Airfare deals come in waves. The great tides of innovation, competition and regulation cause rates to rise and fall all the time. That's why you'll see a flurry of great deals followed by sky-high rates. Seldom do these wild fluctuations reflect a surge in demand (except around Christmas and spring break).
Rather, it's all about the competition. More competition equals lower prices.
Special events can cause rates to fall precipitously, such as the introduction of new service or some special animosity between carriers. So, there's not a perfect time or day to purchase a ticket. There's no secret number of days-in-advance you must book to get the best rate.
However, it's almost always a good idea to get your tickets at least two weeks in advance of travel.
Right now, there are some noteworthy bargains due to new service and the push by a couple of long-haul carriers to boost ridership. Almost all of the deals are on low-fare operators that charge extra for everything: seat assignments, extra legroom, checked bags and meals.
For the best deals, you'll have to fly on a separate ticket to the gateway city. You can determine whether it's best to buy a ticket with miles or cash.
Here are some of my favorites:
AirAsia: Fly from Honolulu to Osaka, Japan, for as little as $99 one-way. That's the banner headline — and I found a couple of dates in September for $99. The new service starts June 28 and the special rate is valid through Feb. 6, 2018.
For most dates, the best rate I found is $159 one-way. On the return, I found a few seats for $198 one-way from Osaka to Honolulu. It's also worth it to check out the lie-flat premium seats, which start at $699 each way.
AirAsia's hub is in Kuala Lumpur, Maylaysia, so they're offering a $149 one-way fare from Honolulu to Osaka, with a connecting flight to Kuala Lumpur. The lowest rate I could find near their June 28 launch is $199 each way.
That's a great deal. I did find seats in October for returning from Kuala Lumpur to Honolulu for $163. Or, if you want to sit up front in the lie-flat seats, the price is $733 one-way.
I flew AirAsia last month from Kuala Lumpur to Makassar, Indonesia. The plane was clean and the service was passable. But anyone over 6 feet tall should definitely consider buying the "hot seats" with extra legroom. On this three-hour flight, the standard configuration was a 28-inch pitch. Compare that with Alaska Air's 31-inch pitch and your knees will start to hurt.
The carrier offers connecting service to many other destinations, including Columbo, Jakarta, Kathmandu, Bangkok and Singapore. Purchase your tickets by Feb. 26. You have to get to Honolulu on a separate ticket.
WOW Air: This low-cost carrier flies from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Reykjavik, Iceland. From the its hub in Iceland, the airline offers service to many European destinations. Right now, WOW Air is offering flights from San Francisco to Copenhagen for as little as $70. Since the fare sale started a few of days ago, the prices have been going up. Still, there are some great deals: San Francisco-London for $180 each way, San Francisco-Dublin for $190 each way or San Francisco-Paris for $180 each way. If you just want to go to Iceland, it's $130 each way. The return flights typically cost more—and there are extra fees for baggage and other add-ons.
JetStar: Jetstar flies brand-new Boeing 787 Dreamliners from Honolulu to Sydney, Australia. The bargain-du-jour is $199 each way for the nonstop flight starting Mar. 26. The return flight is a little more: $246. When you pick the flights, JetStar will want you to choose a "bundle," which includes a checked bag, a seat assignment and a meal. It's $99 each way. Of course, you don't have to choose the bundle. But if it's a full flight, the odds are better-than-even you'll end up in a middle seat.
Jetstar is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Qantas.
Norwegian: Like Jetstar, Norwegian flies all 787s on long-haul flights. I flew the 787 from Oakland to London/Gatwick. Right now, those flights are available for as little as $179 each way, departing on April 2. The return flight is a bit more: $233.
Although it's the most popular (three flights per week), London is not the only nonstop destination from Oakland. The airline offers nonstop flights to Stockholm for as little as $206 one-way starting April 3. The return flight on April 17 is less: $156 one-way. From Oakland, California to Oslo, nonstop, rates start at $211 on the outbound (Mar. 28), returning in May for as little as $163.
I like the Oakland Airport, since the airport is less congested than SFO. But Norwegian also has a bundle of flights leaving from LAX. Combine these flights with a low-cost ticket between Anchorage and Los Angeles.
For example, you can fly nonstop from LA to Paris on Norwegian for as little as $265 one-way on March 28, then return on April 22 for as little as $245 one-way. Norwegian is launching nonstop service from LA to Barcelona this summer. Next fall, on Sept. 27, you can fly one-way for $265. Return flights on Oct. 18 are available for as little as $254 one-way.
Even though these low-fare airlines charge extra for everything, you probably still will save a bundle over "legacy carriers." But be prepared to pay extra. If you try and squeeze by without paying for baggage, for seat assignments or some other creature comforts, it could be uncomfortable.
Closer to home, Delta and Alaska continue to battle it out, which is great for bargain hunters. The price between Anchorage and Seattle has drifted up from $102 each way to $131 each way. That's still a cheap rate.
But Delta is having a sale on its first class seats. Starting March 1, Delta is offering first class seats for as little as $205 each way. That's a great bargain.
Then on May 25, the rate drops to $168 each way. Between now and April 30, you still can earn Alaska Airlines miles when you fly on Delta. In fact, since you're up in first class, you will receive 100 percent of the miles flown as "eqm." elite qualifying miles, instead of the usual 50 percent. Plus, you'll get a 25 percent class-of-service bonus.
I don't blame you if you still want to ride in back to save even more money! Starting May 26, both Delta and Alaska are dropping their rates to $89 each way between Anchorage and Seattle. JetBlue starts to fly on May 26 — so watch for the fares to drop even further.
Between Anchorage and Portland, Oregon, JetBlue and Alaska are competing with nonstop flights. Both airlines are offering flights starting at $104 each way beginning in late May. Watch for further reductions as May 25 approaches.
Between now and May, there are several destinations that are available for less than $300 roundtrip: Las Vegas, Sacramento and Phoenix. Alaska Air offers nonstops to both Las Vegas and Phoenix, which is where you'll get the best deals. Both Alaska and Delta offer flights to Sacramento for about $288 roundtrip.
Watch for fares to change rapidly here on the homefront as the rising tide of competition in the summer washes up some lower fares on to the beach.
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.