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These days it seems like there’s a subscription service for everything. With Flight Pass from Alaska Airlines, there’s a subscription service for Alaska airfare too.
The program offers travelers a prepaid service to jet between the states of Arizona, California and Nevada, potentially on the cheap. Depending on the plan, subscriptions run between $49 and $189 per month.
Membership allows you to purchase one round-trip airfare every two months (for lower-cost plans) up to as many as two round trips per month (for the most expensive plans) at a heavily discounted rate — often just a penny, plus taxes. But not all flights are eligible for the penny price tag. And with the lowest tier, you’ll still pay a subscription for the months that you’re ineligible to fly.
In many cases, especially for regional business travelers, the pass could help save quite a bit of money. Leisure travelers with lots of flexibility and plenty of wanderlust may love it, too. But, make sure that the math works in your favor before committing to one of the annual plans.
Is the Alaska flight pass even a good deal for your travel needs? Let’s get into the details so you can decide.
How does Flight Pass work?
In exchange for a monthly subscription fee (which requires an annual commitment), Alaska Flight Pass offers travelers a fixed number of round-trip flights in economy class to certain airports in Arizona, California and Nevada.
Upon signing up for Flight Pass, round-trip flight credit(s) post to your account based on your subscription level. You can then book your flights. Many flights cost just one cent apiece, plus $14.60 in taxes and fees.
Then again, many other flights (presumably popular routes on busy days) cost more than $100 on top of your subscription fee. You cannot use the subscription service to book one-way tickets.
Credits must be used within the month they’re allotted, but the flights booked can be up to 90 days out. You can make changes to your flights if needed. Subscriptions are only available in one-year increments.
Where Alaska Flight Pass operates
If you're hoping to use Flight Pass to nab a round-trip airfare to Hawaii that might otherwise cost hundreds of dollars, too bad. Alaska Flight Pass can only be used for nonstop flights within or between Arizona, California and Nevada.
The 16 cities and airports serviced by Flight Pass are:
Study the route map of available flights to make sure the flights fit your travel itineraries. Keep in mind that airlines sometimes change the frequency of flights or only operate on certain days of the week.
There are two Flight Pass subscriptions plans to choose from: Flight Pass and Flight Pass Pro. Flight Pass is the base plan, while Flight Pass Pro is the higher-tier plan. Each plan offers three ways to customize your membership based on how many round-trip flights you’ll book per month.
Flight Pass subscriptions require you to book flights at least 14 days in advance, while Flight Pass Pro subscriptions allow you to book up to 2 hours prior to same-day departure.
Here’s how much each subscription plan costs per month:
Number of flights
Flight Pass Pro
1 round-trip flight every 2 months.
1 round-trip flight every month.
2 round-trip flights every month.
The monthly subscription fee is a base price; it doesn't account for the cost of flights themselves.
The Flight Pass subscription requires 14-day advance purchase bookings. Subscribers can choose to fly every other month, monthly or twice monthly.
The cost of a Flight Pass subscription (without taxes) is as follows:
$49 per month (1 round-trip flight every 2 months, 6 per year).
$99 per month (1 round-trip flight monthly, 12 per year).
$189 per month (2 round-trip flights monthly, 24 per year).
Flight Pass Pro
The Flight Pass Pro subscription is more expensive than the Flight Pass subscription, but it comes with the flexibility to book flights more spontaneously (rather than 14 days in advance). Flight Pass Pro subscribers can book up to 2 hours prior to same-day departure. Last-minute travelers and those who fly frequently for business can benefit from this subscription plan.
As with base-level Flight Pass subscriptions, Flight Pass Pro subscribers can opt to fly every other month, monthly or twice monthly.
The cost of the Flight Pass Pro subscription (without taxes) is:
$199 per month (1 round-trip flight every 2 months).
$399 per month (1 round-trip flight monthly).
$749 per month (2 round-trip flights monthly).
Additional flight costs
Your subscription entitles you to purchase flights, presumably at a discounted price. But your subscription fee is not the only fee you’ll pay.
Many flights are available for $0.01 + $14.60 in taxes and fees each way (so as low as $29.22 round-trip). But not all flights are that cheap. A NerdWallet analysis of more than five dozen flights from a random sampling of locations and dates found that only about 58% of flights were offered at $14.60 each way. 33% of them were going for $114.60 each way, and we even spotted a flight that cost as much as $214.60 one way (on top of the subscription fee).
How Alaska Airlines Flight Pass affects Mileage Plan members
Elite members in Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan program can enjoy their benefits while flying with a Flight Pass. For instance, flights are eligible for complimentary, space-available upgrades for elite members, and members have the option to pay for a premium seat (or select a main cabin seat for free).
Mileage Plan members will earn one mile for every mile flown, plus any applicable elite status bonuses. If you use the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card to pay for the Flight Pass subscription, you’ll earn 3x miles for the subscription purchase in addition to one mile per mile flown.
» Learn more: What you need to know about Alaska's Mileage Plan
Is Alaska Airlines Flight Pass a good deal?
Your travel plans and preferences will determine whether the Alaska Flight Pass is a good deal for you.
When Alaska Flight Pass is worth it
If you have the flexibility to book travel two weeks in advance, and you like to travel at least once every two months, the $49-a-month Flight Pass could be a good deal for you. If you’re able to nab the 1 cent flights (plus $14.60 each way for taxes and fees), you’ll pay $175.32 in ticket costs for the year, excluding the subscription fee. Add in the $588 subscription cost for the Flight Pass ($49 x 12 months), and it works out to $763.32 each year for your six included round-trip flights. That represents a cost of $127.22 per round-trip flight, which can often be a nice savings when compared to the standard bookable rates. Depending on your city pairs, that can represent substantial savings.
For instance, a flight between San Diego and Santa Rosa costs $398 round-trip in the main cabin for a two-day trip.
Paying just $127.22 for this same flight with your Flight Pass subscription represents some impressive savings.
Now let’s look at San Francisco and Phoenix. A flight booked two weeks in advance between these two cities will cost you $158 for a basic economy seat — about $30 more than the $127.22 price included in the Flight Pass. If you spring for the main cabin fare (which is the same fare class as the Flight Pass offers), you’ll pay $217 out-of-pocket; using Flight Pass in this scenario would save you about $90.
Across the six flights included in Flight Pass, a frequent traveler between San Francisco and Phoenix could save anywhere from $180 to $540 over the course of the year, depending which cabin they normally book.
It’s not all savings, though: It depends on the route. For example, flights between Los Angeles and Las Vegas on the dates we checked were only $103 total round-trip for a basic economy ticket. That’s cheaper than the $127.22 Flight Pass subscription. And on those dates, there are multiple routes to choose from at that price — not to mention multiple affordable options across several airlines. If flexibility is important to you, being tied into a Flight Pass might feel too limiting.
» Learn more: How much are my Alaska Airlines miles worth?
Flight Pass Pro
On the other end of the scale, the pricier Flight Pass Pro plan might appeal to a smaller subset of travelers. If you subscribe to Flight Pass Pro at its highest level (2 round-trip flights per month), and you nab the 1 cent flights (plus $14.60 each way for taxes and fees), you’ll pay $701.28 in ticket costs for the year, excluding the subscription fee. Add in the $8,988 subscription cost ($749 x 12 months), and it works out to $9,689.28 each year for your 24 included round-trip flights. That represents a cost of $403.72 per round-trip flight.
Compare that with buying flights sans Flight Pass. In this example, a last-minute round-trip main cabin flight between San Diego and Monterey could cost travelers $598 — well over the $403.72 cost of the subscription flight.
The nearly $200 saved using Flight Pass Pro is a nice chunk of change. If you take that trip twice a month, Flight Pass Pro works considerably in your favor, which means it'll probably be more popular with last-minute business travelers than with vacationers looking for a deal.
If you don’t mind being flexible with your flight times and could find yourself flying Alaska on these nonstop city pairs often at the last-minute, then a Flight Pass Pro could make sense.
The problems with Alaska Airlines Flight Pass
Subscribing to the Flight Pass or Flight Pass Pro could be a smart money move for certain travelers, but there are downsides to consider — even if they aren’t as visible in the basic math.
You’re locked in for a year.
Flight Pass has a mandatory term of 12 months from activation; it cannot be canceled, and it is nonrefundable. If you move away from one of the states served by Flight Pass, then you might not have use for it. Additionally, the credits are doled out in increments throughout the year, and they expire. So, if you aren’t traveling for a period, you might end up paying for a few months of a subscription that you’re not using.
Fare costs can still be expensive
Alaska is not wrong in claiming that most flights are included in your subscription at a fare of only $0.01 plus taxes and fees. But “most” in this case means just over half, by a slim margin.
A NerdWallet analysis of subscription flight prices found that 58% of fares for Flight Pass subscribers did indeed cost $0.01. But many others cost well over $100 each way, with some costing more than $200 each way.
In NerdWallet’s study, every single flight that took off on a Wednesday did, in fact, cost just $0.01 plus taxes and fees ($14.60 total) each way. But 62% of flights that departed on a Friday cost more than $100, which could be disappointing for travelers seeking cheap weekend getaways. Meanwhile, 60% of flights that departed on a Monday cost at least $64.60 one way, and 45% of them cost $114.60 each way.
If you’re flexible about travel dates and don’t mind jetting off on a Wednesday, you might find a deal. But for common travel days like Mondays and Fridays, don’t expect that you’ll actually be able to book one of Alaska’s advertised 1 cent fares.
The airline is vague about how many of the eligible fares will actually be available for $0.01. This could spell inconvenience for travelers, forcing them to pay a bit extra every time they book a flight for their preferred day or time.
Credits are deposited into your account monthly or bi-monthly (depending on your plan) and can expire. The expiration date for each credit is the date by which that credit must be redeemed (used to book a flight), not the date by which a credit must be flown. If a credit isn’t redeemed prior to the expiration date, it’s forfeited.
You can only fly Alaska
If you’re a price-sensitive traveler without loyalty to a specific airline, being tied to a single brand could mean sacrificing one-off savings offered by other airlines. For instance, the Los Angeles to Las Vegas flight we looked at earlier cost less on JetBlue Airways, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines.
You must book round-trip
In that same vein, booking round-trip can be limiting. Maybe there’s a perfect outbound flight on Alaska, but there’s an inbound flight on another airline that’s cheaper or at a more convenient time. Flight Pass locks you into booking round-trip, so you won't be able to book that outbound Alaska flight without an accompanying Alaska return flight.
It also makes multi-city stops difficult. Say you’re flying from Phoenix to San Francisco, where you’ll road trip down California’s coast to San Diego before flying back home to Arizona. You can’t fly into San Francisco and out of San Diego because that's not a round trip.
There’s a psychological toll to subscription services.
Much like the pressure to maximize credits with travel credit cards, having a Flight Pass subscription may put you in the position of feeling like you need to take unnecessary flights to get the full value.
If you don’t live in one of the three states that Alaska Flight Pass services, or if you're very specific about the flight times and dates you need to travel, then the savings may not be worth the hassle.
Save money with Alaska Airlines flight subscription plans, maybe
The Flight Pass is appealing for travelers who want to lock in flight prices in advance, rather than being at the whim of the market. Since last-minute flights can be quite expensive, a guaranteed rate has its upsides, especially for business travelers.
But the reality is, airlines sometimes offer fare sales on last-minute bookings. If you're willing to wait for those sales, you might not find value in signing up for an annual subscription program.
When it comes to traveling for leisure, people tend to book several weeks — if not months — in advance. And booking earlier typically means better deals on airfare. So for some leisure travelers — those who are already getting great rates by planning far in advance — the savings benefits of Flight Pass may not be worth the monthly subscription fee.
But the Alaska Flight Pass can be a good deal for some travelers who frequent fly to the cities Flight Pass services. Review your typical travel patterns to see if you’re a good fit — or maybe even plan some new trips to explore more of the region. There are some great savings to be had for travel between select city pairs — all while working toward earning Alaska Airlines elite status.
And having Flight Pass could be a much-needed reminder to take a relaxing getaway every couple of months.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card