While the plan was reported previously, today Alaska Airlines sent out a press release that it is ready to begin selling seats in its economy class cabin with extra legroom for an additional fee. This is not quite the same as the Economy Plus (United), Main Cabin Extra (American), or Comfort+ (Delta) premium economy products you’ll find on other domestic carriers. Instead, Alaska is offering the opportunity to reserve a seat in the bulkhead and exit rows that already exist on every plane.
Alaska Airlines is branding this “Preferred Plus” seating. For $15 plus tax, customers who purchase Preferred Plus get priority boarding, about 8 inches of extra legroom, and a complimentary alcoholic beverage. This is pretty much identical to the benefits received by mid-tier MVP Gold members. The drink itself costs about $7, so this is a good deal.
For comparison, MVP members one tier down do not get the free cocktail, and MVP Gold 75K members one tier up also receive a free video player on longer flights. Alaska is selling access to the same benefits some of us earned, but there is one important caveat: Upgrades to Preferred Plus can only be purchased within the 24 hour check-in window before departure. The vast majority of elite Mileage Plan members buy their tickets before then and should be able to reserve a seat with extra legroom. What this is doing is allowing Alaska to sell any Preferred Plus seats that are left over, or to sell seats that open up when it upgrades elite members to first class.
It could still be bad news for passengers on more busy flights. Sometimes I’ll book a ticket on a flight in advance and all the Preferred Plus seats have already been taken. I’m expecting them to open up during the check-in window when other passengers get upgraded. In the past there wasn’t much competition. Now I’ll have to check the seat map a little more often, and I’ll need to remember to check a couple days earlier before they become available to the general public.
Not the end of the world, but still something to watch for. My hope is that this experiment goes well and Alaska decides to roll out Preferred Plus to include additional rows of seats. That would mean more extra legroom for everyone, including elite members and general passengers willing to pay.
A full Q&A on the rules for new Preferred Plus seating is available on the Alaska Airlines website. One interesting note buried in there:
- American AAdvantage elite members will receive complimentary Preferred Plus seats.
- Delta SkyMiles elite members will not receive complimentary Preferred Plus seats.
The battle continues…. 😉