Alaska Airlines Set to Introduce Basic Economy

Jan 26, 2018

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Update: Alaska Airlines announced that it will add a basic economy fare later this year. Unlike its competitors’ basic economy products, Alaska’s will feature assigned seats.


Alaska Airlines, after finally completing its takeover of Virgin America, may now follow in the footsteps of the big three legacy US carriers. During Alaska’s earning’s call on Thursday, the company hinted that it had been looking at basic economy and unbundling fares, and how those actions could positively affect its revenue.

2017 saw the introduction of basic economy fares on American and United, with Delta devaluing basic economy on transatlantic routes. Non-US carriers like Aer Lingus have started to unbundle fares on international routes too.

In the company’s fourth quarter earnings call, Alaska Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Harrison said that the airline has been looking at basic economy:

With a single reservation system, we will be able to address upsell and segmentation opportunities which the legacy carriers are executing on today and that we have not been able to participate in. There are a number of ways for us to participate. Basic economy is just one of those, fare families and ancillary bundles are others. And whatever approach we take, we are committed to tapping into the opportunity before us to increase upsell and ancillary revenues. This particular opportunity would represent incremental revenue above our stated synergy targets for the merger. We are just beginning to evaluate the full potential of upsell and will share more with you on our future calls.

The key words here are “we are committed to tapping into the opportunity before us to increase upsell and ancillary revenues.” Alaska has introduced some cost cutting measures to boost profits, including the end of free Biscoff cookies on flights that leave after 10am.

Then Shane Tackett, Alaska’s SVP of Revenue Management and & e-commerce, was asked to elaborate on what the airline is losing by not offering basic economy:

We have modeled the impact. Andrew just mentioned, we think it’s north of $100 million once it’s fully out and running and sort of optimized, which that would take some time. I would just say, other airlines, I think, it took a year or more to get to market and sort of fully roll it out. (…) And I think we’ll go faster than that. We certainly are going to be motivated to be faster than that, but it’s not something that’s going to hit like Q2, as an example. And I’ll just say we haven’t decided on what this would look like for us. And it could be something that’s like basic, we tend to not do me-toos of sort of the network carriers. Our business is little bit different. It usually doesn’t need the same product set. So we’re looking forward to being able to talk with you guys in the future call about what this might look like for us.

The good news there is that Alaska has no immediate plans to roll out basic economy, and its version might not be as bad as the others we’ve seen.

The industrywide trend has been to start charging à la carte for everything from seat selection to carryon bags and early boarding. Larger airlines have seen increased competition from low-cost carriers like Spirt and Frontier on the domestic side and Norwegian and WOW for international routes — hence the unbundling of fares.

If Alaska does introduce basic economy, in one form or another, it will leave Hawaiian, JetBlue and Southwest as the last holdouts without it among US mainline carriers.

Alaska has seen rising operating costs over the last two years and it may have to to meet an upcoming pay hike for its flight attendants this year. It still reported $367 million in net profit in 2017, but that was mainly due to a one-time tax benefit after the 2017 tax cut. Alaska also said that it will be giving each of its employees a $1,000 bonus due to the tax savings, and that’s on top of $62 million in bonuses that the airline plans on distributing.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants in the first three months of card membership.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.