May has arrived. And if Alaska's warm summer weather is somewhat fleeting, the annual migration of fair-weather airlines is not.
Even with the temperature still dipping below freezing, summertime travelers arrived on the first trans-polar flight of the year from Condor German Airlines earlier this week. Condor will fly several times a week nonstop to Frankfurt, Germany. Fares have dipped as low as $700 roundtrip, but now hover in the $900 range. The last flight leaves Anchorage on Oct. 9.
Another international airline touches down on June 1: Air Canada, with nonstop service from Anchorage to Vancouver, B.C. Don't bother with the fares -- they're too expensive ($650 roundtrip). If you want to fly with Air Canada, use your United Airlines miles. It's a better deal, since Air Canada accepts the miles as part of the Star Alliance.
United Airlines flies all year between Anchorage and Seattle. But in early June, the carrier ramps up seasonal service to San Francisco, Denver, Houston and Chicago -- with daily flights from Anchorage. So far, United has launched some good fares for Anchorage-Denver, where it competes with Alaska Airlines and Frontier Airlines. At $395 roundtrip, that's worth talking about. Watch for more deals later in the season to Chicago and San Francisco.
Alaska Airlines, as king of the hill in Anchorage, beefs up its Anchorage-Seattle schedule to 19 flights daily next month. Between Anchorage and Portland, the airline has three daily flights. And don't forget the two daily flights between Anchorage and L.A., for as little as $147 each way. Alaska also offers daily nonstop service to Chicago, Denver and Honolulu.
Even in bankruptcy, American Airlines is launching its summertime daily nonstop flight from Anchorage to Dallas on May 11. American is king of offering "phantom fares" for which no actual seats exist. Still, we're hopeful that other airlines, like Delta, will fight for travelers to the "Big D". In fact, Delta is offering rates from as low as $466 roundtrip from Anchorage.
Speaking of Delta, its beefing up service to both Salt Lake City and Minneapolis -- and adding seasonal flights from Fairbanks to Minneapolis. But I cannot find the nonstop from Anchorage to Atlanta or from Anchorage to Detroit. They're gone this year. Another flight missing from the mix? US Airways' nonstop Anchorage-Philadelphia service. That was another great way to burn your United miles, since USAir also is part of the Star Alliance. USAir does fly from Anchorage to Phoenix daily.
Frontier Airlines is returning this year with nonstop flights between Anchorage and Denver, starting May 16. The Fairbanks-Denver flights start two days later. Frontier typically has some great deals that pop up from time to time. Watch for rates under $400 roundtrip.
On May 25, JetBlue is returning for its second season with a daily flight between Anchorage and Long Beach for as low as $295 roundtrip. Alaska Airlines has JetBlue in its sights -- and is offering the great deals to nearby Los Angeles as a result. That pretty much guarantees that rates will be at least $200 cheaper than Anchorage-Seattle all summer.
One of the sleepers in the crowd is Sun Country Airlines, with nonstop flights from Anchorage to Minneapolis starting May 24. The rates are a few dollars less than Delta's nonstops -- but not enough to forego the Alaska Airlines mileage points. Sun Country almost always has some sort of bargain in the works -- stay tuned.
As a general rule of thumb, travelers are wise to scope out the deals to competitive markets like those listed above, especially with JetBlue and Alaska fighting it out in the L.A. basin. Between Anchorage and Denver, three airlines are offering nonstop flights: United, Alaska and Frontier. So, fares are low. You get the idea.
If none of these destinations is warm enough, head to Hawaii from Anchorage for as little as $435 roundtrip on Alaska Airlines. It's part of the Club49 deal -- so you must purchase by Thursday, May 3 for travel between May 6 and July 8.
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.