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Scott McMurren

What does it take to be a good travel agent these days?

Today's traveler has more tools at hand, with more information. Prices for travel within the U.S. are transparent--and options often are limitless. A certifiable travel junkie may subscribe to a half-dozen news feeds with instant response on cheap deals. Most have Priceline bookmarked on their desktop.

So with all the information and all the options before them, how do agents bring value to the equation?

I had a conversation with a young lady early this morning that really hit me. "Can you help me find a cheap ticket to Arizona?" she asked...

Scott McMurren

First, the good part: Fares are down. Frankly, they are not down as much as I'd like. Further, I think they will drop lower. But this is a step in the right direction. If you purchase your ticket before Sept. 10, you can get to Honolulu or Maui nonstop from Anchorage for just $208 each way (includes tax)...

Scott McMurren
Scott McMurren photo Right around the beginning of September I start to get excited about travel deals.

Summer is over. The kids are back in school. Most travel venues still are open for a couple of weeks -- and that means deals, deals, deals.

Let's start with some of the basics.

Headed to Denali? Yes. Fall is here, and the colors of Denali are changing right now...

Scott McMurren

It's been a rough-and-tumble week for travelers in Alaska.

Frankly, I'm still catching my breath. First, the prospective deal between Frontier Airlines and Southwest Airlines fell apart. Had the deal been consummated in bankruptcy court, Alaska might have welcomed Southwest Airlines for the first time. Along with that first flight, Alaskans might have witnessed the "Southwest Effect" in action: lower fares, higher frequency and an epic airline battle for passengers. It's always a good thing for air travelers when airlines are upset with one another...

Scott McMurren
Aaron Jansen illustration

Will Southwest Airlines fly to Anchorage?

It's a fair question in light of Southwest's bid for Denver-based Frontier Airlines. Airline financial analysts concede Frontier is Southwest's for the taking.

For Alaskan travelers, such a takeover could lead to lower airfares and more options -- an airline competition they haven't seen in years.

Frontier, based in Denver, is in bankruptcy. Until recently, only Republic Airlines (a holding company that operates a regional airline, Chautauqua Airlines) had shown an interest in acquiring the carrier. But last week, Southwest made a bid that was several million dollars more than Republic's...

Scott McMurren

While Barcelona is the capital of the Catalan region of Spain, you need to get outside of the city and explore the countryside. We chose Girona as our base, about 60 miles north of Barcelona. If you're flying Ryanair, the low-cost European carrier, they use this airport to serve Barcelona.

Staying in Girona puts you close to lots of outdoor activities in the midst of an ancient walled city. The Hotel Historic is located next to the Girona Cathedral in the old town (within the walls): skinny streets, cobblestones and lots of professional cyclists. Lance Armstrong owns a home a block away from the hotel and the lobby has plenty of signed photos and jerseys from famous cyclists...

Scott McMurren

If there is one thing that sticks with you following a trip to Barcelona, it's the art and architecture in the city. In most cities, you'll find the art in the museums and the architecture in the buildings and structures. Barcelona turns this formula on its end. If you ever had doubts that architecture can change the world -- a single visit to this Mediterranean port will remove all doubt.

Some of the early Roman walls that made up ancient Barcelona still are visible right in the center of the old city. From there, though, things get crazy.

You cannot miss the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's incredible cathedral that still is being built...

Scott McMurren

Okay, I admit it. I'm a junkie for the upgrade, the airport lounge, the "free" buffet and airline miles. My wife would admonish me to "Get over yourself," and she's right, of course. But the travel experience is rife with little indignities. And to the unprepared or unwary, this can add up to death by a thousand cuts.

Although the air-travel landscape changes all the time, it's important to know some of the rules of the road. That way, you can steel yourself against a system that can be alternatively overloaded, underfunded and mismanaged...

Scott McMurren
Scott McMurren photos

Okay, summer is officially here. No more excuses not to get out and see Alaska. C'mon -- the weather is beautiful, the days are long, and the fish are jumpin'!

Whether you're planning for your own adventures or plotting for visiting friends and relatives, I would encourage you to get off the road this summer. Oh, the road trips around Alaska still are so fantastic. The Kenai Peninsula, in particular, is a great destination. But just a short plane or boat trip puts you out of reach of the vast majority of other travelers. Odds are you will see more and do more when you're off the road system.

Here are some of my favorite adventures:...

Scott McMurren

After a big trip, there's a decompression process. Everyone handles it differently. Sifting through the mail, digging out the dirty clothes and washing that "airline smell" before going to bed are at the top of my list.

But now, amidst the receipts, the pictures and scraps of paper with names and addresses, I've begun to recall some important lessons for modern international travel...

Scott McMurren