Analysis: Is Alaska’s Ugly Sweater Promotion Worth It?

Dec 12, 2019

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» This offer has expired

The offer described in this article has expired. See our full review of the Alaska Airlines program for current information.

Holiday travel season approaches, and it’s time to gird your loins — or at least your torso — for the rush. For the third year in a row, Alaska Airlines is lightening the mood by celebrating National Ugly Sweater Day on Dec. 20, 2019. Those who fly Alaska on that day while clad in unappealing knitwear will be granted priority boarding.

So: Should you buy an ugly sweater to wear on Dec. 20 just to skip the boarding line? NerdWallet performed a comprehensive, data-driven analysis to answer this question.

First, we determined the value of priority boarding by identifying its core value proposition: avoiding gate-checked bags. Since priority boarders have more access to overhead bin space, they're less likely to be forced to gate-check their carry-on bags. And while gate-checking is technically free, it carries a heavy cost in terms of added time waiting at baggage claim.

To determine if this tradeoff is worth it, we developed this equation:

S = (a * N * T) + A

Here, we use S as the cost of purchasing an ugly holiday sweater, a as the aggravation multiplier of waiting extra time during the holidays, N as the value of an average flyer’s time, T as the time spent waiting for a gate-checked bag, and A as the added psychological and physical discomfort of wearing a hot, itchy (ugly?) sweater while traveling.

We estimate a to be 2. That is, waiting during holiday travel is twice as annoying as it would be at any other time. We set N at $14.50, or twice the federal minimum wage. T is 15 minutes (0.25 hours), a conservative estimate that is five minutes less than Alaska’s 20-minute baggage guarantee. And A is $3.50, which we determine as the cost of an airport bottle of water to replenish the fluids lost while perspiring in said ugly sweater.

That leaves us with:

S = (2 * $14.50 *  0.25) + $3.50

S = $10.75

Therefore, if you are able to acquire an ugly sweater for less than $10.75, Alaska’s promotion may be worth it to you. Otherwise, strictly financially speaking, you should skip it.

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