Feb 16, 2022 - Economy

Alaska Airlines debuts subscription service for flights

Illustration of an airline ticket with a large infinity sign printed on the front

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Alaska Airlines is taking a flyer on a subscription service, joining the recurring-payment ranks of Netflix, Amazon and Peloton as the travel industry recovers from its pandemic woes.

Why it matters: The subscription economy is taking over more areas of our lives, offering new payment and service options while threatening to disrupt businesses that can’t keep up. And as the fifth-largest carrier in the U.S., Alaska Airlines has the heft to shake up the marketplace.

How it works: Subscription options include six, 12 or 24 roundtrip flights annually from 13 destinations in California to each other and to Phoenix, Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada.

  • Customers can pay as little as $49 monthly for the cheapest option, Flight Pass, providing six flights a year that must be booked at least 14 days in advance.
  • A more flexible option, Flight Pass Pro, starts at $199 a month, providing flights that can be booked up to two hours before departure. Customers still pay taxes and fees averaging $14.60 per one-way segment, according to The Points Guy.

The big picture: The airline industry could use a source of dependable revenue in turbulent times, as it continues to suffer from a decline in travel due to the pandemic.

  • And now’s the time to win over consumers and business travelers as they tiptoe back into the airways.
  • “They want the same things that a typical retailer or other private enterprise would want, which is recurring revenue that is predictable and customer loyalty,” says Adam Levinter, CEO of Scriberbase and author of “The Subscription Boom." " Subscription models provide an anchor for all of those things."

Our thought bubble: The devil is in the details with deals like this. People won’t pay if the value isn't there.

  • “It remains to be seen how consumers will wrap their heads around this,” Levinter says. “It’s not completely intuitive.”

But, but, but: Subscription services often rely on a certain degree of "breakage" — an insider term for the rate at which subscribers don't use the services they're paying for.

The bottom line: One-off flight purchases aren’t going away. But if this works, expect others to follow.

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