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Pandemic-hit airlines are digging into the ‘fare war’ playbook with deals for Alaska travelers

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: March 6
  • Published March 6

When is the last time it cost less to fly to Dallas or New York than it did to fly to Seattle?

The answer is: “Never, until last week.”

This tale of two cities — Dallas and New York — is part of a bigger picture. Airlines are trying everything they can to coax travelers back onto planes. As a group, air carriers are spending more to clean the planes, enforcing universal masking and freeing up some of the middle seats.

But there’s really nothing like dropping fares to get people excited about traveling.

Fares between Anchorage and New York have been trending lower since January. But last week, American Airlines started dropping the fare each day. First it was $117 one-way, then $111, then $100. Right now, American is charging $97 one-way to fly from Anchorage to either LaGuardia or JFK. The return trip is $98 one-way. Tickets are available between May 6 and Oct. 5. Delta has matched the fare.

Alaska Airlines took a different approach, right out of the “fare war” playbook. Instead of matching the fare from Anchorage to New York, the airline dropped the fare to Dallas, an American Airlines hub. So, right now, you can fly on Alaska Airlines from Anchorage to either Love Field or DFW Airport for $97 one-way. This is how airlines communicate with one another to register their displeasure. Usually, it’s quite effective.

If you want to fly Alaska Airlines to New York, it’s not that much more: $127 one-way during the summer.

By comparison, the summertime fare to Seattle is $107 one-way on either Delta or Alaska.

If you want to travel this month to Seattle, there are a couple of days at the end of the month where you can get a $67 one-way fare to Seattle on either Alaska or Delta. Right now, that’s scheduled to go away at the end of the month. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see the lower prices continue through the spring. We’ll find out next week.

American Airlines plans three nonstops from Anchorage this summer: to Chicago, to Phoenix and to Dallas. The airline is using these three flights to offer lowball prices to a bunch of destinations in the Lower 48.

For example, American’s nonstop flight from Anchorage to Chicago is $139 one-way between May 6 and June 9. To fly from Anchorage to Los Angeles, the cheapest fare is on American via Phoenix for $132 one-way, between May 6 and June 9. United Airlines matched that price. The fare for Anchorage-Phoenix on American’s nonstop is just a little more: $141 one-way.

American is not the only airline that’s dropping fares. For example, from Anchorage to Fort Myers, Florida, Delta is offering flights for $137 one-way between March 31 and Oct. 5. American offers the same price, starting May 6.

United Airlines picked Detroit, a Delta hub, for its low-fare leader city. Starting later this month, on March 28, tickets from Anchorage to Detroit are $123 one-way, through May 25. American offers the same price, starting on May 6, through Oct. 5.

Delta and Alaska are offering fares from Anchorage to Denver — a United hub — for $150 one-way. But if you want to fly nonstop, you must choose between United and Alaska. Right now, United charges $329 one-way, while Alaska costs $188 one-way. Alaska’s nonstop flights from Anchorage to Denver run from June 17 to Aug. 16. As we get closer to the June launch of Alaska’s seasonal nonstop, watch for United to match that rate.

Minneapolis is a classic “fortress hub” for Delta. There just aren’t a lot of low fare options for travelers. Occasionally, Alaska Airlines will offer deep discounts to send a message. But right now, it’s Sun Country Airlines, with its seasonal nonstop flights, that’s offering the best fare. Starting on May 14, Sun Country offers tickets for $143 one-way. Keep in mind that, like United, Sun Country will charge you to bring your roller bag with you in the cabin. Sun Country’s return tickets from Minneapolis to Anchorage are priced a little higher: $169 one-way. Still, that’s a little more than half of what Delta charges: $323 one-way.

All the fares I’ve listed are “Saver” or basic economy, and there are differences between the airlines. Only United and Sun Country charge extra for carry-on bags. With Delta’s basic economy, you don’t get an assigned seat until check-in. Alaska Airlines offers a limited amount of assigned seating for its Saver tickets — at the back of the plane. If no pre-reserved seats are available, you’ll get a seat at check-in.

United Air and Sun Country do not offer complimentary pre-assigned seat assignments.

All airlines will charge you to check your bag. But if you’re a member of Alaska Airlines’ Club 49 program, you can check two bags free on your flights to or from Alaska. Most airlines, including Alaska, Delta, United and American, will let you check one bag free if you have their co-branded credit card.

In fact, when it comes to credit cards, more offers are available. That’s because the airline cards are lucrative for the carrier. For example, at delta.com, there’s a new offer when you apply for the airline’s co-branded American Express card. First, the airline offers a $200 statement credit. That’s enough to cover your round-trip ticket to New York from Anchorage. Then, Delta adds 70,000 Skymiles as a bonus, as long as you spend $2,000 within the first three months. Delta will waive the first year’s annual fee of $99.

United Air has a co-branded Visa card called the “Explorer” card. Right now, the airline is offering a $250 statement credit and 35,000 bonus miles. The statement credit almost is equal to the cost of a roundtrip ticket to Detroit. United is waiving the $95 fee for the first year. To get the 35,000 bonus miles, you have to spend $2,000 within the first three months. Interestingly, United offered a stand-alone 60,000-mile bonus offer with the card — without the statement credit.

I already have two of the Alaska Airlines Visa cards. But on two occasions, I applied for and received a third card to top off my mileage account. Or, one time, I did it to get an extra companion pass — you get one pass each year with the card. Right now, Alaska Airlines is offering two types of sign-up bonuses. The first is a stand-alone 50,000-mile bonus, with a $2,000 minimum spend. That’s a good offer, I think. You’ll find it on the homepage at alaskaair.com. The other offer is displayed as you’re booking your flight. You’ll see it in the left-hand margin of your screen. It’s a $200 statement credit, plus 30,000 bonus miles. That’s more than enough to cover your Saver ticket to Dallas and back. There’s a $75 annual fee.

The credit card offers go up and down, but generally you’ll get enough bonus points to score a free trip.

Are you ready to jump through the hoops to get a free trip? Are you ready to fly if the fares are super-cheap? The airlines hope so, that’s for sure.

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