Alaska Airlines offers new benefits to Alaska residents

Anchorage Daily NewsOctober 18, 2011 

Alaska Airlines announced a new program for Alaska residents Tuesday that includes two free checked bags for out-of-state travel and special discounts on fares.

The program, "Club 49," is open to Alaska residents who are members of the airline's frequent flier program.

In addition to two free checked bags on flights to and from the state, members will get two annual one-way certificates for 30 percent off Full Flex fares when flying to, from or within Alaska. These fares are good on short notice.

Club members will also get early notice of new weekly fare sales.

Airline executives said the weekly sales -- available to all fliers, not just Alaskans -- will be announced on Tuesdays, and will generally include at least one destination within Alaska and one between Alaska and outside the state.

This week's fares, for example, include a $99 trip between Anchorage and Bethel, or Fairbanks and Barrow; $189 between Anchorage and Portland; and similar discounts between Seattle and Fairbanks, Ketchikan or Anchorage.

Those are one-way fares that will last just four days, Tuesday to Friday. They're for travel between Nov. 1 and Dec. 10.

Club 49 members will get e-mails on each week's specials early on Tuesdays.

The Club 49 program was announced Tuesday by company president Brad Tilden to local news media at Ted Stevens Anchorage International.

"The intent is to say thank you to Alaskans for your support," and to make travel less expensive, said Tilden.

Joe Sprague, an Alaska Airlines vice president, said 20 percent of the airline's business is in Alaska.

Airline executives repeated the announcement in Fairbanks and Juneau.

Club 49 starts Nov. 1, but Alaska residents in the Alaska Airlines mileage program can sign up for it now at alaskaair.com/club49.

Scott McMurren, an Alaska travel expert who publishes a travel newsletter at alaskatravelgram.com, said the free checked bags and the weekly sales fares are good deals.

"Two free bags for Alaskans traveling outside of Alaska -- that's like really good," McMurren said. For a family of four with two bags each, it's significant money, he said.

Now Alaskans and others traveling to and from the state pay $20 per checked bag.

People have been grousing about having to pay for checked bags ever since airlines started the bag fees.

"If you're paying $600 for a ticket to Portland and then paying extra for a bag, to my mind that's adding insult to injury," McMurren said.

After Nov. 1, Club 49 members can check two bags per person for free on out-of-state trips. Travellers flying solely within the state already get three checked bags at no charge, and that will continue.

The weekly specials look good, too, McMurren said. He noted that they include discount prices for travelling from Fairbanks and Ketchikan to destinations Outside, flights for which there is little competition.

"Almost $300 for Ketchikan to Seattle (round-trip) is really good. Because they have nothing else."

mixed reviews

McMurren said he is less impressed with the two, one-way 30 percent off coupons Club 49 members will get.

The fares the discounts apply to are pretty high, he said. For example, the base fare to Seattle now is more than $1,050 round-trip, before taxes, he said. A 30 percent discount would still put it around $700.

Tilden said the baggage deal will affect the airline's bottom line but save money for travellers.

But he said it's not clear yet how the airline will come out financially from the weekly sales -- whether they will stimulate travel and add to profitability, or not.

Sprague said nothing in particular sparked the decision to start up an Alaskans-only club this year. But an opinion survey by the airline earlier this year helped define what benefits people wanted most, he said.

The airline made its announcement in conjunction with Alaska Day celebrations around the state, which Alaska Airlines is sponsoring or participating in.

Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air are subsidiaries of Alaska Air Group. Together, they serve 90 cities, according to the company.

The company will announce third quarter financial results for this year on Thursday.

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.

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