The news this week about Alaska Airlines offering a monthly flight subscription service on the west coast for a nominal fee brought back a pleasant memory.
About 35 years ago when I was 22 and just started my first full-time job - dating myself here once again in my columns - and long before frequent flier miles and loyalty programs, I subscribed to this offer by Eastern Airlines.
It was called the Eastern Airlines Weekender Club. There was no cost, and you even got a little card with your name and number on it for when you booked a flight. The way it worked was, Eastern would send you a letter every week with a list of flights out of your home airport about two weeks in advance. The flights would depart on Friday and return on a Monday, hence the Weekender Club name.
Eastern deeply discounted the fares, but also picked the routes it offered for that particular weekend. The carrier usually sent you about five choices. It was actually a pretty good deal. I was able to get from New York to Kansas City a few times to see family, went to New Orleans and Charlotte to see friends, even took a trip to Baltimore once on my own just out of pure wanderlust.
The program, and the airline, eventually disbanded.
But it made me wonder, will this new venture by Alaska Airlines fly?
Alaska Airlines Flight Pass allows members to fly up to six, 12 or 24 roundtrip flights per year to the airline's most popular routes within California. Members can also enjoy nonstop flights from California to Reno, Phoenix and Las Vegas for a fixed monthly rate. Annual plans start at $49 per month to book at least 14 days in advance for six roundtrips and go up to $799 a month for the ability to book a same-day flight if available and make 24 roundtrip flights. You can choose between 13 California destinations as well as Reno, Phoenix and Vegas.
At first, I was hesitant. In this day and age, with COVID still hovering and new variants and strains still lurking, is anybody taking a plane trip every other month? Much less twice a month? Even with pent-up demand?
That was the answer to my own question.
This can work, and be profitable for Alaska Airlines, if companies start returning to business travel and sending their people back on the road.
Oh, I am certain there will be quite a few leisure travelers taking advantage of Flight Pass. But imagine if this deal serves as an enticement for the return of business travel? It might be just a California thing now, but one could easily see how this could expand to other destinations in the Alaska Airlines network.
And as I am fond of saying in this space, the aviation industry is an incestuous business for the airlines. I have no doubt that, if successful, you will see other carriers roll out their version of Flight Pass.
It's an interesting concept, for sure, just as the Weekender Club was. The obvious differences are paying a monthly fee to Alaska when there was no fee on Eastern, but also having carte blanche to pick your destination instead of waiting for the airline to offer a flight that made it worthwhile.
Kudos to Alaska Airlines for even trying to break through the clutter to differentiate itself.
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