When you hear people say they’re going to “explore our own backyard” this summer, they’re not talking about Alaska. Alaska doesn’t fit in anybody’s yard. It’s huge, and it takes more than one or two summers to explore.
Plus, to limit your exploration to the road system is like saying you’re going to explore the front porch. To fully explore Alaska, you’ll want to travel by plane.
With the COVID-19 pandemic in full bloom, demand for air service has bottomed out. But it’s starting to come back — and for short flights around Alaska, there are some really good deals.
Mind you, it’s still more expensive to fly to Cordova than it is to Seattle. But this summer might be the time to cash in a few of those Alaska Airlines miles.
There are 14 destinations that you can fly to from Anchorage for 5,000 miles in each direction on Alaska Airlines. Compare that with airfares of up to $500 one way, and you can understand why airline miles still are valuable.
Wendy Raney runs the Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova. It’s set at the edge of town and has kayaks that guests can launch from the beach.”We have an adventure package, which includes accommodations, meals and access to the kayaks,” she said. “It’s $185 per person, per day.”
In addition to kayaking, the lodge can arrange for wildlife charters in Prince William Sound or for fishing trips. “People can bring their own gear, but it’s not necessary — we have it. You can go saltwater fishing for $335 per day and that includes lunch and all the cleaning and processing of your catch,” she said. “There’s also fresh-water fishing for red salmon on the Eyak River for $185 per person.”
One advantage to the mileage award tickets on Alaska Airlines is there’s no advance purchase required. For many of the destinations, you can get on a plane tomorrow for 5,000 miles in each direction.
Last year, Laurie Booyse moved from Anchorage to Sitka, landing a job with the city’s visitors bureau. “You’ve got to come see the Fortress of the Bear,” she said. “You have to make reservations for your visit online, but they have a new glass enclosure where you can be on the same level as the bears.” The fortress is set up for visitors to get a close look at both brown and black bears from the region.
Sitka has another wildlife rehabilitation center, the Alaska Raptor Center. Right now, you can see bald eagles, golden eagles, owls, falcons and hawks. The center is located on 17 acres, featuring a giant indoor flight training center.
“Aspen Hotels has a $99 deal for Alaskans,” Booyse said. “Most of our restaurants and many of our smaller tour providers are open.”
Tickets from Anchorage to Sitka are available for 5,000 miles each way starting July 1.
If you want to go to Kodiak, you can hop a flight for 5,000 miles starting July 12.
“The best things to do are outdoors,” writes Marion Owen, who lives in Kodiak with her husband, Marty. “Rent a car and drive out the road. See buffalo, whales and wildflowers galore. Hike our amazing trails at Ft. Abercrombie State Historical Park. Then drive to the top of Pillar mountain for a stunning 360-degree view.”
Owen and her husband also host wildlife viewing cruises on their boat, the Sea Breeze. There’s a minimum of four travelers required. Prices range from $250-$450 per person, based on the itinerary. Owen is an accomplished photographer, so she’s always hunting for just the right opportunity to see whales, puffins, eagles, sea lions and other critters in the area.
If you go to Kodiak, you can’t miss the harbor — it’s right in the middle of town. There are many charter operators, including Lukas Bercy, the skipper of “Moonlight,” a 43-foot boat that can accommodate 20 people. “We only take out eight fishing clients at a time,” he said. “One of the unique things about fishing in Kodiak is that you can limit-out on halibut, salmon, rockfish and lingcod.”
Bercy has fished in Kodiak for five years. The regular rate for a charter is $375 per day. Bercy is offering a $100 discount for Alaska residents this summer ($275). Call for reservations or more information: 215-313-6031.
Several destinations from Anchorage, including Nome, Kotzebue and Utqiagvik, have supplemental travel restrictions to keep out the casual traveler during the pandemic.
Alaska Airlines just restarted daily service from Anchorage to King Salmon and Dillingham. Many folks fly out to King Salmon to access Katmai National Park and Brooks Falls, which is famous for bear viewing. Right now the park is only open to day-trippers at Brooks Camp. The campground and adjacent lodge don’t open until July 23.
So if you want to go between now and July 23, the Alaska Airlines mileage strategy will only work if you spend the night in King Salmon and fly on Katmai Air ($230 round trip). The 5,000-mile tickets to both King Salmon and Dillingham are available from Anchorage right now.
Fly to either Fairbanks or Juneau right away for 5,000 miles one way. The communities are open for business, except for the high-capacity tourist-driven businesses like the Riverboat Discovery in Fairbanks and the Mount Roberts Tram in Juneau. They’re both closed for the season.
Real adventurers will pick one of the other destinations from Anchorage: Cold Bay, Petersburg, Gustavus or Bethel … any for 5,000 miles in each direction. What’s open? What is there to do? Who will you meet? I’d like to know.
This is a great summer to use your Alaska Airlines miles to see more of Alaska.
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