Alaska Airlines sent out an email to Mileage Plan members this week explaining their Saver Fares and apologizing for poor communication about the introduction of the new fare class. Saver Fares were introduced in 2018 and are supposedly a way for Alaska Airlines to compete with other airlines “Basic economy”. Or really Ultra Low cost Carriers such as Spirit and Frontier. The fares are restrictive compared to main cabin fares. Yet, the e-mail is truly a joke of an excuse and full in misconstrued information. Worse of all, the email is an insult to Alaska’s Elites. It’s dressed up corporate jargon as they airline tries to make right with their frequent flyer base.
Breaking down the email
First let’s break down the email from Alaska Airlines EVP & Chief Commercial Officer, Andrew Harrison. It starts out well and then quickly goes down hill.
“I am writing today to talk with you about Saver fares, which is a new product Alaska Airlines recently launched. Many of you have written or called us asking for a better understanding of the rationale behind this decision, and I’d like to provide some context for why we launched a new fare class with fewer benefits than other Alaska Airlines products. “
Ok good, Alaska noticed an issue, but get ready for the alternative facts.
“Saver fares are designed for a specific type of traveler – one who prioritizes price above all else, and not the elite Mileage Plan™ benefits you’ve come to know and love. Saver fares offer cost-conscious guests the absolute lowest fare possible. The trade-off is that these tickets are not refundable, not changeable, and not eligible for front-of-cabin seat selections or complimentary upgrades – even as an elite member.”
If I am a cost conscious guest, I am probably not a Mileage Plan member. Furthermore, I’m not an elite flyer. Elite flyers, especially Gold and 75K already pay a little extra to fly Alaska every time, especially from Seattle as Alaska fares were already higher than competition because Alaska offers the most nonstop flights. If I am someone who is shopping for the best deal, sometimes I fly Southwest, other times I fly United. I fly whoever is cheapest. Now Alaska is asking elites to pay even more to get the same benefits. If I am a cost conscious consumer, I don’t care what benefits I get with a saver fare “X” vs a Main Cabin “R” fare. All I care about is final price and getting from Point A to B with all extras added (such a baggage fees).
When it comes to seat selection, Alaska Airlines already blocks everything from the exit row forward for priority customers and full fare passengers. The only seats that are usually available for non elites greater than 24 hour before departure are upgrades to Premium Economy or middle seats in the rear of the plane. Guess what, the same is true when flying on a Saver Fare. Except now you cannot upgrade to Premium economy. Even an Elite on a Saver Fare can no longer select a seat forward of the exit row.
Everything so far is true, but it is a huge downgrade to Mileage Plan members.
The email continues:
“We resisted launching Saver fares, but in recent years the offering of Basic Economy fares by other airlines have become popular among cost-conscious flyers and we started to lose business to the competition. In order for Alaska to be considered by shoppers, we had to reduce our Main Cabin fares to match the lowest published prices of our competitors’ Basic Economy fares, while still offering full Main Cabin benefits.”
LIES!! Alaska Airlines has fare classes just like every other airline. They can offer as few or as many R fare class tickets as they want. R fares are the cheapest main cabin fares. New Save fares (X fares) are the same price today as R class fares use to be. If Alaska had a flash sale pre-Saver Fare days, those deals booked in R class. Now they book into X class. Revenue management controls the number of seats in each fare class. Alaska did not have to introduce a new fare class to compete. Call a spade a Spade Alaska!
“As you can imagine, this became impossible to sustain. This industry shift to Basic Economy has cost Alaska hundreds of millions of dollars over the past few years. It was simply a financial imperative that we launch our own version to protect Alaska Airlines over the long term. We recognize, in some situations, you will pay more for Main Cabin fares that provide the full suite of the elite benefits you’re accustomed to. Our goal continues to be what it has always been, to fulfill our commitment to maintaining low fares, great service and generous Mileage Plan rewards.”
Did you read that? “We recognize, in some situations, you will pay more for Main Cabin fares that provide the full suite of the elite benefits you’re accustomed to.” This is nothing but insulting to Elite customers. Alaska says if you want benefits, pay more! Alaska doesn’t care if you fly 75,000 miles with them or pay them tens of thousands of dollars each year. Nope, if you want your elite benefits, expect to pay even more going forward! Actually, they are telling you to even consider taking your business elsewhere!
“The airline industry is constantly changing and often forces us to make difficult decisions, but we remain focused on setting ourselves apart from other airlines. Our Saver fares needed to be more generous than run-of-the-mill Basic Economy fares, and they are. Alaska passengers who purchase Saver fares earn full miles for their trip, are allowed to bring a carry-on bag and in many cases can still be assigned a seat at the time of booking – albeit in the rear of the aircraft. Additionally, elite Mileage Plan members who purchase Saver fares will still enjoy priority boarding.”
Ummm okay Alaska, way to make yourself just like EVERY other airline! The only real perk here is selecting middle seat in the rear of the plane and even you admit that it’s not all the time! Oh and elites get still priority boarding – Whippie! Yet wait, if I am Elite, am I really the one buying this fare class? Probably not! Nope, I’m now paying an extra $20-$60 each way to do an upgrade dance and pray for my first class upgrade.
“We did a poor job at providing you with enough information well in advance about how Saver fares might impact your elite experience, and for that I apologize. Going forward, we will err on the side of providing our most loyal customers like you with more proactive and transparent communication about product changes of this magnitude — for better or worse.
Thank you for your loyalty and understanding. It means the world to us, and we don’t take it for granted.
Alaska has sold out to Wall Street
Alaska Airlines does not care about your loyalty and they do take every customer for granted. For Instance, all Andrew and gang cares about is making their investors happy and buying back shares while increasing dividend. Alaska is doing so well, dividends increased by 9% in Q4. Yet, Alaska has decided that they would rather chase leisure cost-conscious customers and backhand loyal customers. They are also hoping that business customers will buy more expensive main cabin fares.
Elites which travel on their own dollar, shop around! Actually, even if you are Elite and flying on business, consider shopping around. Better deals are available and elite status elsewhere may suit you better. Think about it, In the spring of 2018 Alaska announced Saver Fares on a quarterly investor call. Saver fares have NOTHING to do with cost conscious customers. Instead, they hope more people will “buy-up” and they can increase their bottom line.
Saver Fares – An Insult to Elites
Move over Alaska, Delta will win in Seattle in the race to the basic economy bottom. Consumers will choose whoever is cheapest and on my limited research that is Delta.
First, Saver fares kill Alaska’s spirit and take away all real Elite Mileage Plan benefit. Southwest Airlines is the only major airline to not offer a “basic economy”. Yet Southwest even offer free changes and two free checked bags! Second, as a Gold or 75K Elite flyer, saver fares take away the top benefits: Same day changes and free cancellations. Although, with Alaska’s limited flight network even SDCs are not available in all markets. Third, as an airline you’re telling Elites to pay extra money for a near worthless premium class upgrade—seriously who cares about free trail mix? An Elite flyer can get more leg room in the exit row and a free drink or two either way. Finally, even if an elite buys up to main cabin, with fewer seats in first class due to the premium class reconfiguration, upgrade chances are already slim and decreased.
I have a laundry list of changes that Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan needs to make. It’s not even a global program, despite how much they brag about their global partners. All programs have their problems, but Mileage Plan continues to fail frequent flyers and Saver fare make it even worse.
In the end, this is an email masquerade from an executive vice president who is out of touch with consumers and frequent flyers. Although Scott disagrees, I say read between the lines people, Alaska wasn’t apologizing for Saver Fares. They are laughing at consumers and provider us with alternative fact while backhanding elite flyers. Saver fares results in higher fares and another reminder that loyalty is dead. Call a spade a spade Alaska.