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Trying to score a cheap plane ticket? It pays to know a little bit about the larger forces at work.

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: October 19, 2019
  • Published October 19, 2019

Happy travelers are flexible travelers. That’s because schedules change, fares change and it seems there’s always something that comes up to alter our best-laid-plans.

But it’s also helpful to be prepared, so you might see the change coming. There are plenty of new developments in airline-land that might affect your future plans.

First, I’m sorry about some of the great fares to Barcelona and Madrid I wrote about last week. By the time the paper came out on Sunday, the deals were gone. Sometimes that happens. The good news is they will be back. I’m a little shy about giving specifics this week, because I don’t want them to disappear again. But my advice is to keep looking for good fares from Anchorage to Frankfurt, Zurich, Paris, Milan and Barcelona.

The best deals to Europe typically are between mid-November and mid-December, then again between January and May. By the time May rolls around, Alaskans start looking at nonstop options to Europe, including Icelandair and Condor. Icelandair will return to Anchorage on May 11 for twice-weekly service to Reykjavik. Condor’s future is more tenuous.

Condor was caught up in the collapse of its owner, Thomas Cook, the large British travel agency. However, the airline still is flying its schedule and has secured a loan of almost $500 million from the German government. Under the agreement, the airline has a provisional administrator, Lucas Flother. “I am confident that, at the end of this process, a new partner for Condor will be found, securing a sustainable future for the airline and enabling further growth,” he said recently.

Before the collapse of Thomas Cook, Lufthansa was considering buying back Condor (Condor was owned by Lufthansa until 2009). In the interim, Lufthansa’s low-cost subsidiary, Eurowings, plans to fly three nonstop flights per week between Anchorage and Frankfurt this summer.

If there are two healthy airlines competing on the same route this summer, it’s likely that fares will come down. One important difference is that Eurowings, as a subsidiary of Lufthansa, is a mileage partner of United Airlines. Condor is a partner of Alaska Airlines.

Speaking of United Airlines, the carrier is boosting its flights from Anchorage next summer. United flies a single nonstop from Anchorage to Denver all year round. During the Christmas rush, United brings back its Anchorage-Chicago nonstop, which ends in early January. Then it starts up again on April 3. In June, the airline resumes its Anchorage-San Francisco nonstop on June 4, as well as its daily nonstop to Houston. Then, on June 8, United resumes its daily Anchorage-Newark flights. This year, United is adding a daily Anchorage-Los Angeles flight, starting June 18.

American Airlines used to be a mileage partner of Alaska Airlines. Then, as Alaska Air acquired Virgin America, the mileage arrangement started to degrade. Soon, you could only earn Alaska miles on American flights booked as “Alaska” through their code-share arrangement. But, effective March 1, 2020, travelers will not be able to redeem Alaska Air miles for American flights.

In the meantime, American is beefing up its flights from Anchorage during the summer. Anchorage-Phoenix is gone, but Anchorage-Chicago is taking its place, with nonstop flights starting on May 7. That’s the same day American resumes its seasonal Anchorage-Dallas nonstop. Then, on June 4, American is adding a daily Anchorage-Los Angeles flight.

That means there will be three airlines competing for nonstop passengers between Anchorage and Los Angeles, as well as Anchorage-Chicago. Watch for lower fares on these routes.

If you’re looking for a really cheap ticket, you might find one on Allegiant Airlines, starting on May 22. The cut-rate carrier plans to resume Anchorage-Bellingham flights next May, with prices starting at $111 each way. I expect the base fare will drop considerably between now and then. But there’s a charge for everything else: online booking, checked bags, carry-on bags and of course food and drink.

There’s no word yet from Sun Country Air, which last year offered really cheap tickets from Anchorage to Las Vegas. The Minnesota-based airline also offered three flights a day between Anchorage and Minneapolis. Stay tuned.

JetBlue is not coming back, which means prices from Anchorage to Seattle and Portland could be a little higher next summer.

The big factor for Anchorage-Seattle fares will be the ongoing war between Alaska Airlines and Delta.

Delta flies year-round nonstop flights between Anchorage and Seattle and between Anchorage and Minneapolis. On May 22, the carrier will resume its popular Anchorage-Atlanta nonstop. Then, on June 10, travelers can fly nonstop from Anchorage to Salt Lake City five times per week.

Alaska Air offers more jet service from Anchorage to the Lower 48 and Hawaii than all the other airlines combined. The airline maintains its service to Honolulu year-round (Anchorage-Maui and Anchorage-Kona end March 17). The other year-round nonstop flights include Anchorage-Seattle and Anchorage-Portland. The Anchorage-Los Angeles nonstops run every day for most of the year, though there are some gaps between now and early December. After December 18, the flights are back on a daily schedule.

Alaska Air’s Chicago nonstop from Anchorage runs during Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Break. But it isn’t until April 26 that the Chicago flight resumes a daily schedule. Also in April: Alaska Air is resuming its daily Anchorage-San Francisco nonstop on April 21.

For many flights, the planes and crew are schedule way before prices are set. That’s the nature of airfares. They change all the time. If you see a fare that you like, buy it. You have a federally mandated 24-hour grace period during which you can cancel without penalty.

After all, part of being a happy, flexible traveler is being able to grab a good deal — before it’s gone!

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