Celebrating Club 49
The 10th anniversary of Alaska Airlines’ Alaskan-exclusive benefits program
Alaska Airlines continues to soar far beyond its humble beginnings in the Last Frontier. In just 2021, and among other endeavors, Alaska Airlines:
- Announced plans to expand its fleet, adding seventeen new Embraer 175 jets in 2022 and 2023 and exercising an option to accept thirteen Boeing 737-9 MAX deliveries in 2023 and 2024.
- Partnered with Airspace Intelligence for the use of Flyways AI, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to assist dispatchers in making flight operations more efficient and sustainable.
- Announced a commitment and plan to reduce the company’s carbon emissions to net-zero by 2040, with additional commitments to reduce carbon, waste, and water impacts by 2025.
- Joined oneworld, an alliance of airlines that provides members a global network of flights to as many as 1,000 destinations in more than 170 countries and territories.
But even as the airline finds new heights in Lower 48 and international markets, it has never lost sight of the Alaskans who, in its early days, helped build the foundation for its current growth.
So it was ten years ago that Alaska Airlines launched Club 49, a program developed for and offered exclusively to Alaskans that saves them approximately $22 million to $24 million per year. Even with the plummet in 2020 in airline traffic due to the global pandemic, the program has still saved Alaskans more than $200 million since its inception.
The Club 49 Program
“On my very first day [at Alaska Airlines] there was a meeting to talk about a loyalty program exclusive to Alaskans,” says Alaska Airlines Regional Vice President Marilyn Romano. “We wanted to have something that was special to those that call Alaska home. We have the name of our state on the side of every airplane, and it was a way to celebrate our culture, celebrate our history and the people in this state, and say thank you to them.”
Alaskans have a special relationship with aviation because it’s critical throughout the state, even for those in urban areas and on the road system. “The sky is the highway for the state,” Romano says. “It’s important, and just by its nature—whether it’s us or any other carrier—can be more expensive than being able to load up the family car and going from point A to point B.”
According to Romano, the program has four pillars.
- Two free checked bags, up to 50 pounds each. “It was around that time [ten years ago] that airlines were starting to charge for bags,” Romano says. “That can get very expensive, especially for a family: everyone checks one or two bags, and what does that cost?”
- Weekly fare sales. “Every Tuesday, Club 49 members get an email with a special fare sale for that particular week.”
- Last minute travel. “Using myself as an example, I have family in the Lower 48: I grew up in Texas,” Romano says. “When my mother was ill and I got that call, I had to get on a plane quickly. Everybody knows that when you’re going last minute, travel can be more expensive.” To help Alaskans needing to get out of the state, Alaska Airlines offers Club 49 members two one-way 30 percent discount codes for travel within four days. “Some people will say it’s an emergency for them to go to Hawai’i,” Romano laughs. “We don’t monitor how people use it. If that’s your emergency, you can do that as well.”
- Freight for Less. This program allows Club 49 members to ship up to 100 pounds in two, 35-gallon totes or sturdy shipping containers 20x30x15 inches or smaller for $49, plus an applicable tax.
Freight for Less
The Freight for Less program was introduced on October 18 in 2017 and was incredibly well received, Romano says; however, in 2019 the program was paused. “We have three dedicated 737-700 aircraft that do most of their flying in the state of Alaska,” Romano explains. “We discovered an issue with the bulkhead that the freight goes behind that needed to be fixed.” For the safety of those on any of the aircraft, the Freight for Less program was put on pause until the issue could be corrected.
“It took longer than we expected, and then COVID-19 happened,” she says. “And the freighters then came back into service one at a time.”
Early this year, the third 737-700 arrived back in Alaska; before relaunching Freight for Less, Alaska Airlines took advantage of the pause to make the program even better. “We took the opportunity to reinvent the flow of Freight for Less for our guests and our employees,” says Director of Sales and Community Marketing Scott Habberstad. “We originally introduced it pretty quickly, and while everybody knew it’d be great, nobody thought it would be as well received as it was.”
He says that under the original design, the check-in and receiving processes were “a little clunky.”
“We [now] have a dedicated check-in area for Freight for Less in Anchorage and we believe that has incredibly improved the process,” Habberstad explains. “The neat thing about Alaska Airlines is that we think about what we’re doing. If we find a way to improve a product, we’re going to continue to evolve it.”
The Freight For Less program was designed to help Alaskans live the lifestyle they choose to live, especially if that’s in remote or rural areas.
Freight for Less is available for any Club 49 member, but it was designed with rural Alaska in mind. “It’s difficult to live in rural Alaska out of a grocery store,” Habberstad says. “When people do come to town, whether it be for a medical appointment or a meeting, they want to buy stuff in town and bring it home to save money where they can… not everybody lives in Anchorage or Fairbanks or in a metropolitan area where they have a Target at their fingertips.”
Much like Alaska Airlines recognized the cost of baggage would be prohibitive for many flying, the cost of shipping freight to rural parts of Alaska can be astronomical. “[Freight for Less] is a way to help rural Alaskans continue to live the lifestyle they choose to live in Alaska,” he says.
Individuals don’t even need to be flying on the plane to take advantage of the program. “If your relatives or friends in town want to ship you some stuff, they can do that, anytime, one shipment per day of up to 100 pounds.”
Those taking advantage of the program are asked to use a standard plastic 20x30x15-inch tote (or sturdy cardboard box of like dimensions), which are available at many retail locations, preferably one with holes so it can be secured with zip ties. These containers have become a de facto standard for this kind of cargo movement, and they’re also sturdy and protect the contents within, Habberstad says.
“We’re also asking folks to pack their stuff before they get to the counter and make sure each tote is at 50 pounds or less, because there’s limited space at the airport to repack them.”
Why Do It?
For Romano and Habberstad, the close connection they’re able to form with the airline’s guests is answer enough.
“When we ask, ‘Where do you want to go?’ or ‘Tell us about something you want to do?” and they post pictures of kids saying, ‘I want to go to Disneyland’ or they hold up a sign saying, ‘See Grandma!’—it makes it very personal. That we are able to have those close-knit conversations with Alaskans everywhere is one of the most rewarding things,” Romano says.
“Realistically, there’s zero degrees of separation in the state of Alaska,” Habberstad adds. “We talk and listen daily with our guests on social media, on the phone, in an airport, or even the grocery store. We get more ‘thank you’s than we get complaints.” He continues, “Even complaints are really more constructive criticism nine times out of ten, and it gives us the opportunity to learn, grow, and improve.”
Throughout the month of October, Alaska Airlines is celebrating its relationships with Alaska and with Alaskans, “and we’re inviting our guests to celebrate right along with us,” Romano says.
Information on celebrations throughout the month of October, and other information about Club 49, can be found at club49hub.com.
Architecture & Engineering Special Section + Small Business
In the February 2024 issue of Alaska Business, we engineered a special section that inspects the many ways architecture and engineering enrich our lives, from creating beautiful and functional spaces to crafting functional and safe transportation corridors. In addition to the built world in which we live, this issue celebrates small businesses and the many functions they provide, whether they're developing tools in the healthcare industry or opening new dining locations.