This week is a difficult one if you're planning a getaway to the Lower 48. Why? Because until recently, we were right between two big airfare sales.
One sale just ended and fares went up, as promised. But they didn't go up too much. Still, all of us want to get the most for our money. This is especially true for travelers who live off the road system in Alaska Airlines cities: Bethel, Nome, Kotzebue, Cordova and Kodiak. Travelers in Anchorage are lucky — we can grab a good fare when the next sale comes along.
The Alaska Airlines Permanent Fund dividend fares have just been released, and we're still unpacking the fares available. In the meantime, past PFD sales are a good indicator of what we can expect in this year's sale:
1. The best fares will be available on certain days of the week, such as Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sale fares may be available on other days, but probably will cost a little more.
2. The best fares may not be available during the peak travel days around Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break.
3. The best fares will be available where Alaska Airlines has strong competition with Delta. Think Seattle, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Francisco, Sacramento and Tucson.
Currently, there are also some good deals available for Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members. True travel junkies already know about these new features, but many travelers still are surprised about some of the new changes.
1. If you have 21 days to plan, you can get a mileage ticket from Anchorage to many cities in Alaska for just 5,000 miles each way. These cities include Kodiak, Cordova, Juneau, Sitka, Yakutat, Petersburg, Fairbanks, Nome, Kotzebue and Bethel. That's down from 7,500 miles.
2. Other in-state destinations are available from Anchorage for as little as 7,500 miles. This includes Dutch Harbor, Adak, Barrow, Wrangell and Ketchikan.
3. Between Anchorage and Seattle, mileage seats are available for as little as 10,000 each way. That's down from 12,500 miles.
Earlier this month when I traveled to Ketchikan, a last-minute ticket would have been more than $700. Folks, that's what miles are for. I used 27,500 miles to travel Anchorage-Ketchikan-Anchorage round-trip. In fact, I spent an extra 2,500 miles to fly first class on the way back. On top of that, my bag was a little late on the return flight, so I received a 2,500-mile voucher. I suppose that's the next best thing to a free upgrade.
If you're considering a trip to Seattle from Anchorage for today's lowest rate, about $235 round-trip, my advice would be to buy the ticket and earn the miles. Then save them for when you have to go at the last minute and the fare is more than $500!
It's relatively easy to chalk up Alaska Airlines frequent flyer miles. Friends of mine who fill up big trucks on a regular basis always charge their gas using their Alaska Airlines Visa card. One friend with a big fleet has a balance of more than 10 million miles.
One of the easiest ways to jumpstart your mileage balance, though, is just to get a new credit card. Alaska Airlines doesn't care how many cards you get. Neither does Bank of America, the issuing financial institution. The bank's major concern is that you pay the annual fee of $75 on each card. Oh — you'll totally lose at the mileage game if you fail to pay your card off at the end of the month.
Alaska Air's credit card offer changes from time to time. Right now, you can get 30,000 miles after you spend $1,000 or more within the first 90 days (in addition to the $75 annual fee). That's a good deal. That's enough for a round-trip ticket between Anchorage and Seattle, plus a round trip from Anchorage to Juneau.
The other popular feature of the card is the annual companion fare. Right now, Alaska Air is offering a companion fare in exchange for just the taxes and fees. They advertise that those fees are as little as $22. But when I bought a couple of tickets to Mexico City, the taxes and fees were $148.68. Still, the first ticket was $743, so that's still a good deal. A great deal, in fact. Plus, when you're traveling on a companion fare, you get full mileage credit.
With this current offer, you can get a zero-dollar companion fare (plus taxes and fees) for the first year. After that, it's $99, plus the taxes and fees.
Our family has two of the cards — one for business and one for personal charges. I did, indeed, get a third card just to get the 30,000 miles and the companion fare. Sure, it cost me $75, but it served its purpose. Since then, I've become fond of a number of other cards — so I canceled it. But Alaska Air's miles are more valuable than other airline miles, particularly for frequent travelers who live in Alaska.
While I work on rounding up fares from the PFD sale, here are a few other really nice deals that I'm watching right now:
1. Anchorage-Miami for $447 round-trip on Delta. The fare is available between Oct. 16 and Feb. 13 (excluding Thanksgiving and Christmas).
2. Anchorage-Chicago nonstop on Alaska Air. This is just available between Oct. 10-25. But the big Broadway play "Hamilton" is playing in Chicago at the CIBC Theater. Tickets are available during the week for less than $200 per person. They're more expensive on the weekend. But this is a great option if you want a to see a great play. I've talked to several folks who've seen it in Chicago — they all loved it.
3. Anchorage-Minneapolis nonstop on Delta. There are a couple of dates in mid-October (departing Oct. 12 or 14) for $393 round-trip. But more tickets are available for $405 round-trip for travel between Oct. 21 and April 28.
4. Anchorage-Boston for $379 round-trip on Delta for travel between Oct. 13 and March 8. Remember, most of Delta's least-expensive fares are "basic economy." When you go to book them, you will be prompted to pay more to get a reserved seat. If you don't mind sitting in a middle seat, you may proceed at no additional charge. But if reserving an aisle seat is important, then compare the new total with the fare on Alaska Airlines — which includes a reserved seat. On the Anchorage-Boston route, Alaska's least-expensive fare is $409 round-trip. So, if you are a "Club 49" member, you'll be able to check a couple of bags at no additional charge. When all the extras are added up, the more-expensive base fare on Alaska may be cheaper "all-in."
5. Newark-Athens on Emirates. This is a nonstop flight for as little as $432 round-trip. You'll earn 4,930 Alaska Air miles if you apply your mileage number to the reservation. This is a nice flight. Two checked bags are included, but you have to wait until check-in to get your seats.
6. Seattle-London on Norwegian for $400 round-trip. This nonstop flight is on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I've talked about this rate before, but it bears repeating. It's available from Oct. 15. The other airlines flying nonstop to London charge almost twice as much ($769 round-trip on Virgin Atlantic or $869 round-trip on British Air).
7. Speaking of Norwegian, here are three great rates from Los Angeles/LAX. It's worth it to fly the extra miles to LA and take the nonstop:
– LAX-Rome for $400 round-trip, nonstop starting Nov. 25.
– LAX- Paris for $406 round-trip, nonstop starting Nov. 6.
– LAX-Barcelona $410 round-trip, nonstop starting Oct. 2.
Everything costs extra on Norwegian: advance seat selection, checked baggage and meals. But all of these flights are nonstop over-the-top flights using 787s. The planes are great and I had a nice flight from Oakland to London, but that was before the Seattle service started!
All of the fares listed are subject to change without notice.
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.