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Want to get out to the wild, remote parts of Alaska? Using miles is the way to go

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: April 20
  • Published April 20

A tufted puffin pauses cliffside, looking down at a common murre on St. Paul Island. (Photo Scott McMurren)

Do you want to go to a far-flung corner of Alaska? You can pay the big bucks, about $500 one-way. Or, you can use just a few Alaska Airlines miles — less than it costs to get to Seattle.

Some of the best deals are on the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. When Ravn Alaska (flyravn.com) took over PenAir, they lowered the redemption levels to several destinations, and that’s good news for travelers.

It costs $479 one-way to fly from Anchorage to Cold Bay, on the edge of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Cold Bay is a mecca for hunters and anglers. If you pick the right day, you can fly out on PenAir for 7,500 miles each way. PenAir (now part of Ravn). PenAir operates the fast Saab 2000 on the route.

Mary Martin runs the Cold Bay Lodge and has a main lodge and several houses for rent. She charges $121 per person, per night and also offers cars to rent for $90 per day. “Starting in mid-May you can catch halibut off the ferry dock,” she said. In June, the salmon start arriving in nearby Mortensen’s Lagoon. Then, the bird hunters start arriving in September.

Out in the Aleutians, PenAir also flies to Dutch Harbor, although technically the flight is an Alaska Airlines route. Still, the tickets are expensive: $490 one-way. But mileage tickets are available for as little as 7,500 miles each way.

Carlin Enlow is executive director of the Unalaska visitors bureau. She grew up on the island and knows all the folks who offer tours and excursions. Travelers can learn about the World War II history, as well as the indigenous Aleut people in the region. There is a World War II museum as well as the Museum of the Aleutians.

Amber Vernon and her sister Asia offer fishing charters for halibut, salmon and a variety of other fish. Their boat “The Aftermath” is well-suited for local waters. It costs $394 for a full-day charter and $290 for a half-day.

Bobbie Lekanoff offers both World War II history tours and birding tours of the area. Her most popular four-hour tour includes a trip up Mount Ballyhoo for a great view and to see World War II-era bunkers. She also includes a drive along a 13-mile loop road for some great views. She charges $90 per person and she’s operated the tours for 22 years (907-581-1859).

Steve Carroll use to be a fire chief in Adak when there were 6,000 people living there. There are just a few folks remaining in the community since the Navy pulled out, but Steve and his wife have a four-plex that they rent out to visitors. You can buy a ticket from Anchorage to Adak for $610 or cash in 7,500 miles on the twice-weekly nonstop flight.

“There are five types of travelers to Adak,” said Carroll. “We have caribou hunters, bird watchers, flower people, fishermen and looky-loos,” he said. “The looky-loos may have lived here before or they’re curious about the former Navy base.”

Carroll can rent his car out, but advises travelers to just let him drive them around. “We can arrange for drop-off and pick-up for hunters and fishermen,” he said. “It’s only a few miles from the house.”

Between Anchorage and King Salmon, travelers can choose from either Alaska Airlines or Ravn Alaska. Alaska Airlines charges 5,000 miles each way while Ravn charges 7,500. King Salmon is the gateway to Katmai National Park. That means once you land in King Salmon, you still have to hire an air taxi to fly you up to Brooks Lodge to see the bears. Once you get up to Brooks Camp, you can stay in the lodge or camp in the campground. The bears wander through the area with impunity, which is why the campground is enclosed with electric wire. You can cook your food in designated areas inside the campground or take your meals in the lodge.

Be sure and budget a full day to go on the Valley of 10,000 Smokes tour. The bus takes you up for a wonderful view of the valley ravaged by the Novarupta volcano of 1912. You can hike down to the valley floor and see how the raging Ukak River cuts through the pumice like a knife.

You can rent motorboats, fishing rods and all kinds of gear from the lodge. But everyone has to go to “bear school” operated by the National Park Service on arrival. Fishing on the Brooks River is fly-only, catch-and-release.

Another destination served by PenAir is St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs. Right now Alaska Air’s website shows you can get a one-way ticket there for 7,500 miles. But as of press time there was a glitch in the system and it wasn’t working.

When they finally get that fixed, book a mileage ticket. It’s worth checking out the birding on the island. The St. Paul Island Tour offers a three-day/two-night package, which includes accommodations, meals and guiding. The guides can show you where the unusual birds are, as well as the northern fur seals in the area. You’ll take all of your meals at the local fish processing plant. The hotel is attached to the airport. Cost for a three-day package is $1,895 per person.

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