Travel Tuesday: Alaska Airlines Has a New “Flight Pass” Subscription Option
Being a big Disney fan, I’m quite familiar with the concept of an Annual Pass. Indeed, at several times in my life, I’ve made strong use of such offerings, lowering the price per visit each time I showed up at the gates, while still helping Disney to make use of unused capacity. So what if a similar-ish idea could be implemented for air travel? Well, that’s kind of what Alaska Air is trying with the introduction of Flight Pass.
Currently, the Flight Pass includes flights between a total of 16 airports. The vast majority of these airports are in California, but Las Vegas, Reno, and Phoenix are also featured (with flights to/from California airports to these out-of-state locations). There are also two main tiers of the program: Flight Pass and Flight Pass Pro. While the former has plans starting at $49 per month, the latter begins at $199 a month.
So how does Flight Pass work? First, you’ll need to decide how many flights per year you’d like to include in your plan. More accurately, you’ll select how often you’d like to receive credits. With the basic $49 per month option, you’ll earn one round-trip flight every two months. That can be increased to one per month for a cost of $99 a month or two roundtrips per month for $189 per month.
As a regular Flight Pass customer, you’ll be able to book your flight up to 90 days in advance but must book at least 14 days ahead of time. Meanwhile, with Flight Pass Pro, you’ll still be able to book as far as 90 days out but, for last-minute trips, you can book same-day flights — up to just two hours before departure. By the way, the aforementioned $199 a month price tag for Flight Pass Pro is for the “1 roundtrip every 2 months” plan, with the 1 per month or 2 per month plans increasing to $399 per month and $749 per month respectively.
When using your credits, you may still have to pay a little extra thanks to taxes and fees. According to Alaska, this will typically amount to $14.60 plus a fare of just a penny. However, they do warn that some flights “may require a higher premium access fare.” Flight Pass customers will also have the chance to buy upgrades to Premium Class when available. By the way, looking elsewhere in Alaska’s FAQ, they make it clear that customers will still earn one mile for every mile they fly using their Flight Pass and can earn miles toward Mileage Plan elite status. Furthermore, those with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card will earn 3x miles on their Flight Pass purchases (assuming they use their card for such payments).
Personally, while I’m fascinated by the idea behind Flight Pass, I do think there are some big questions and potential downsides. The most obvious unknown is how often those penny fares will get hiked due to demand. As I see it the answer to this could really make or break the program. Meanwhile, I do think that the current structure could be frustrating for some passengers as the credits seem to be issued on a recurring schedule instead of just entitling you to a certain number of flights per year. I realize this is necessary since it’s a monthly subscription, but I’d almost expect there to be an annual pre-pay option that just gives you these credits upfront if you prefer.
As someone based out of the middle of the country, this offering clearly doesn’t make sense for me at this time. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not cheering for it to succeed, as it could inspire other airlines to explore similar offerings. For example, I’d likely be interested in an Allegiant subscription that took me from Springfield to Vegas a few times a year — contingent on the price of such an offering, of course. On that note, I can’t exactly speak to whether or not this particular offering is a good deal. Nevertheless, I’m interested to see how this Flight Pass plan is received and how it might expand in the future (even if I’m not holding my breath).