Alaska Airlines has introduced a new membership program that offers additional perks to Alaska residents traveling to, from, or within the State of Alaska, the Seattle-based airline announced on Alaska Day, October 18. The new program, dubbed “Club 49” in reference to Alaska’s being the 49th State to enter the union, offers free checked bags, discounts coupons, and e-mail specials to Alaska residents who are Mileage Plan members and enroll in the Club 49 program.
“Alaska Airlines’ success would not be possible without the loyal support of residents in the state whose name we proudly fly on our aircraft,” President Brad Tilden said. “Club 49 is our way of making air travel more affordable and saying ‘thank you’ to Alaskans.”
While Alaska charges fees for checked baggage on most routes to non-elite members of Mileage Plan, it has allowed three pieces of checked baggage free of charge to all passengers traveling wholly within the State of Alaska, and that policy will not change. Mileage Plan members who join Club 49 will receive a special designation on their accounts that will allow them to check two bags free of charge for up to seven passengers in the same reservation – as long as their itinerary includes a city in Alaska. Alaska residents who prefer to earn miles on Mileage Plan partners such as Delta Air Lines or American Airlines for their flights on Alaska will not be eligible for the benefit.
Members will also receive two annual discount coupons for a 30% savings of full fare, that must be booked within four days of departure, and must also include a city in Alaska on the travel itinerary. In addition to the discount coupons, Members will receive weekly e-mailed fare specials.
Scott McMurren, Alaska travel consultant and publisher of the Alaska TravelGram, thinks the new program “Shows promise. The two bag [fee] waiver offers Alaska residents a solid benefit, since fares are higher up north. I’m anxious to see Alaska-centric web specials.”
Henry Harteveldt, longtime airline industry analyst, formerly of the consulting firm Forrester Research, agreed that the program offers valuable benefits: “The Club49 program is a smart move by Alaska. It provides tangible value to an important audience.” However, it’s more than an act of sheer benevolence on the part of the airline: “But it’s not like [Alaska] is doing this just to be nice. I suspect [Alaska] also fears an LCC (Low Cost Carrier) like Southwest entering the state, and wants to remain the preferred airline in its residents’ minds.”
Alaska serves 19 destinations in its namesake state. Only in the state’s largest city, Anchorage, does Alaska face sustained, year-round airline competition from major airlines including US Airways, Delta Air Lines, and Continental Airlines. American Airlines, Air Canada, and Low Cost Carriers JetBlue, Frontier Airlines and Sun Country Airlines serve Anchorage on a seasonal basis. Alaska is the only carrier providing scheduled jet service in 17 cities (Fairbanks sees seasonal service from Delta and Frontier), and is the only carrier providing scheduled service on any type of equipment in nine others. It is the only airline providing service between Anchorage and the state capital, Juneau, and also commands 93% of the bread-and-butter Anchorage to Seattle run.
Alaska, which will celebrate 80 years of service in 2012, began operating in 1932 between Cordova and Anchorage. Although based in Seattle since the 1940s, the company’s route network did not extend south of the Emerald City until 1979. Today, the State of Alaska accounts for 97 of the airline’s 422 daily departures.
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