Alaska Airlines
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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.
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 credit 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.)
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.
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.
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!
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!
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:
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.
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 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).
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.