Since travel deals are linked tightly with the annual Permanent Fund dividend distribution, this is my favorite time of the year. I'm on my fourth cup of coffee, unpacking the nitty-gritty details of Alaska Airlines' fare sale — and here's what I found:
The Good News: Alaska Air is offering good deals to many (not all) of its destinations around Alaska and the Lower 48. There also are specials to Hawaii.
More Good News: Other airlines, especially Delta, quickly undercut Alaska's fares to several key destinations including Seattle. Alaska responded by slashing their PFD fares even more to Delta's hubs: Atlanta, Detroit and Minneapolis.
The Bad News: This year's PFD sale ends on Monday. This is more important for Alaska Air destinations outside Anchorage and Fairbanks. If you have travel plans between now and May 15, get out your calendar and see if you can find a good deal.
More Bad News: The big print giveth and the fine print taketh away. While Delta's lower fares are eye-catching, there are extra fees for advance seat assignments and for checked bags. Alaska Air has checked baggage fees, but Club 49 members can avoid that on trips to or from Alaska.
Further, some of Alaska Air's best "attack fares" to Delta's hubs include really long layovers in Seattle.
Here are some of the best PFD deals:
Anchorage-Seattle: Alaska announced a $119 one-way fare for travel through May 15. That's a great deal. Delta countered with a $109 one-way fare in "Basic Economy." If you want a pre-assigned seat, it's $15 extra. And your bags are extra, unless you have one of Delta's credit cards. In response, Alaska has opened up a few early-morning flights at $109 one-way including advance seat assignments and two free bags for Club 49 members. Fairbanks-Seattle costs about $10 more each way on either Delta or Alaska.
Anchorage-Portland: Alaska is winning here, with nonstop flights from $138 each way. With Delta, you have to stop in Seattle and it costs about $10 more (in addition to charges for bags and advance seat assignments).
Anchorage-Northern California: Both Alaska and Delta offer good deals to the Bay Area airports and Sacramento ($155-$169 each way). Only Alaska Air offers service to Sonoma County airport ($199 each way), in the heart of wine country.
Anchorage-Southern California: The best deal right now is flying into Los Angeles/LAX, for $147 each way on Alaska. There are a few days when you can catch Alaska's nonstop (on Oct. 27, for example) at that price. There's no nonstop from Fairbanks, but Alaska offers the same price on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Delta costs a few dollars more in "basic economy" ($151 one-way). Fares to Orange County, Burbank and San Diego are $10-$20 more each way.
Anchorage-Las Vegas: Sin City is priced the same as Los Angeles — a great deal at $148 each way.
Anchorage-Phoenix: Delta is offering $154 one-way tickets, starting Oct. 30. On select days, you'll find United tickets at that rate, too (via Denver). But the nonstop flights on Alaska start on Nov. 5. After Nov. 23, the price drops to $151 one-way!
Anchorage-Denver: Good deals to the Mile High City have been playing hide-and-seek all summer. Now, both Delta and Alaska are offering one-way tickets for $166-$170 each way.
Delta hubs: When airlines are mad at each other, the traveler wins. Nowhere is this more evident at Delta's hubs in Minneapolis, Detroit and Atlanta, where Alaska has introduced cheaper fares.
Anchorage-Minneapolis: Both Alaska and Delta offer $177 one-way tickets to the Twin Cities. Be sure and watch the connection time on the Alaska flights. Delta has a nonstop Anchorage-Minneapolis flight.
Anchorage-Atlanta: Alaska has the cheapest fares, at $177 each way. Again, pay attention to the connections. On some days, the connections are great. On other days, you could be cooling your jets for 4-8 hours in Seattle. Delta is priced at higher, at $227 each way.
Anchorage-Detroit: Motor City is an expensive destination. But now, since Alaska is upset at Delta, you can get a one-way ticket for as little as $177. Most, but not all, of the dates I checked had long layovers in Seattle.
Anchorage-East Coast: Boston still is on sale for around $200 each way on Delta. United also is offering similar pricing via Denver. Alaska has some dates available for $201-$215 — just be mindful of the connection times.
Anchorage-New York: Flights to/from JFK Airport are the most reasonable, at $215 each way with either Alaska or Delta. Occasionally you can find a deal into Newark for the same price — but there are more options into JFK.
Anchorage-Washington, DC: The best-priced option for travel to our nation's capital is into Baltimore. Delta charges $209 one-way for the flight.
Tropical paradise: There is a select group of tropical destinations on sale if you need a sunny holiday.
Anchorage-Honolulu: Alaska has nonstop flights for $197 each way between now and Dec. 12. There are a few days where Delta offers $150 one-way tickets, but it's via Seattle.
Anchorage-Kona: Alaska's seasonal nonstop flights to Kona start Nov. 4, for $219 one-way. You can hop aboard between then and Dec. 17 at that price, before prices go up for Christmas travel.
Anchorage-Costa Rica: Delta is offering flights to both San Jose and Liberia for as little as $503 roundtrip. You can't find those prices at Christmastime, but there are lots of other dates available through March 7.
There are good deals to many other destinations from Anchorage and Fairbanks, including Florida, Spokane, Tucson, Montana and Chicago. You just have to dig in to find the right dates, the right connections and the right carry-on to avoid those pesky baggage fees.