A new entrant in the Anchorage-Seattle airline market all but assures that prices will remain low all summer long.
Sun Country Airlines has flown a summer-only schedule between Anchorage and Minneapolis for decades. The carrier has gone through bankruptcy and has changed owners more than once. Last year, the carrier's CEO Jude Bricker (formerly of Allegiant Air) declared that Sun Country would become a "ULCC" or ultra-low cost carrier. According to travel blogger Brett Snyder of Cranky Flier (crankyflier.com) that means turning into a "low fare/high fee" airline.
"This move by Sun Country fits perfectly into the professed strategy to go into markets where demand is high," writes Snyder. "It can then bring lower fares and go under the radar of the big guys who are full during that season anyway. Anchorage to Seattle during the summer is exactly that kind of market at exactly the right time of year."
Sun Country is launching its five weekly flights (no flights on Tuesdays or Wednesdays) between June 7 and Aug. 20. When the airline announced the service last week, the lowest available fare was $106 one-way. Unlike its low-fare summer-only competitor JetBlue, Sun Country's flights are not red-eye, but leave Anchorage at 6:50 p.m. The return flight leaves Seattle for Anchorage at 5:50 p.m.
Overnight, though, Sun Country dropped its rates to match JetBlue and Delta, which offered one-way fares of $94 on select dates. Then, for a couple of days last week, JetBlue went further, dropping the one-way fare to $74 during a 48-hour sale.
Alaska Airlines has matched some, but not all, of the fare cuts. And the rates are changing all the time. I fully expect more "flash sales" resulting in deeply-discounted seats between Anchorage and Seattle.
Travelers should remember that the base price on these fares is just that: the base price. With Sun Country, you'll pay extra for a full-size carry-on and for an assigned seat. That means that you can bring a small backpack or a purse on board, but nothing else.
The add-on fees are crucial for all airlines. But if you want to fly Alaska, you'll likely avoid the bag fees if you're a "Club 49" member — it's free for Alaska residents. Pre-assigned seats are a part of your base fare with Alaska and with JetBlue (and sometimes with Delta). Also, you can haul aboard your carry-on rollerbag at no additional cost on all three airlines.
The fares between Anchorage and Seattle drop off when JetBlue starts service on May 27. Between early April and May 27, Alaska and Delta have settled on a higher fare, starting at $285 round trip. That's still a good deal. But if you can get to Seattle for less than $100 one-way — that's a great deal!
If you're flying back to Minneapolis from Anchorage, Delta offers the cheapest rates, from $346 round trip. That's a great deal on a nonstop flight. Right now, the best rates are available for travel from April 14-28. Look hard enough and you'll find seats for under $400 round trip into the first week of May. After that, the fares go up a bit, until May 19, when Sun Country spools up its nonstop flights. Then, you'll find nonstop flights around $400, which is $100 less than Delta's high-season rates.
In keeping with its high-season strategy, Sun Country is adding a second nonstop flight from Anchorage to Minneapolis on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays starting in June. Prices change all the time, but right now they are priced lower than Delta's corresponding nonstops. Just remember that the base price is just that: the base price. You have to do the final calculation if you want assigned seats or checked bags.
While Sun Country is disrupting the Anchorage-Seattle market, JetBlue still is making waves up and down the West Coast. From Anchorage to Portland, the airline is resuming its seasonal nonstop on May 25, with fares starting at $104 one-way.
It's always fun to get a bargain airfare. But getting a deal to either Seattle or L.A. is different because these two airports open up more possibilities for travel around the world.
Once you're in Seattle, for example, you can take advantage of Norwegian's nonstop flight to London's Gatwick Airport. The prices right now start at $160 one-way for travel through June 7 (flights from London back to Seattle are a little higher, at $246 one-way). Again, your seat assignments, checked baggage and meals are extra.
You can fly nonstop from Anchorage to Los Angeles for as little as $360 round trip on Alaska Airlines. From there, you can catch a nonstop flight to Singapore for $515 round trip on United. It's a new 787 and there's more legroom (32-inch pitch) on this 18-hour flight than on their 737 to Denver. The low fare on the LAX-Singapore nonstop is available for travel through May 24.
Remember: fares change all the time and it's best to assume that the base fare is nothing more than that. Chances are good you'll end up paying a little more —and that's what the airlines are counting on.