In the peak of the summer travel season, there aren’t a whole lot of bargain-basement options. However, August is right around the corner — and deals already are popping up.
The answers depend on a traveler’s timeline, their budget and flexibility. There are a few useful tools that travelers can use to get the most for their money. Then there are some trends to watch so you can be ready when a good deal comes up.
Bird’s-eye view: I’m partial to Kayak.com’s map of airfares. Google also has a map which shows the fares, but it’s not as intuitive. You can adjust your budget to show only fares below $600, for example. Or, you can look for fares just in a specific month or season. Just this afternoon, I spotted a fare from Anchorage to Tampa on Delta for $390 round trip, starting Sept. 16.
Because I check the fares often, my eye floats to several familiar destinations to see if the prices are moving: Boston, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
It’s important to note that fares change all the time. Sometimes the fares displayed on Kayak or Google are outdated. So you have to go to the next step to see if the deal is “real” or not.
Ground-truthing the fare: Just because a good rate pops up on a map from Kayak or Google doesn’t mean it’s a deal that you would want to buy. For example, I spotted a $128 one-way fare from Anchorage to Sacramento on Alaska Airlines. Looks nice, eh?
Well, I usually go to Google’s search engine for a quick confirmation. The $128 one-way fare on Sept. 6 leaves Anchorage at 8:25 p.m. There’s a 5 hour, 30 minute-layover in Seattle (from 1 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.). You finally roll into Sacramento at 8:35 a.m.
If I need more detailed information on the rules, the applicable travel dates or a sell-by date, I’ll go deeper into Google’s brain. Google’s ITA Software site has lots more detailed information on each fare.
For fares within the U.S., I almost always search one-way rates. All of Alaska Air’s rates are published one-way. By searching for one-way fares, you can find the best fares quickly. Then you can just search for the return date separately. It’s true, however, that both directions do not automatically price out the same.
For example, between Anchorage and Long Beach, California, JetBlue offers a $112 one-way on Sept. 6 and also on Sept. 10. These are great flights, via Seattle. On the return from Long Beach to Anchorage, the lowest fare is a little more: $114 one-way on either Sept. 10 or Sept. 14. That northbound flight on Sept. 14, by the way, is the last one for JetBlue. The airline announced it’s not going to offer flights from Anchorage for the summer of 2020.
If you’re searching for a good deal on international flights, there are some different considerations. First, a round-trip ticket is almost always less expensive than a one-way ticket.
Further, many international fares have minimum-stay requirements of three to 14 days. There are more fares with a seven-day minimum stay, so be sure and set your search that includes at least a seven- or eight-day stay.
On the fare maps like Kayak, it’s often difficult to find a good international ticket. So, I often search from Seattle or L.A., particularly if I’m looking for fares to Asia. But the good fare that you see may be a miserable routing.
I’m always hunting for a good fare to Japan. From Seattle, Xiamen Air (a Chinese carrier that flies Boeing 787 planes) has a great rate: just $431 round trip. The catch? It’s a 33-hour journey, with two stops in Mainland China. If you look closely at the map, you’ll find Xiamen also offers dirt-cheap fares to Taipei, Seoul, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Bangkok and a few other cities. The prices are great (less than $500 round trip). But the flight schedules are atrocious.
There are some tabs on the Google Flights page that can help weed out unwanted results and improve your search.
If you want to search a particular airline, or narrow it down to two or three carriers, click on the “airline” tab and select those carriers. You also can exclude certain airlines if you wish.
There’s another helpful tab under the “more” section, where you can request only itineraries under a certain length of time. That way, you can delete results that mandate a long layover.
When you find an itinerary you like on the Google Flights page, you’ll see a link that will take you to the operating airline (usually). Sometimes it will tell you to call a particular airline, which I try and avoid at almost all costs. In that case, you can try booking the fare through an online travel agency (OTA) such as Priceline or Expedia.
The big trend coming up for travel to and from Alaska is the long goodbye as we wave farewell to our fair-weather friends that fly only in the summer. Watch for some end-of-season specials. Some have them right now, while others will come later and still others won’t offer them at all. Here are some dates to watch:
Allegiant Air: The last nonstop flight from Anchorage to Bellingham is on Sept. 2. You still can find $117 round-trip tickets through Aug. 30.
Sun Country Air: Sun Country’s nonstop flights from Anchorage to Las Vegas are $98 each way through Sept. 2. Sun Country’s last nonstop flight to Minneapolis is Sept. 3, but you can get $149 one-way tickets through Aug. 29.
Air Canada: The cheapest deal with Air Canada to Vancouver is $506 round trip, Sept. 10-14. The last flight is Sept. 14.
JetBlue: Nonstop flights to Seattle are available for $77 one-way up through Sept. 14. The last flight is on Sept. 15. To Portland, you can catch a nonstop on JetBlue for $108 one-way between Aug. 15 and Aug. 30. The last flight is Sept. 3.
United: The airline’s nonstop from Anchorage to Newark ends on Sept. 8. Fares are more than $800 round trip. The nonstops from Anchorage to San Francisco and Houston end about the same time. Chicago runs a little longer and United’s nonstop from Anchorage to Denver runs year-round.
American: The airline’s nonstop to Dallas runs all the way through Oct. 2. The price? $727 round trip. American’s nonstop flights to Phoenix end on Aug. 19 ($396 round trip). American also is flying nonstop Anchorage-Los Angeles through Aug. 19 ($290 round trip).
Condor: Condor’s last nonstop Anchorage-Frankfurt flight is Sept. 24 ($560 one-way).
Icelandair: Catch the last nonstop of the season on Icelandair to Reykjavik on Sept. 26 for $523 one-way.
Both Delta and Alaska Air also reduce their flights and frequencies. Delta will end its summer nonstops to Atlanta and to Salt Lake. Alaska will scale back the number of flights to Seattle.
Just as schedules are adjusted for the fall, watch for some nice bargains. And be ready to grab ‘em. Remember — you have 24 hours after you purchase from the airline to cancel without penalty!