Scott McMurren

Permanent Fund time, my oh my. Your dividend's about to fly! For many of us, the arrival of the PFD check means it's time to plan a vacation. And each year, Alaska Airlines comes up with special fares to insure they're at the center of every discussion on how to spend the money! This year is no exception. With more flights to more cities from Anchorage than all other airlines combined, all eyes are on Alaska Airlines. There are some new participants this year -- and that keeps it interesting. But first, let's review the good and the bad of this year's Alaska Airlines program. First, the good news. Almost all of Alaska's cities are on sale. To me, the standout favorites are destinations like Chicago, which is available for as little as $219 each way, plus tax. Ironically, Alaska Air has a...Scott McMurren
It's no question that Paris is one of the most-visited cities in the world. And just as there are millions of travelers who visit the "City of Light" each year, there are a million ways to "do" Paris. If you have your checklist, make sure you visit The Louvre and Versailles. We added Musee d'Orsay and a trip to the Ile de la Cite. This island is home to both Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle. The adjoining island, Ile Saint-Louis, is home to the famous ice cream shop, Berthillon. This time we took a different approach. First, we opted for an apartment instead of a hotel. We tried this strategy first in Rome and it worked well. The apartment was less than a hotel (650 euros per week) -- and it included fast wireless internet and a full kitchen. Pascal Zytomirski owns several apartments in...Scott McMurren
While we're on the cusp of this year's crop of PFD travel deals, it's a good idea to look around Alaska and take advantage of early-fall special events and fun packages. After the summertime crowds have left, the Alaska Railroad spools up several special trains. The most-famous special train is the ski train, which doesn't go until Mar. 19, 2011. However, it's a good idea to plan ahead for this one, since it almost always sells out. And it pays to belong to the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage , since you'll save a whopping $30 off the train price. Plus -- it's a great excuse to shell out for the expensive grooming and trail maintenance that NSAA provides. Do it! On Oct. 2, the Great Alaska Beer Train pulls out of the station in Anchorage. This always is a fun event. Hard to go...Scott McMurren
It's not uncommon for travelers: We go to a place for one reason and stay for another. The Provence area in southern France is a mecca for food and wine lovers. All along the Rhone River Valley, it's almost impossible to get a bad meal. But the area also has a rich history that ties it to Rome. France -- and all of Europe -- is easier to reach thanks to Condor's seasonal nonstop flights from Anchorage or Fairbanks to Frankfurt. From there it was a quick hop over to Lyons. There is a TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse -- or "fast train") station at the airport. We opted for the "local" train south to Avignon, which left from the downtown train station, 15 minutes away by bus. Avignon was my destination of choice, primarily because of the "Palais des Papes" or Palace of the Popes in the middle of...Scott McMurren
"Be prepared." That's the Boy Scout motto. But it works for travelers as well. September is here -- that means Permanent Fund Dividend travel deals are right around the corner. The big dog in this hunt is Alaska Airlines. If the last few years are any indicator, we can look for some great deals for rural Alaskans. If you live in Fairbanks, Bethel, Kodiak, Petersburg or one of Alaska's other far-flung destinations, you'd be wise to have your calendar handy and start marking out your travel dates. Cities like Yakutat and Adak simply don't see that many super-deep discounts, since Alaska Airlines is the only carrier to serve the market. Chances are there will be some blackouts over Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Break. But even if the fares were available, many of the cheap seats on the...Scott McMurren
Gosh, I miss summer already. I saw it briefly last week as it dashed out of town under a rain cloud. So -- like it or not, fall is here. The good news is this: as the days get shorter, the prices come down. Whether you're planning a trip around the state or around the country, chances are good you'll land a better deal this week than last week! Here are some in-state deals: Denali National Park. Both the Denali Bluffs and the Grande Denali Lodge are having a great sale in September. For $79 per night, you can rent a room at either of these hotels. The Denali Bluffs is open through Sept. 9. September 13 is the last day for the Grande Denali. The colors are changing -- and you can be there to see it! Talkeetna. Okay, the train takes you to Talkeetna. Then, you get on a bus for the 54-mile...Scott McMurren
I just got a $104 credit from Alaska Airlines. That's a great way to start out the week. Alaska announced a system-wide fare sale for travel through Dec. 15, 2010. Honestly, this is a perfect sale for those of us who simply cannot wait until the Permanent Fund Dividend sales are announced at the end of September. My ticket is to Ketchikan. It went down from $461 to about $357 roundtrip, with a 14-day advance purchase. In fact, the intra-Alaska fares are some of the best features of this sale offering. For example, Anchorage-Juneau is just $270.50 roundtrip, all-in. Another standout: Anchorage-Bethel for $266 roundtrip, all-in. Or Anchorage-Cordova for just $183 roundtrip, all-in. I love the Kodiak fare -- just $206 roundtrip. Almost all of Alaska's in-state destinations are on sale --...Scott McMurren
While most of Southcentral Alaska slogs its way through a wet summer, Southeast Alaska is basking in warm sunshine. Perhaps it's time to use some Alaska Airlines miles to see some of the most scenic parts of the state! Remember, for as little as 15,000 miles, you can get a ticket to Ketchikan, Wrangell, Juneau or Sitka -- which normally would cost $500 or more. Because of the robust cruise industry, Southeast Alaska has an extraordinary infrastructure for travelers. Here are some of my favorite activities: A. The Alaska Marine Highway. The ferry is a great way to travel. You can start in Ketchikan and head north to Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka and Juneau. You have much more flexibility if you just walk on -- and if you don't mind sleeping on the deck chairs in the solarium on the top deck...Scott McMurren
Now comes the end of the summertime travel season. Deals are floating in and out of the travel-scape. Act quickly and you can save a bundle. Snooze-you-lose. Let's review a few of the hot spots for tickets. Some of the best bargains are for travel between now and the first week of December. But we'll try to take a longer view into the fall. The two closest Outside destinations, Seattle and Portland, are on sale -- kind of. Anchorage-Portland has been available for $400 roundtrip all summer long. That's a blessing, especially since Alaska Airlines was charging $576 roundtrip to go to Seattle for most of the season. The Anchorage-Portland fare is valid through Aug. 22 with a seven-day advance purchase on Continental. Alaska allows the $400 fare for travel through Sept. 7, 2010. Anchorage-...Scott McMurren
I always feel victorious when I discover some new restaurant or activity while traveling. It's an extra bonus when the new venue is close to home. So I puffed up a little bit after taking my out-of-towners on the Alaska Railroad up to the Spencer Glacier whistle-stop. Most folks who make the trip also sign up either for a raft trip on the Placer River or a canoe trip on Spencer Lake. Both of these trips are offered by Chugach Adventure Guides. You can get on the train in Anchorage for the 60-mile ride to the trailhead. Or, do what we did: Drive to Portage and hop Scott McMurren photos on the train for the brief ride up the valley. In fact, for Anchorage travelers, it's easy to make this rail trip the centerpiece in a full-day Alyeska-Portage adventure. You can combine it with a trip to...Scott McMurren