This year's Permanent Fund dividend airfare sale is in full bloom.
First announced by Alaska Airlines last Saturday, the sale offers some solid deals not just from Anchorage, but from every jet destination in Alaska. Additionally, other airlines have been swept up in the deal-making. That's good news for Alaska travelers — but you have to plan ahead.
I'm positively giddy about the most-popular rate: Anchorage-Seattle for $99 each way. But travelers in Fairbanks and Juneau also can get to Seattle for under $100. That's just the beginning. Dig deep enough through your dream destinations in the Lower 48 and you'll find a deal that works for you. There also are good deals for in-state travel on both Alaska Air and Ravn Alaska.
As usual, there are strings attached. You have to book the fares at least 21 days in advance. And all tickets must be purchased by Oct. 12. But if you're looking to get a deal, today is a good day to start the hunt.
Let's start with the West Coast. In addition to the deals to Seattle, fares to Portland also are cheap: as low as $127 one-way on the nonstop with Alaska Air. Delta is a little more (as low as $131 one-way), since you change planes in Seattle. In conjunction with Horizon, Alaska Air is offering good deals to many of the smaller destinations in Washington and Oregon including Eugene, Bend, Walla Walla, Yakima and Medford. It's worthwhile to drill down and check, city by city, to see if there is competitive service from Delta, though.
When comparing prices on Alaska and Delta, remember that most (not all) of Delta's lowest prices are for "basic economy." Because you cannot reserve your seat in advance on these fares, it means you'll probably be in the middle. As soon as you try and book a basic economy seat on Delta, you'll see a pop-up on your screen inviting you to pay more for the privilege of reserving a seat. With Alaska Air, all of the fares include prereserved seats. Additionally, you'll pay extra for checked bags with Delta, unless you have their co-branded credit card with American Express. With Alaska Air, residents can sign up for Club 49, which allows for two checked bags when traveling to or from Alaska.
Looking at fares to California, the PFD sale includes great rates to the major airports like San Francisco ($152 one-way on Alaska), Los Angeles/LAX ($138 on Alaska) and Sacramento ($129 on Delta). But smaller airports are included, such as Santa Rosa ($189 on Alaska) and Burbank ($149 on Alaska).
Most of the major airports in mid-America are included in the sale, including Salt Lake ($181 on Alaska, United and Delta), Dallas ($189 on Alaska), Denver ($199 on Alaska), Kansas City ($169 on Delta) and St. Louis ($199 on Delta, United and Alaska).
Of course, having the good price is just one part of the equation. Finding the flights is another story altogether. That's why having more than one airline is important. For example, Alaska's sale has blackout dates around Thanksgiving (Nov. 16-29) and Christmas (Dec. 14-Jan. 3). But if you check the flights during those days, you'll find that Delta has seats available. That, in turn, prompts Alaska to match those fares — or at least lower them. So you still can get to the Lower 48 during the "blackout" periods at a great rate. The takeaway message is this: All airfare sales are subject to competitive pressure. Since the PFD sale came out last week, the fares have changed many times. Some have come down, while more seats have become available around popular travel times.
One of my favorite PFD deals is Delta's nonstop between Anchorage and Minneapolis: It's just $172 each way. Add $15 to book a seat. One of my other favorites is the Anchorage-Chicago nonstop on Alaska Air. It's just $180 each way.
Moving to the East Coast, there are lots of hub cities that are on sale from Anchorage, including Boston ($176 on Delta), New York ($196 on Delta or United, $199 on Alaska), Washington, D.C., ($199 on Alaska) and Detroit ($199 on Alaska).
If you want to fly to Hawaii, the best deals are on Alaska's nonstop from Anchorage to Honolulu for $199 in October and November. Then, you have to jump ahead to April and May, since the whole winter is blacked out for PFD deals. What that really means is that fares go up about $50 each way during that time. If you want to fly nonstop from Anchorage to Maui or Kona, you can find some $299 one-way flights starting in November. Those popular nonstops don't get much cheaper than that.
For flights within Alaska, both Ravn Alaska and Alaska Air are offering Anchorage-Fairbanks rates for $69 each way. Ravn offers Anchorage-Bethel flights for $99, while Alaska charges a little more, $102. From Anchorage to Kodiak, Ravn charges $109 each way, while Alaska is a little more, $112. Ravn also is offering sale prices on their shorter commuter flights to Kenai ($69), Homer ($109) and Valdez ($144).
Just be sure you know your dates before you book. If you think you're going to have to change or cancel your plans, you're going to lose money. You're better off to wait until you can lock in your dates.
With low fares to international gateways like Seattle, San Francisco/Oakland and Los Angeles, you can access the great deals to Europe and Asia. From Seattle, for example, it's $200 one-way to London on Norwegian.
For travelers in Anchorage and Fairbanks, this is one of the best airfare sales of the year. But if you live in Nome, Bethel, Wrangell or Kodiak or one of Alaska Air's other jet destinations, it is THE best sale. Typically, your flight selection will be better the earlier you purchase your tickets. So don't wait until the evening of October 12 to get a good deal.
How do you find the best fares? If you know you'll be flying on Alaska Airlines, go ahead and check their AlaskaAir.com. If you want to compare prices with either Ravn Alaska, United or Delta, I like Google's ITA airfare matrix (matrix.itasoftware.com). You can plug in your dates and search one-way or roundtrip prices. You also can click through to the Google Flights page to get faster results. After you find the flights and dates you like, you can go back to the airline's website and buy it.
Alternatively, you can use a travel agent to figure out the flights, the rules and the best dates. Typically, they will charge you between $35 and $40 per ticket.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.