If you’ve been planning a trip on Alaska Airlines chances are that you may have come across Saver Fares.
These can be really tempting tickets based on the lower price but what exactly will you lose out on if you choose a Saver over a Main Cabin Fare?
In this article, we will take a deep dive and compare each aspect of Saver Fares against what you would be offered when flying Main Cabin.
Everything from boarding, carry-ons, and pricing will be discussed.
By the end of the article, you’ll be able to make an informed decision on whether or not it would be worth it for you to book a Saver Fare or just go with Main Cabin.
Table of Contents
What is the Alaska Airlines Saver Fare?
An Alaska Airlines Saver Fare is the cheapest fare available on some Alaska Airlines routes. It’s the equivalent of “Basic Economy” on other airlines.
While it is the cheapest fare, it comes with limitations on important things you’ll care about like: changes, seat selection, and boarding.
For your reference, the different type of fares you can choose from when booking an Alaska Airlines ticket include:
- Main Cabin (standard economy)
- Premium Class (not a true fare but an upgraded seat)
- First Class
So this article is focusing on the differences between the cheapest two fares offered by Alaska.
Note that these different fares will not be available on every route.
Booking Alaska Airlines Basic Economy
It’s very easy to purchase an Alaska Airlines Saver Fare.
After you input your flight search details, the results will show the option to select “Saver” or Main assuming that both are available.
You can simply select the option you would like and if you select “Saver” you will probably receive a confirmation message to make sure that you understand the restrictions.
Simply proceed through booking as you normally would and it’s as easy as that.
Throughout the booking process you will have multiple opportunities to upgrade to Main Cabin just in case you end up changing your mind.
Also, you can even choose a Premium Class seat when it comes time to seat selection.
Note: If you purchase a Premium Class seat with a Saver Fare, Saver Fare restrictions still apply.
Anytime you’re dealing with a Basic Economy Fare such as the Saver Fare the biggest question on your mind is probably can you bring a free carry-on bag?
Well, you will be happy to know that Alaska Airlines allows you to bring a free carry-on bag when flying on a Saver Fare. This is the same policy that applies to Main Cabin.
The same size restrictions also apply so your carry-on item needs to be no larger than 22″x14″x9.”
Considering that Saver Fare passengers will be the last to board (unless you have some kind of special exception), you may want to try to go with a smaller carry-on to avoid having to check it.
But then again, if you already are facing a high likelihood of checking your bag, maybe you want to go ahead and utilize all of the space that a full-size carry-on bag affords.
Both Main Cabin and Saver passengers can bring a personal item on board with them for free.
A personal item is usually smaller than your carry-on bag and it often consists of a backpack, purse, laptop bag, camera bag, etc.
The major distinguishing factor between a carry-on and a personal item is that your personal item typically goes underneath the seat in front of you and needs to be a size that can easily fit under there.
When flying a Saver Fare, you probably want to put things like lithium ion batteries into your personal item because you may have to check your carry-on bag if the plane is full (but more on that below).
Related: What’s a Personal Item on a Plane?
Alaska Airlines charges $30 for your first checked bag and $40 for your second checked bag. These prices apply the same to both Saver Fares and Main Cabin Fares.
You’ll be happy to know that if you have elite status, you will still maintain your baggage allowances even if you purchased a Saver Fare.
Also, Alaska Airlines credit card holders can qualify for free checked bags.
When you purchase a Saver Fare, you are not able to select your seat for free. Instead, seats will be assigned to you at the airport/check-in.
If you don’t get a seat when you check in, your seat will be automatically assigned at the gate.
On my prior Alaska flights, I heard them make a special announcement for passengers who have not received an assigned seat to come up to the desk so that might be how you find out where you will be seated.
You should be prepared for a middle seat on a lot of flights especially if they are full. However, if the occupancy rate is lower you might still get away with a window or aisle seat.
This is a pretty big difference between Saver Fares and Main Cabin since Main Cabin gives you the option to select your seat for free.
For groups or families wanting to sit together, you should be aware that there is no guarantee that parties of two or more will be seated together.
So Saver Fares are often NOT the best options for families traveling together.
It’s worth pointing out that elite members do NOT receive preferred seating or upgrade benefits with Saver Fares.
When you fly with a Saver Fare, you’re going to be in the very last boarding group which is Boarding Group E.
When flying Main Cabin you could be in Group C or Group D.
Typically, if your seat is in the front of the Economy Cabin then you’ll be in the latter group and if you are seated towards the back of the plane you will be in Group C.
The implications of this means that if you are boarding with a Saver Fare, you could struggle to find overhead storage bin space.
Overhead storage bin space could potentially be an issue for Main Cabin passengers in Group D as well.
I’ve flown economy with Alaska Airlines and boarded with Group D and we did not have any problem finding overhead storage bin space so I know it can be done. It just might make you a little bit nervous.
In the event that there is no space for your carry-on you can bring it forward and they will check the bag for free.
For that reason, if you are flying on a Saver Fare try to keep things like lithium ion batteries in your personal item such as a backpack so that you don’t have to deal with the challenges of checking such bags.
If you have a Saver Fare and qualify for pre-boarding you can still take advantage of pre-boarding but you need to notify an agent about that.
Something else worth pointing out is that Elite Mileage Plan passengers get their elite boarding perks even when flying on a Saver Fare.
That’s a pretty big perk that can make Saver Fares much more appealing.
Once you have made it to your seat and the plane takes off, the in-flight experience is going to be identical whether you are flying Main Cabin or a Saver Fare.
Your legroom will be the same since the seats are all identical in economy.
The only time you would have more legroom is whenever you are flying in a Premium Class seat or you get a seat in an emergency exit row.
However, the latter would be tough to come by with a Saver seat since they are typically reserved for elites.
You’ll be able to get the same Wi-Fi and in-flight entertainment streaming options as Main Cabin.
It’s also nice that you can often find outlets and USB ports in the Economy Cabin so it’s pretty easy to keep your devices charged up when flying Main Cabin or Saver.
That’s pretty important because Alaska Airlines does not have seatback TVs.
Both Main and Saver passengers can choose food and drink options from the menu.
You can get complimentary drinks like soda water and some light snacks like Biscoff Cookies but if you want a meal you will need to pay for that and also perhaps order ahead of time.
If your elite status entitles you to free snacks or beverages you can get those.
Refunds and changes
If you book a Saver Fare or Main Cabin ticket, you can always cancel for no penalty within 24 hours for tickets purchased 24 hours or more prior to your scheduled departure time.
Another big difference between Main Cabin and Saver Fares is that they allow changes for Main Cabin tickets (a difference in fare may apply).
However, Saver Fares cannot be changed or canceled.
So you don’t want to book a Saver Fare unless you are absolutely 100% positive that you will be flying that day.
Another major rule to be aware of is that there are no same-day standby or same-day confirmed changes allowed on Saver Fares. This is the case even for those who have Mileage Plan elite status.
And finally you are not allowed to mix Saver Fares with Main Cabin Fares on the same itinerary.
Earning miles and loyalty points
Whenever you fly a Saver Fare also known as an “X” fare, you’ll be happy to know that you will earn 100% of your base miles.
What’s more, if you have elite status with Alaska Airlines you’ll also earn 100% of your bonus miles.
Both Main Cabin and Saver Fares can be upgraded to First Class.
These paid upgrades can be done on the day of departure at the check-in kiosk or airport ticket counter/gate. In some cases, you may be able to upgrade online before then.
The biggest thing to be aware of is that if you do upgrade to First Class from a Saver Fare, Saver Fare restrictions still apply.
So you won’t be able to cancel or change your flight. The same thing applies whenever you purchase a Premium Class seat.
And be sure that you don’t rush into upgrading or purchasing a seat because once you make a purchase, you won’t be able to get a refund for Premium Class seat purchases or First Class paid upgrades.
We were very curious about the price differences between Main Cabin and Saver Fares so we conducted a small study with about 30 different Alaska Airlines routes.
Our findings showed that Main Cabin was on average 23% percent more expensive than a Saver Fare.
Interestingly, the price difference between the two fares is usually always in exact increments of $20, $30, $40, and $50.
This can make it really easy to decide if a Saver Fare is worth it.
For example, you can ask yourself is saving $50 worth potentially losing out on everything due to not being able to make changes to your flight?
Or, in other cases is $20 worth giving up your ability to sit with your travel partner and potentially having to check your carry-on?
When you attach that type of specific value to your savings, it’s a little easier to decide whether or not it’s worth it to go with the cheaper fare.
Because we always like to disclose our data points, below you can find all of the different price points we found:
|Seattle (SEA) to Juneau (JNU)||$80||$110|
|Seattle (SEA) to Fairbanks (FAI)||$119||$149|
|Seattle (SEA) to Honolulu (HNL)||$259||$299|
|Seattle (SEA) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL)||$159||$209|
|Seattle (SEA) to New Orleans (MSY)||$189||$229|
|Los Angeles (LAX) to Anchorage (ANC)||$171||$201|
|Los Angeles (LAX) to Puerto Vallarta (PVR)||$151||$191|
|Los Angeles (LAX) to Salt Lake City (SLC)||$159||$189|
|Los Angeles (LAX) to Washington, DC – Dulles (IAD)||$169||$209|
|Los Angeles (LAX) to Newark (EWR)||$138||$178|
|San Francisco (SFO) to New York-Kennedy (JFK)||$158||$188|
|San Francisco (SFO) to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)||$131||$161|
|San Francisco (SFO) to Las Vegas (LAS)||$49||$69|
|San Francisco (SFO) to Phoenix (PHX)||$159||$189|
|San Francisco (SFO) to Austin (AUS)||$139||$179|
|Portland (PDX) to Anchorage (ANC)||$128||$158|
|Portland (PDX) to Maui (OGG)||$259||$299|
|Portland (PDX) to Reno (RNO)||$99||$129|
|Portland (PDX) to Albuquerque (ABQ)||$99||$129|
|Portland (PDX) to Boise (BOI)||$69||$89|
|San Diego (SAN) to Kona (KOA)||$159||$199|
|San Diego (SAN) to Boston (BOS)||$179||$229|
|San Diego (SAN) to Orlando (MCO)||$189||$229|
|San Diego (SAN) to Sacramento (SMF)||$49||$69|
|San Diego (SAN) to Cabo San Lucas (SJD)||$166||$206|
|Anchorage (ANC) to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)||$159||$189|
|Anchorage (ANC) to Phoenix (PHX)||$198||$228|
|Anchorage (ANC) to Honolulu (HNL)||$198||$238|
A lot of travelers are attracted to the cheaper Saver Fares on Alaska Airlines.
For some passengers, it makes sense to jump on these cheaper tickets but it may not be worth it if you want to secure overhead storage bin space, want to sit together, and have doubts that you might need to change your flight dates.
Sometimes having elite status can make choosing a Saver Fare a better option because you can still take advantage of perks like priority boarding but at the end of the day you will likely always be losing out on some type of benefits such as upgrades or seat selection.
My recommendation is to break down what specific benefits you will be losing out on with a Saver Fare and ask yourself if the price savings are worth it.
Personally, almost every time I do this the answer is “no” but it all depends on your personal circumstances and preferences.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.