Alaska Airlines launches new service to Belize; We were on 1 of the 1st flights
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Belize has been high on my to-do list for most of my life. I vividly remember my mother visiting when I was a boy. She would come back tan and relaxed after a trip to this Central American jewel. I never managed to make it despite wanting to go for three decades, but when I heard my favorite airline Alaska was planning new service to Belize City, I was super excited to finally visit.
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I paid a total of $677.09 for my flight using my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card, which earns 3 points per dollar on Alaska flights. I earned a total of 2,031 Alaska Mileage Plan miles on the charge, worth $36.56 according to TPG valuations. We value Alaska miles at 1.8 cents apiece.
If you want to use your Alaska Mileage Plan miles for the trip, it’s been a bit of a challenge for some dates. The airline appears to not be releasing a lot of award space, though I was able to find some dates in March for as low as 15,000 Mileage Plan miles each way (that’s below what the award chart says it should cost, so it’s a deal).
It was another 25,000 miles to return on the Seattle-to-Belize City flights.
Alaska uses a distance-based award chart with a ticket from anywhere in North America to Central America for between 17,500 and 50,000 miles for coach and 30,000 and 70,000 miles for first class (one-way).
I found availability (with multiple stops and long layovers) for as low as 30,000 miles round-trip for the main cabin.
It gets trickier in first class. I did find mixed-cabin redemptions for as low as 70,000, but some of the longer flights on the return are in coach and they include a brutal one-day layover in Seattle.
Cash fares in 2022 are similar to what I paid last November, at $617 round-trip in coach or $2,393 in first class.
The journey also got me 9,796 redeemable miles, worth about $176 at current TPG valuations. (Here’s why we love Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles.) That’s 2,177 base miles and 2,721 bonus miles each way.
Alaska Airlines uses Terminal 6 at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for both domestic and international flights.
I had a COVID-19 test scheduled at the Clarity Lab in Terminal 6 across the street from the Alaska ticket counters a few hours before my flight, so I went over right after my test to see about checking in.
I first went to the regular check-in area, getting in the first-class/priority line at 7:21 a.m. There were two agents (joined by a third a few minutes later). I was being helped by 7:23 a.m. The agent confirmed I was good to go.
Interestingly, she didn’t tell me there was a separate area for international departures, which I discovered a few minutes later.
There are a total of 19 kiosks at the regular domestic check-in area, but at least five of them were not working the morning I was there. The regular line had five agents working, and the lines were very short. Most people waited less than five minutes.
Just down the hall, you’ll find the check-in area for international departures. I’m not sure why they separate it, but it was quicker to use the international lines.
There were eight kiosks there, and only one of them didn’t work.
I waited less than a minute for the two first-class counter agents. Angelica helped me and was very friendly. She told me there was a lot of excitement about the new Belize flights, and that my flight only had five seats left in coach for sale. She also told me that passengers on the inaugural flight the day before got “surprise and delight” treats.
Angelica didn’t know what they were for sure, but she thought she heard chocolates and other goodies. She printed my boarding pass, and I was on my way.
There was also a big banner honoring the new flights.
There were three agents working the regular line in international departures with probably a five-minute wait.
I returned to the terminal around 9:15 a.m. Terminal 6 has a Clear station along with TSA PreCheck. I was through Clear in about one minute, and through security in less than five.
My flight was departing from Gate 61.
Alaska Lounge at LAX
The Alaska Lounge is on the second floor of Terminal 6. It’s petite but gets the job done. Normally, as a Gold 75K MVP, I do not have access to lounges (although you do get four lounge passes per year when you qualify for Gold MVP). However, because I was traveling internationally as a Oneworld Emerald on a flight they consider long-haul, I was able to go to the lounge without using a pass or paying for day access.
The lounge has several seating areas and a bar with a bartender pouring drinks and making espressos.
The food is fairly standard lounge fare, including the breakfast spread of bagels, muffins and other breads made by a local business called Homeboy Industries, which they describe as “the largest gang intervention program in the nation.”
There was also steel-cut oatmeal, fresh fruit, yogurt and scrambled eggs (which looked really dry). Of course, there is also the famous Alaska pancake machine. I didn’t eat anything as I’d filled up on breakfast at the Hyatt Regency LAX.
Wi-Fi was lightning fast. I got download speeds of 357.33 Mbps and upload speeds of 305.86 Mbps.
COVID-19 screening and boarding
I was worried my cursory document check wouldn’t be enough for me to get on board the plane, but that turned out to be unfounded. I spoke with a friendly gate agent named Mitch who told me everything looked good on his end. All he asked to see was my passport. No proof of a negative COVID-19 test was required post-check-in.
He also handed me a new boarding pass with an upgraded seat in first class. Woo-hoo!
Mitch told me he missed the festivities for the inaugural, but he said there was a live DJ among other excitement.
In fact, there were still decorations up from the celebration the day before, including lots of colorful balloons and parrot paper decorations along with several signs celebrating the new international service for Alaska.
It’s not every day the airline adds new international routes.
There was even a selfie station for pictures celebrating the launch.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough seating at Gate 61. I counted a total of 71 seats, but it felt crowded and claustrophobic. Lots of seats were blocked for social distancing. And there were also no charging outlets at the seats.
Boarding began a few minutes early around 10:45 a.m., with preboarding for those needing extra time followed by members of the military and then the first-class cabin.
The cabin and seats
My flight was operated by a 13-year-old Boeing 737-800 with the ship number N514AS.
Alaska 737s generally have three rows with two seats each in the first-class cabin, which is typical for first on most single-aisle planes. I really lucked out. Not only was I upgraded at the gate, but no one else was, so I had Row 1 all to myself. I was assigned Seat 1C, but I ended up in 1A for most of the flight since I love a window view.
The flight was scheduled for four hours and 17 minutes.
The seats have a ton of pitch. I had a full 2 feet of legroom at the bulkhead, and I measured 55 inches of pitch for Row 1. In fact, the distance from my knees to the bulkhead was 18 inches. The rest of the rows had 47 inches of pitch. The width of the seat was 20 inches at both the hip and waist. The headrest measured 23 inches across.
My biggest complaint about the seats is that they only recline, and are generally hard to sleep in. I measured about a 5-inch recline, not much if you really want to rest.
I do prefer the older first-class seats on Alaska’s Boeing 737s to the new slimmer-line seats on some planes though. There is a lot more padding on the older seats like on this jet. There is a recline button at your right knee on these planes.
The tray table measured 20 inches by 10 inches when it was fully extended — quite nice for me since I had two to work with. I had no trouble working on my large Apple laptop.
There is also a small drink table that pulls out from the area between the seats. It measures 6 inches by 7 inches.
There are also two sets of outlets between the seats in the leg area. I was able to charge my iPhone just fine, but my large Apple laptop plug wouldn’t stay in place.
More than 700 movies and TV shows are available on Alaska in-flight via Wi-Fi on your own devices, including 41 new releases. There are no devices built into seats or tablets handed out on Alaska planes.
The bathrooms are basic, but not too tiny like on some newer planes such as American Airlines’ new 737 Oasis-configuration jets.
Wi-Fi speeds were just OK. I got download speeds of 3.24 Mbps and upload speeds of 1.0 Mbps. That said, I was able to upload the screenshot, which is always a good indicator of decent Wi-Fi.
Food and beverage
There was no predeparture beverage service, but there were Purell hand sanitizing wipes and a carton of water at every seat at boarding.
The boarding door was closed by 11:25 a.m. for an on-time departure. There was a welcome from the captain and from the flight attendants over the PA, but no mention of entry requirements into Belize aside from several announcements about filling out the immigration form they handed out about 10 minutes after takeoff.
The flight attendant brought out the snack basket at 12:07 p.m., about 20 minutes after takeoff, and beverages immediately afterward. For the first time since the pandemic started, I was served a Diet Coke in a real glass. Somehow that makes it taste better.
I chose vegan cheese PeaTos crunchy curls, which I’ve had before and love. A bag only has 120 calories and has lots of fiber and protein. They also come with less guilt than regular chips. I also grabbed a Cooper Street Granola Cookie Bake snack. They have 110 calories, but all the taste of a regular cookie.
There was also a full meal service in first class, with Moroccan chicken, fruit and cheese plate or a vegetarian squash bowl option.
I chose the chicken. Good choice! The chicken was baked with couscous, carrots and roasted almonds and was cooked perfectly. The carrots were tangy and firm and the roasted almonds were delicious. The chicken itself had a good taste, with some kind of tomato-based sauce on top, and it was moist if a bit chewy.
There was a small side salad of arugula and red lettuce with an Italian balsamic vinaigrette dressing that was delicious. The hybrid sourdough and wheat bread was warm and tasty.
Dessert was a brownie with dark chocolate dripped on top. It was good of course, but a little too sweet for me to eat the whole thing. Everything was served on one tray with real plates.
On this flight, they offered Chateau Ste. Michelle Mimi chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon, Saint Vincent sparkling wine (in a can), Kona Brewing Co. Longboard Island Lager and Fremont Brewing Lush IPA. There were also minibottles of booze including Tanqueray gin, Tito’s vodka, Jack Daniel’s whiskey, Woodford Reserve bourbon and Baileys Irish Cream liquor.
I opted for coffee with warm nuts.
I really liked this LA-based flight crew. I was greeted warmly and they even let me take a picture of them as I boarded. The flight attendants were cheerful and friendly. Everyone seemed to be really happy to be working the new flight.
In fact, I had great service throughout the flight. For example, after the meal service, I was asked if I’d like another drink. The crew came by multiple times for service checks.
Lily was working the first-class cabin and she never got annoyed with all my pesky questions, even letting me photograph the collection of booze on the flight.
I also did TPG’s flight attendant call button test to ask for coffee. Lily was at my seat within 20 seconds.
It’s always exciting when Alaska launches a new international destination, let alone a whole new country. It was very fun for me to be able to be on one of the first flights, and a great flight crew, an upgrade and a drama-free entry to Belize made it that much better.
My one criticism of Alaska is true for this flight and all their longer-range flights. The first-class seats are recline-only, and they barely recline at that. It’s actually made me rethink my loyalty to Alaska since a lot of my flying for the next few years is likely to be longer flights between New York and the West Coast. First- or business-class seats that don’t lie flat just aren’t competitive on long plane rides.
That said, I adore Alaska and I’ve had great experiences flying with the airline over the past few years. This flight was one of the best, and I attribute that to a great crew and good food.
The journey home was just as good — even without an upgrade!
Featured photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.
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