In a nutshell: Alaska Airlines Basic Economy (aka Saver) fares can offer a significant reduction off the standard Main Cabin price while providing essentially the same experience. I saved over $50 on this round-trip ticket between San Francisco and Boston, yet was still able to select an aisle seat, bring a carry-on bag with me, and enjoy Alaska’s pleasant service and decent on-board food for purchase. I have no regrets purchasing a Saver fare, even as an Alaska Airlines elite.
After Delta Air Lines, Alaska Airlines is my favorite U.S. carrier to fly. I find that their staff are friendly, their operations good, and their customer service excellent on the whole. Every instance where Alaska has dropped the ball in some regard, whether it be a flight delay or an award ticket change, they have always come through. Even flying Alaska Airlines basic economy is a fine experience.
This was one of a few tickets I booked as part of my plan to attain MVP Gold 75K status through the end of 2020. With my Delta Platinum status soon to be in the rear view mirror, I made the move to Alaska while I had the opportunity.
These BOGO fares (that weren’t truly BOGO) offered an outstanding opportunity to meet the status challenge cheaply. Although I did book one round-trip in Main cabin using a voucher, the other fares I needed were round-trip Saver tickets that cost only $107 round-trip. The fare earns 2,704 base and elite miles, which is increased to 6,084 redeemable miles with the MVP Gold 75K 125% bonus.
Alaska Saver fares do let you pick seats (compare the basic economy experience of U.S. carriers here), although you only have the last few rows of the plane available to you. I selected aisle seat 30C for the cross-country trek. I made sure I picked an aisle seat where the window was already booked, as the likelihood of having the middle seat empty is very high on this route.
Arrival In Boston
Because I was flying a same-day-turn and not leaving the airport, there was no security to deal with. I arrived at Boston Logan Airport flying an Alaska Boeing 737-800 departing SFO around 7:00 AM. We arrived on schedule, which left roughly an hour to wait until boarding started for the return flight.
Alaska operates out of Terminal B at Boston Logan. Unfortunately, you cannot transfer between Terminal B and other terminals air-side, which is a bummer. If I could have made it to Terminal C, I would have been able to hang out in The Lounge for free using my Priority Pass membership. Instead, I just grabbed some food from the food court a short distance from Gate 36, returning when it was time to board.
Boarding and Departure
The gate agent was humorous and engaging, and actually the same one that was here last time I’d made this round-trip. He’d managed to move everyone in economy to their own row, which was amazing. This is only possible with a really low load factor, which means that Alaska might not be doing all that well on this route.
As an MVP Gold 75K, I was in the “A” boarding group. Which consisted of just me, as best I could tell (LOL). Everyone else aboard aside from the couple who had pre-boarded was seated in first class. I got my exercise walking to the very back of the bus.
The flight attendants soon announced for everyone to stay in their seats prior to takeoff due to weight and balance issues. I’ve had this happen many times flying regional jets, but never on something as large as a 737. Then again, it’s been years since I’ve flown a 737 this lightly loaded. With all parties moved to their own row, I don’t see why anyone would want to seat swap anyway.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take very long for Alaska to finish the entire boarding process for our flight. Everyone was on board within about 5 minutes. We pushed back and took off from Boston well ahead of schedule, which would hopefully mean an early arrival into San Francisco International. The winter headwinds make the BOS to SFO flight time a full six hours.
Seat: Just Like Any Other Economy Seat
I reviewed my first time flying Alaska Airlines first class, which was on a trip just a couple weeks prior to this one, on the same route. Even though I was bummed to not be having that same pleasant experience, I was quite excited at the level of comfort flying on an Alaska Airlines basic economy fare. Why? Because I had three seats to myself. The comfort of the seat doesn’t really matter at that point. I could lay down and snooze for over five hours if I wanted. But let’s take a look at the seat anyway.
I’ve flown Alaska economy a handful of times, and I find that the seats installed on their 737s are middle of the pack. A Saver ticket gets you the same economy seat as any other economy fare. The fare is just cheaper since you can’t select seats beyond the limited number at the back, among other differences (such as no changes or cancellations). The seats themselves are narrow at 17 inches wide, and they have about 31 inches in pitch.
The seats are pretty slim, however, so the leg room is reasonable. Neither my knees nor feet were cramped once I moved my small backpack (just there for reference). Padding is adequate.
Alaska’s economy seats do not offer seat-back in-flight entertainment. This is a fleet-wide choice. As the airline integrated Virgin America planes and replaced the interiors, they’ve actually taken out the screens, which is a bummer. The commitment to seat-back IFE is one of the reasons I enjoy flying Delta so much. Every coast-to-coast flight I’ve been on (and some much shorter) have offered seat-back screens.
You do have at-seat power, which is a plus. There is both a universal power outlet and a USB port, so you can keep your phone and computer charged at the same time.
On the whole, Alaska has a very standard economy seat. For an aircraft (and airline) that doesn’t fly long-haul, what they offer is totally fine. The lack of screen in the seat is made up by their other entertainment options.
Alaska offers both bring-our-own-device (BYOD) entertainment as well as tablets for rent. The selection of movies and TV shows that you can watch on your own device is extensive. I scanned through many, many choices. It’s easy enough to use. Just make sure you download the Gogo Entertainment Player before the aircraft door shuts and you need to switch your phone or tablet into airplane mode.
I did also opt for one of Alaska’s in-flight entertainment tablets as well. The flight attendant seemed unaware that they are complimentary for MVP Gold 75K elites, one of the published perks of the status. She hesitantly handed it to me before returning a couple minutes later to confirm that I was correct. I’m guessing that not many elites fly Alaska Airlines basic economy!
Tablets are also complimentary in first class, but otherwise they are $10 for the duration of the flight. They are also collected about 30-45 minutes prior to landing, so keep that in mind if you do rent one. Also, the choice on the tablet are fare fewer than the BYOD selection. The screen is nice, though, and it beats watching something on my phone. The case also acts as a stand.
As far as Alaska’s WiFi goes, I’m not impressed. I bought a monthly pass for $49.95, knowing I’d be flying them multiple times in January, as it was cheaper than purchasing access each time. The speed isn’t the greatest, however. I was able to do most basic things, but sometimes the speed would drop, or the WiFi would cut out completely for several minutes or more. I also didn’t like that my phone would drop the WiFi connection and need to be re-authenticated with another 5-digit code every time I turned the screen off and then came back to check messages later.
Food and Beverage
Like pretty much all domestic economy flights, Alaska Airlines offers food for purchase on their longer flights. Shorter hops will be loaded with some of their snack options, but there won’t be any of the more substantial options they offer unless your flight is over three hours. Some options are typically only available on coast-to-coast or Hawaii flights.
Alaska’s menu changes through the year, but they typically have a salad and a sandwich or wrap among the choices. I decided to try the turkey pretzel bun sandwich for $9.50. It was decent, not the best food I’ve had with Alaska Airlines, but definitely fresh and tasty.
The flight attendants made three passes through the cabin during the flight offering drinks. I took them up on the one free beverage you receive as a MVP Gold 75K elite, opting for the Prosecco. After that, I stuck to water to stay hydrated.
The Verdict: Alaska Airlines Basic Economy
It might seem silly to fly a Saver fare when I could be likely be up in first class for just under $60 more (assuming a complimentary upgrade), but I decided that saving money on these back-to-back treks to lock in MVP Gold 75K status (not to mention a lot of miles we can use) was the best choice. I’m glad I did, given how lightly loaded the aircraft was. With at-seat power to let me work, BYOD entertainment, and no one next to me, it was an enjoyable experience. The food wasn’t bad either. My only real complaint is the poor WiFi.
If the aircraft was full, I’m sure I would have been glad to be able to pick an aisle seat. The policy of allowing limited seat selection and full mileage credit on Saver fares makes Alaska Airlines basic economy one of the better of the bunch.