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10 great deals for earlybird Alaska travelers

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Is it summer yet? By all accounts, June should be bustin' out all over in just a couple of weeks. But looking out the window this past weekend, methinks Mother Nature is stuck in the April calendar. Snow flurries and chilly temperatures notwithstanding, our peak travel season approaches.

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And just before it gets here, there are some great deals for those of us in the market for a quick getaway around the state. Here are some of my favorites:

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a. Princess Lodges. There are several Princess lodges around southcentral Alaska -- and they all have great deals in May and June. The McKinley Princess, near Talkeetna, offers $79 rooms on select dates in May and June. Up at Denali Park, the Denali Princess offers $99 rates on select dates through June 30. The same is true for the Copper River Princess, 14 miles south of Glennallen on the Richardson Highway: $99 per night on select dates through June 30. The Kenai Princess, at Cooper Landing, offers $99 rates on select dates through May 31. In June, the "special" rate jumps to $179 per night.

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b. Rail/lodging combo packages. Ride on the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Denali National Park. Stay at the McKinley Chalets for two nights. During May, you can get this package for as little as $329 per person, double occupancy. Or, ride on the private Princess rail cars from Anchorage up to the Talkeetna train depot. Then, catch a bus up to the McKinley Princess for two nights. The cost? Just $259 per person, double occupancy. This is a GREAT deal, since it includes the rail, the bus and accommodations.

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c. Northbound air special with jetBlue Airways. This is a doozy for folks coming north from California. Purchase a ticket on jetBlue from Long Beach to Anchorage and get another free ticket from Long Beach to select destinations, including Austin, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Seattle and Salt Lake City. Important: this is for inbound travelers only, flying north from Long Beach to Anchorage.

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d. Rent a car in May for as little as $17 from Avis. This is a hum-dinger, since it usually costs a small fortune to rent a car during the summer. But Avis is offering subcompacts for as little as $17 per day during the month of May. What's more, they'll also give you a free hamburger from Sullivan's Steak House. I've had those burgers, and they are awesome! You have to call directly to Avis's local office to get this deal: 907-277-4567. The "promo code" is "Visit Anchorage May Special". 

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e. "Backpacker Special" at Kennicott Glacier Lodge. I spoke with Rich Kirkwood, the owner of Kennicott Glacier Lodge. He said this special isn't specifically "early season", but it's a good deal nonetheless. Kennicott is smack in the middle of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. And it's a great place to start your adventure in the park. The deal is $89 per night, per person, double occupancy. It includes breakfast in the lodge, which is served family-style.

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f. Two-for-one fishing/bear viewing in Katmai National Park. Here's a great deal from Brooks Lodge. Travel from June 7-23, or from Aug. 7-29, 2012 and get 2-for-1 on the "One night air/lodging package". The package sells for $969 per person and includes air travel from Anchorage to Brooks Lodge, all fees, taxes and lodging. Meals are not included. Be sure and add on the tour to the "Valley of the 10,000 Smokes". That's an extra $96 per person but it is so worth it!

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g. Deal sheets. There are several good sources for ongoing deals and specials. One is from Visit Anchorage (formerly the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau). Here, businesses list special deals in Anchorage, Denali, Seward and all around the state. Check it out.

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CIRI Alaska Tourism has a "Puffin Pass" newsletter that is designed specifically for Alaskans. But there always are good deals for their cruises, as well as lodging in Seward and Talkeetna.

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h. Coupon books. There are a couple of coupon books for sale that offer deals on travel throughout Alaska. The first, the Northern Lights Coupon Book, features specials on restaurants, coffee shops, local businesses and travel activities. It's similar to the "Entertainment Books" which are available in the Lower 48. It costs $55 and is available locally at Barnes and Noble bookstore.

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Another, the Great Alaskan TourSaver, offers exclusively 2-for-1 travel deals throughout the state (activities, admissions, accommodations). There are no restaurant or coffee shop discounts. It costs $99.95 and is available at all Carrs/Safeway stores at the customer service desk. FULL DISCLOSURE: I am the publisher of the Great Alaskan TourSaver book. 

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i. Other money-saving ideas for travelers: check out the online coupon sites like Groupon.com. I've seen some great fishing charter deals come through from time to time. Also, next time you're at Costco, check out the wide array of certificates for sale: H2Oasis, Alyeska Resort, Allure Day Spa, Vegas.com and so forth. Some deals are better than others, but if you see a certificate for something you're planning anyway you could save some bucks. 

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j. Early-season air fare deals. Keep an eye on markets where airlines are really at each other's throats: Denver (from $419 roundtrip in June) and Long Beach (from $364 roundtrip in June). We can count on deals to these destinations all summer long. Other destinations are more fleeting. Anchorage-Phoenix, for example, is still available for as little as $466 roundtrip in June. And the Anchorage-Frankfurt nonstops on Condor are pricing at around $1,000, which still is a great deal compared with itineraries through the Lower 48.

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And on Tuesday, Alaska Airlines rolled out its Club 49 specials, and it included a doozy of a fare to Seattle from Anchorage and other Alaska locales. Check out my newsletter to get the full breakdown on all the fares.

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We're always watching and always checking on late-breaking deals. Of course, they change all the time. But this snapshot should give you an idea of what's out there today. So put another log on the fire, warm up those coffee grounds and plan your (brrrr) summertime getaway!  

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based travel marketing consultant who has lived in Alaska for three decades, spending much of that time traveling the far-flung corners of the state. Visit his website at www.alaskatravelgram.com. And follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/alaskatravelgrm for breaking updates.