Checking a Bag on Alaska Airlines is a Good Decision

I flew back early Monday morning from FTU Seattle to home in Los Angeles on Alaska Airlines (note: I’m working on getting my FTU presentation blog-worthy – the slides are somewhat useless without commentary, so I’ll try to explain some of the general tips I gave later this week).

My flight was at 7am, so I stayed at the airport Doubletree the night before, but because I was rushing to catch the airport shuttle, I simply used my Hilton Gold breakfast voucher for a to-go cup at the in-house coffee shop. I could have woken up a bit earlier to wait for a hot snack, but this was the tail end of a 6-day trip that had me on the east coast the first few days, and almost each day I had to wake up before 5:30am, so I really wanted that sleep.

As I sat on the shuttle, I became a bit hungry. I realized I had maybe enough time to visit the Alaska Boardroom thanks to my Priority Pass I get with the American Express Platinum card. The Boardrooms have some breakfast options, including my favorite pancake machine, so I figured I could get a quick bite before boarding my flight.  I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to breakfast.

Mmm, pancakes.

Mmm, pancakes.

The problem is that each time I’ve flown Alaska Airlines, they’ve begun boarding at least 40 minutes before departure. When you have the First Class cabin, Alaska MVP Elites, American Airlines elites, and Delta elites getting priority boarding on a Monday morning flight, you really have to be there when the first group boards if you want space in the bin.

However, Alaska Airlines also has a 20-minute baggage delivery guarantee for checked bags and has self-tag bag kiosks at many airports, meaning you should be able to get your bag tagged without a long line to worry about meeting the 40-minute cutoff time. If your bag doesn’t show up within 20 minutes on arrival at the bag claim, you get a $25 voucher you can use on a future Alaska Airlines flight or 2.500 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles (which I value more than $25). The policy works for Alaska since the largest planes they own are 737s, so it shouldn’t be too tough to unload them.

I could check my bag (for free with my American status), which would give me more time in the Boardroom, as I wouldn’t have to reach the gate early in hopes of getting overhead bin space on an elite-heavy commuter flight. The self-tag machines were simple to use, although as someone who’s always used to keeping a carry-on, I instinctively put the bag tag on and started walking to security before I remembered I needed to drop it off with an agent.

There are lines to drop off self-tagged bags, where you need to present your boarding pass and ID with your bag, but unfortunately it seemed to be amateur hour and everybody in front of me in line was trying to check in or print a bag tag, which should be done at general check-in or bag drop lines since they take more time. Like Scott said in his FTU presentation on Alaska Airlines, their employees are way too nice to tell people to go stand in another line.

I dropped my bag off right as the bag cut-off hit and made it through TSA Pre-Check with about 35 minutes until departure. The Alaska Airlines Boardroom at SeaTac is just past security, so I spent about 10 minutes in the upstairs portion enjoying a quick pancake breakfast, before heading over to the gate for boarding. It was a bit of a walk, but I didn’t have my roller bag with me, only a light backpack. I was probably the 2nd to last passenger to board with about 20 minutes until departure, and took my seat in the exit row. Although the bins were full, I could easily put my backpack under the seat in front of me.

Enjoying a great view in the Alaska Boardroom instead of jostling for bin space.

Enjoying a great view in the Alaska Boardroom instead of jostling for bin space.

On arrival, I timed how long it took for my bag to arrive by starting a stopwatch on my phone. I don’t know when Alaska starts their clock, but I assume it’s based on the arrival time which can easily be looked up on various apps (like FlightTrack). It ended up taking me 12 minutes to get from my seat to the bag claim, and my bag arrived less than 2 minutes later. No $25 voucher or 2500 miles for me, but instead a better flying experience. I’ll definitely take that.

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  • Joey

    Thank you for this post! I flew Alaska Airlines for the first time this past weekend (I live in NYC area) but sadly did not check-in my luggage but that’s a good recommendation given the 20 minute guarantee.
    Your session on MS and Scott’s session on AS were very very helpful. Thank you. I will plan to use some of the tips starting this week.
    Did you stay at the Marriott airport hotel? Why did you change to the Doubletree, if I may ask? I’m guessing it was closer to the airport (though the Marriott was pretty close!)

    • Amol

      Thanks for coming to the talks. I arrived on Saturday and stayed at the Marriott one night so I could be closer to FTU and to get my 2nd stay for a MegaBonus award. I stayed at the Doubletree Sunday night because it was cheaper (8,000 HHonors points + $44 all-in), compared to $120+ elsewhere). The Marriott was actually closer to the airport.

  • The Value Traveler

    I tried the stopwatch trick here too at PDX after arriving from LAS–no go! They are just too good at what they do. Better luck next time

  • Rusty Longwood

    The other cool thing is that Alaska still gives AA Gold two free checked bags– Alaska treats AA elites better than AA itself!

  • Darth Chocolate

    There are only two tpe of bags in this universe: carry-on and lost.

  • Logan

    I must have missed you at the DT by minutes! I was heading to the airport around the same time for the earlier San Diego flight.

  • shay peleg

    Worst case your suitcase get’s lost but i enjoy that because it lets me buy everything that was in my suitcase for free basically

  • Bing Wu

    Hey Amol! It was great to hear your amazing talk, and awesome to meet you in person. I checked my bag w/ Alaska that night (the ‘extra’ shiny new Rimowa suitcase I didn’t want all scratched up came on the plane with me while I checked my “old” suitcase). And low and behold, it took 23 minutes to arrive at the baggage claim. You bet I wrote in to ask for the 2,500 miles!

    • Amol

      Good stuff!

  • Anon

    Oh dear lord, are we now blogging on such inane topics. How about telling us if you moved your bowels before boarding or if you waited until you got on board?

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