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Alaska Airlines Has a New $5-Per-Month Subscription Program With Questionable ‘Benefits’

Airports + Flying
by Nickolaus Hines Mar 20, 2024

We live in the era of subscriptions, and seemingly no industry is immune. Streaming, grocery shopping, ride hail companies — it feels like every business wants customers to not only pay for goods and services, but also pay a recurring amount for some purported added value. The airline industry is no different. Case in point: Alaska Airlines recently announced a new subscription called Alaska Access that balances out to $5 per month.

Alaska Access has three main offerings: one free in-flight WiFi voucher per month, early access to sales, and a personalized fare page.

The early access to sales is one of the primary benefits that Alaska Airlines is using to justify the need for Alaska Access. Which makes sense, because who doesn’t love saving on travel? Digging a little deeper though, the value might not be quite as, well, valuable as it appears on first glance.

Alaska Airlines qualifies that Alaska Access members only get early sales notifications for “some of our largest sales of the year” (emphasis mine). Alaska Access members get an alert on the Alaska Airlines app when those deals come up. The catch is that it only comes the night before anyone else can find the same sale. In reality, this means getting 12 nighttime hours to buy a discounted ticket to somewhere that you might not have had plans of traveling to already.

The airline says this “means you can pick your preferred flight times and seats before others begin taking advantage of the sale.” It’s safe to say that the type of person who wants an overnight jump on a sale is also in the small group of people who would take advantage of a sale immediately after it’s announced anyway. Any benefit to buying the night before rests on the assumption that the portion of sales events that Alaska Access members get early notifications for will sell out as soon as they’re announced.

Then there’s the third purported benefit: “a personalized fare page” to see Alaska’s “lowest fares by money and miles.” The airline adds that “this view takes the guesswork and time out of finding the best valued flights on Alaska Airlines.” At its core, it’s a calendar view of the lowest fares for destinations that you choose, similar to what you’d see when searching on Google Flights or through an online travel agency. Most, if not all, platforms that people can buy flights on already have the capability to list flights from lowest to highest price. The fact that there’s still “guesswork” involved in buying an Alaska Airlines flight at all is just as much of a concern as the fact that this sounds like anyone who isn’t an Alaska Access member will be guided to more expensive options instead of finding the right flight for them.

The more information I find on Alaska Access, the more I wonder who it’s for. The low cost means Alaska Access won’t be a meaningful addition to the airline’s bottom line unless mass hordes of people join in. As a frequent traveler in travel media, I’m not aware of anyone (even in the travel industry) who would find one free in-flight WiFi voucher per month plus overnight sale access worth a dedicated subscription. And it’s already easy to find the lowest airfare through free tools like Google Flights.

But there’s one more kicker. Buried in the FAQ section of the Alaska Access page is the note that “membership requires a 12-month commitment.” The cost isn’t high even when considering it’s a $60 commitment, not a $5 per month commitment. Still, how much better this is than the free loyalty programs out there is a real question. At least the year-long commitment means anyone who does try the membership will have 12 months to find a way to make it worth it.

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