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To find those fleeting, super-cheap ticket deals, check out hub cities where Alaska and Delta are sparring

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: August 3
  • Published August 3

August is here and airlines that will serve Alaska through the winter are wasting no time in fighting for passengers, particularly between Anchorage and the Pacific Northwest, California and select destinations in the Midwest.

Some of the tools I mentioned last week, including the Maps feature at Kayak.com (kayak.com/explore/ANC) and Google Flights (google.com/flights) will come in handy as prices and availability change.

Airfares from Anchorage to key destinations rise and fall with each passing tide, it seems. That’s why it’s important to remember that you can cancel a reservation within 24 hours without penalty. This is a requirement of the U.S. Department of Transportation — not part of any airline’s “low fare guarantee” or lack thereof.

Fares to many destinations dropped last week. The best deals are for travel to Delta’s hub cities: Salt Lake City, Detroit, Atlanta and Minneapolis. Those fares are on Alaska Airlines. The next-best deals are to key Alaska Air cities like Seattle, Boise, Spokane, San Diego and Los Angeles on Delta. Are you starting to see the pattern? Remember: when airlines are mad at each other, the traveler wins. In this case, airlines signal their displeasure with their competition by dropping fares. That’s why travelers can save quite a few bucks if they happen to be watching when the airfare war is raging.

Here are some examples of fall airfares that can save travelers a bundle:

Anchorage-Detroit: Detroit is a big Delta hub and it’s usually hard to get a good fare — until today. Starting on Sept. 19 and going through Feb. 12, 2020, you can get a one-way ticket on Alaska Airlines for $156 one-way. United also has some dates available for $156-$160 one-way. What’s the catch? Long layovers in Seattle if you want to fly on Alaska Air. There are some days with good connections, but most mandate a Seattle layover of between five and 10 hours. The catch on United Airlines is not the layovers — the schedules are pretty good via Denver. Rather, it’s the onerous carry-on luggage fee. At least Alaska and Delta will allow you to carry a regular-sized roll-aboard suitcase that fits in the overhead bin. But United will not allow it unless you cough up more money ($25 in each direction).

Those long layovers are just one indicator that the airline (Alaska Air) really doesn’t want to sell the tickets. Rather, they want the low prices to yield a more favorable position in travel searches. That’s the kind of thing that gets a competing airline’s attention.

Anchorage-Atlanta: This is the main Delta hub. Alaska has introduced a $156 one-way fare from Anchorage, starting Sept. 19 and going through Feb. 10, 2020. Again, there are some days with seamless connections (on Oct. 28, there’s just a 50-minute connection in Seattle). But most dates feature lousy layovers in Seattle. On Sept. 19, for example, the cheapest fare mandates a 8:50 layover in Seattle. Plenty of time, I imagine, to check out the new “Alaska Lounge” in Seattle’s N terminal (for an additional fee).

Two other Delta hubs, Salt Lake City and Minneapolis, also are available for $156 one-way on Alaska Airlines, starting in mid-September. There are spikes in the available prices over Thanksgiving and Christmas, but you can find the good rates all the way through early February of 2020.

So why is Alaska Airlines so mad at Delta Air? So mad it would offer super-cheap fares to all of Delta’s hub cities? Well, Alaska Airlines and its pricing department really doesn’t need a special reason to be upset with Delta. The two airlines recently celebrated five years of doing battle in Seattle after Delta established a hub at Sea-Tac Airport. But my guess is Alaska Air is upset that Delta is offering $98 one-way tickets between Anchorage and Seattle starting Sept. 21.

Oh, there’s more. Between Anchorage and Spokane, Delta is offering a $139 one-way fare starting Aug. 28, with some sweet connections (between one and two hours in Seattle). Alaska Air is offering some cheaper flights between Aug. 22 and Sept. 9 ($118 one-way), but the outbound schedules are terrible. On most days, to get the cheapest fare, travelers must endure layovers of three to six hours in Seattle.

The prices are similar between Anchorage and Boise: $139 each way on Delta starting in late August. The connections are very convenient. Alaska Air has some cheaper fares between Aug. 21 and Aug. 27 ($118 one-way), but the layovers are ridiculous. For example, on Aug. 21, the least-expensive southbound flight (Alaska flight 92) leaves Anchorage at 8:25 p.m. You arrive in Boise on Alaska flight 901 at 2:45 p.m., because there’s 11:15 layover in Seattle.

Delta and Alaska are sparring in Chicago, with prices as low as $171 one-way, starting Sept. 23. Usually Alaska charges $171 one-way with a long layover in Seattle. Delta’s fare of $173 one-way looks a lot better considering there’s usually less than a two-hour layover. The fastest way to Chicago from Anchorage is on a nonstop from either Alaska or United, but those flights cost a bit more.

Flights from Anchorage to key California destinations are very competitive right now. If you’re going to San Diego, you can get a good schedule on Delta for $149 one-way, between Aug. 29 and Feb. 12. Check the same dates on Alaska Air and you may get the same price. But on many dates, there’s a three- to five-hour layover in Seattle.

Between Anchorage and Los Angeles/LAX, both Alaska and Delta offer great schedules and great rates. Alaska has the best schedule, with nonstop flights. They’re priced about $20-$30 more (each way) than flights that stop in Seattle ($150-$160 each way).

Anchorage-San Francisco flights are about the same price as flights to L.A. Starting on Sept. 24, both Alaska and Delta offer tickets for between $150 and $170 each way.

All the fares quoted are for “basic economy “ or “saver” fares. The prices are lower, but you can’t change or cancel the ticket at all. You’ll get mileage credit for your flight, but you won’t get upgraded.

To say “fares are subject to change without notice” is understating the case. It’s more like “fares change so fast it will make your neck snap.” Remember, the lowest of the low fares are the digital equivalent of smoke signals between airlines.

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