There are two types of airline tickets on sale this week. One is for the price-grubber who doesn't mind sitting in the middle seat. The other is for "mileage runners" who want to top up their Alaska Airlines account to achieve MVP or MVP Gold status for 2018.
Already, I'm getting calls and emails from travelers who are several thousand miles short of the MVP threshhold. The thought of sitting at the rear of the plane, in the middle seat, with no chance of an upgrade is keeping them up at night. I know how they feel. That's because I, too, am a mileage runner.
The stakes are high. Travelers who lock in the MVP Gold status after flying 40,000 miles get free upgrades to Alaska's Premium Class and a better shot at scoring a seat in first class. There are other benefits too: bonus miles, fee waivers and a special reservations line with little or no waiting.
Here's a tip for those travelers who are caught up in the frequent flyer game: flying in late November and early December is your best chance to get a cheap ride to lock in the extra miles you need. After that, holiday prices kick in. Hint: they're more expensive. Here are some examples:
Flying from Anchorage to Boston between Nov. 28 and Dec. 14 costs $404 round trip on Alaska Air. You'll receive 7,860 "elite qualifying miles" as a result. Or, fly from Anchorage to Orlando between Nov. 30 and Dec. 14. The cost is $468 round trip and you will net 7,980 elite qualifying miles. One of my favorite mileage-runner trips is Anchorage-Los Angeles. You can get a one-way ticket on Dec. 4 on Alaska's nonstop for $132. That's a great deal. The return may cost a little more: $141. But you'll earn 4,788 elite qualifying miles. I have friends who have flown a couple of those trips back-to-back just for the miles.
You may think the mileage run is a silly game. Heaven knows I feel silly when I'm doing it. That's why I always call a friend to visit or dream up a reason to spend a day or two. But if you are a frequent flyer, little things like a better seat with more legroom, early boarding and fee waivers really make a difference.
Now, if you don't mind sitting in the middle seat, our friends at Delta Air Lines are doubling-down on their "basic economy" offerings. Other travelers have dubbed the fares "economy minus" because the stand-out qualities of these fares are what you don't get to do: no advance seat assignments. To be fair, Delta's basic economy fares are more generous than American or United, where you are prohibited from carrying anything but a pint-sized purse or backpack. If you try to sneak aboard with a full-size carry-on (like a rolling suitcase), they'll charge you $50. You're better off to check it at the counter for $25.
Let's take a look at some of the best airfares now on sale:
Anchorage to Boston is on sale for $331 round trip. Seats are available between Nov. 30 and mid-December, then again after Christmas until March 6, 2018. If you want to make an advance seat assignment, you can pay $30 more to "upgrade" back to regular economy. Still, $361 round trip for a ticket to Boston is a great deal. Travelers from Fairbanks can fly all the way to Boston for as little as $340 round trip (plus $30 to reserve a seat, along with bag fees). There aren't as many available dates, but if you're flexible you can find those rates.
Fly from Anchorage to Miami for as little as $391 round trip on Delta. Again, you have to add $30 for a seat reservation, plus bag fees if you want to check anything. There are just a few dates available in early December for this deal. But availability really opens up after Jan. 6, 2018.
Tickets from Anchorage to some cities on the East Coast are notoriously expensive, often topping $800 or more. So if you have friends or family in Pittsburgh, Norfolk, Virginia, Syracuse or Buffalo, New York, pay attention. Delta is selling tickets for as little as $395 round trip to each of these cities. That's about half of what they normally cost. You won't find this bargain rate at Christmas—but the deal is available in the first two weeks of December, then again after Jan. 6 until March 6, 2018.
Delta's flagship route is the nonstop from Anchorage to Minneapolis. It's on sale right now for as little as $345 round trip in basic economy. I'm 6 feet, 4 inches tall, so I would pay $30 to reserve an aisle seat, but I know other travelers who would just grit their teeth (and bite their knees) just to save the money! Travelers in Fairbanks can fly via Seattle and get to Minneapolis for as little as $364 round trip.
Because Alaska and Delta continue to spar in their battle for customers, prices go up and down all the time. I just checked the fares to New York from Anchorage and Fairbanks. Both airlines offer good fares, between $431-$475 round trip, to New York's JFK airport. Pay special attention to the connecting times, though. This is another way that airlines "match" the price, knowing that few travelers will buy a ticket to New York with a nine-hour layover in Seattle.
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.