Alaska Air to Charge Bag Fee to Some First Class Flyers

Flying first class comes with a lot of perks. You check-in at a dedicated counter, breeze through security in a priority lane, board first, enjoy a comfortable seat and avoid those pesky add-on fees for bags or meals becoming so prevalent. Not so fast.

Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines quietly adjusted their checked baggage fee policy for first class travelers. Beginning July 10, some passengers who upgraded to first class will be charged a $20 fee for their first and second checked bag — something they previously got for free.

Full-fare first class customers still get the first two bags free, as do elite frequent flyers of Alaska's "Mileage Plan" program — plus certain elites from Delta and American Airlines — but this marks the first time a U.S. airline has levied a checked bag fee to a passenger riding in the front cabin, upgrade or otherwise.

If a passenger upgraded their coach ticket prior to May 16 — the date Alaska's website was changed to reflect the new fee — they will not have to pay the charge.

"What will change on July 10 is our checked bag policy for customers with a purchased ticket in the main cabin who either use frequent flier miles to upgrade to first class or who pay as little as $50 to upgrade to first class when space is available on the day of departure," Marianne Lindsey, spokesperson for Alaska Airlines, tells CNBC.com in an email.

The paid upgrade point I can understand. In most cases, Alaska sells those type of upgrades at the gate after a passenger has already checked-in and paid a bag fee if it applied. It's the mileage upgrade aspect that is more alarming to me. If I've earned enough miles to redeem them for a first class upgrade, I would expect all the benefits entitled to me as a first class passenger.

While the actual number of passengers this new policy impacts is unclear, it sends a message that even some seated in the plush leather first class cabin aren't immune to bag fees.

"Our decision was not in response to another carrier, but was based solely on an analysis of the value provided and the cost of providing the service," Lindsay says. I'm hoping this type of policy doesn't spread to other airlines. But given the industry is becoming more reliant on ancillary fees to turn a profit, it wouldn't surprise me.

Matthew Klint, a travel blogger whose parents will be among those required to pay the fee on an upcoming trip, puts it best. "It takes the 'first' out of first class."


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