Alaska Airlines has hiked the lowest fares from Anchorage to Seattle to $644 roundtrip on 90 percent of its nonstop flights. And that's with a two-week advance purchase. One flight, #104, departing Anchorage at 6 p.m., arriving Seattle at 10:20 p.m., is priced lower, at $272 each way ($545 roundtrip). To get that roundtrip price travelers have a choice of two daily flights: #81, departing SEA-TAC at 6:10 a.m., or #111, leaving Seattle at 10:50 p.m., arriving in Anchorage at 1:31 a.m.
In fairness, rates change all the time. Late last month, Alaska Air offered a "Club 49" special between Anchorage and Seattle for under $400 roundtrip. That's a great price. And starting May 16, 2013, as jetBlue starts its new Anchorage-Seattle service, Alaska's fare drops like a rock to $127 each way on two of its red-eye flights. Ten of the remaining 15 daily flights (Alaska offers 17 daily Anchorage-Seattle flights in mid-May) cost 261 percent more: $322 each way ($644 roundtrip). All of these rates require a two-week advance purchase.
It's interesting that Alaska would allow the Anchorage-Seattle rates to float even higher going into the new year. There was plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth last summer when the fare was stuck stubbornly at a stratosphere $545 roundtrip. "How can it cost this much to fly to Seattle," whined cash-strapped travelers, "when it only costs $329 roundtrip to fly Anchorage-L.A.?"
Keep in mind Alaska Airlines does have competition on the route. United Airlines flies a daily red-eye flight. The cost? A whopping $566 roundtrip (with a 14-day advance purchase).
For mileage junkies (like me), it's time to consider using them. The good news is Alaska Airlines has a bundle of flights available between Anchorage and Seattle for just 12,500 miles each way. And not just the lousy off-peak flights, either. Supplement the miles you earn in-flight with a rewards credit card. You can earn enough miles for a roundtrip ticket to Seattle (25,000 miles) by signing up for the Alaska Airlines Visa Card (through Bank of America). There is a $75 fee, but you also get a $111 coach-class companion ticket.
For comparison's sake, let's take a look at a few other Alaska Airlines' destinations (with connections through Seattle) -- and the current cost from Anchorage*:
- Anchorage-Tucson, Ariz.: $502 roundtrip (available Jan. 20-Mar, 12, 2013)
- Anchorage-Austin, Tex.: $538 roundtrip (available Jan. 11-May 21, 2013)
- Anchorage-Fresno, Calif.: $478 roundtrip (available Jan. 18-Nov. 29, 2013)
- Anchorage-Burbank, Calif.: $498 roundtrip (available Jan. 11-May 15, 2013) and $390 roundtrip starting May 16, 2013
- Anchorage-Ontario, Calif.: $495 roundtrip (available Jan. 11-May 15, 2013) and $387 roundtrip starting May 16, 2013
- Anchorage-Kansas City, Mo.: $458 roundtrip (available Jan. 18-May 29, 2013)
- Anchorage-Reno, Nev.: $478 roundtrip (available Jan. 19-Nov. 23, 2013)
* Source: Alaskaair.com 1:59pm on Fri., Jan. 4, 2013. Fares and availability are subject to advance purchase and to change without notice (duh!).
Compare these prices with your friends who live Outside and you're likely to get an offer to join you in the streets to protest with torches and pitchforks. If you call your friends in Fairbanks, Barrow, Kodiak or Nome -- don't expect any sympathy. Why? Take a look at today's rates to Seattle from other Alaska cities (advance purchase required):
- Fairbanks-Seattle $767 roundtrip
- Barrow-Seattle $930 roundtrip (through Feb. 4, 2013) and $1,058 roundtrip thereafter
- Nome-Seattle $984 roundtrip
- Kodiak-Seattle $934 roundtrip
Reality check: Anchorage gets extraordinary air service and incredible rates -- better than any other Alaska destination. That's because many airlines fly here. And more airlines are coming this summer, some of whom will bring lower fares with them:
Frontier Airlines, flying nonstop Anchorage-Denver and nonstop Fairbanks-Denver starting mid-May.
Icelandair, flying nonstop Anchorage-Reykjavik, Iceland starting mid-May.
Condor Airlines, flying nonstop Anchorage-Frankfurt, Germany starting May 7, 2013.
jetBlue Airways, flying nonstop Anchorage-Seattle and nonstop Anchorage-Long Beach, Calif., starting May 17, 2013.
Sun Country Airlines, flying nonstop Anchorage-Minneapolis/St. Paul starting mid-May.
Air Canada, flying nonstop Anchorage-Vancouver, BC starting May 12, 2013.
American Airlines, flying nonstop Anchorage-Dallas/Ft. Worth starting May 9, 2013.
Additionally, of the incumbent airlines (USAir, United, Delta and Alaska), all but USAir will add flights for the summer. With more flights come more opportunities for discounted air fares.
It's a delicate balance. Airlines want to match supply with demand and get top dollar for their seats. Travelers seek to work the system to get the best deal -- including service, price and mileage perks.
Sometimes, travelers can thread the needle and get a great deal on a great flight. Other times, like today, Seattle-bound travelers may feel they're paying for a brand new plane -- not just one seat.
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 atwww.alaskatravelgram.com or follow him on Twitter for breaking travel news.