Travel

Despite being a thorny time for travelers, low fares are abundant

It’s a confounding time for travelers. On the one hand, airfares between Anchorage and the Lower 48 are low. On the other hand, COVID-19 infections are spiking, filling up hospitals and adding one more layer of risk for travelers.

Those risks are there for all of us, whether you’re traveling to the grocery store or across the country.

I knew that when starting a slightly crazy road trip this week, north from Anchorage to the Arctic Ocean. When the sun came up in Talkeetna, it ushered in a slow reveal of the Alaska Range, including Mt. Foraker, Mt. Hunter and Denali.

After breakfast, I hit the road, headed north. Gazing at Denali at a rest stop just past the Chulitna River bridge, my phone rang.

“Should I go to Hawaii?” a friend asked. She and her family have a long-planned trip to Kauai in October.

“That’s a fair question,” I said.

I explained that Hawaii’s Gov. David Ige is urging tourists to stay away. Also, Hawaii’s hospitals are operating at nearly 100 percent capacity due to more COVID cases. Hawaii is importing hundreds of health care workers from the Mainland to help out. Alaska is, too. When we hung up, my friend told me she still is deciding whether to fly.

A couple of weeks ago, fares from the U.S. to Europe were at all-time lows. While that crop of fares has expired, I expect more low fares will appear soon. But new restrictions are popping up every day.

For example, only fully-vaccinated travelers are allowed to travel from the U.S. to Spain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Sweden, Norway and Bulgaria have closed their borders to Americans. Regulations change frequently.

Closer to home, you must be fully-vaccinated to do a road trip to Canada.

Because there’s so much uncertainty regarding COVID-19, airlines are working overtime to fill their planes, particularly between now and mid-December. For its part, early last week Alaska Airlines had a buy-one-get-one ticket offer. This weekend, the airline is rolling out a 30 percent discount for Visa cardholders. If you already have an Alaska Air Visa card from Bank of America, check your email. Alaska Air sent out a targeted email campaign on Friday morning, offering a 30 percent discount for travel between Oct. 21 and Feb. 8, 2022. Each email has its own unique discount code. Using the discount, the price of an Anchorage-Seattle one-way ticket is as low as $69 one-way.

Delta Air Lines recently introduced free checked bags for its frequent flyers who live in Alaska. Similar to Alaska’s Club 49 offer, Delta will waive the baggage charges for two bags between Alaska and the Lower 49 states. The promotion lasts through Apr. 30, 2022.

Both Alaska and Delta continue to spar in their quest for more passengers. That’s why airfares from Anchorage and Fairbanks are so low. Here are a few examples of low fares available right now:

Anchorage-Phoenix: $149 one-way on Alaska Airlines. The nonstop flights start on Oct. 15. From Fairbanks, the rate is $135 one-way on either Alaska or Delta.

Anchorage-Los Angeles: $142 one-way on Alaska Airlines or Delta, starting Oct. 15. From Fairbanks, the rate is $135 each way.

Anchorage/Fairbanks-Denver: $142 one-way on Alaska Air, starting Oct. 15.

Anchorage-Chicago: $149 one-way on Alaska Air (nonstop), starting Oct. 8.

The return flights are about the same cost — maybe $1 more. All the prices quoted here are “Saver” or “Basic Economy”. If you’re an elite-level traveler, you can’t use any of your upgrades. With Delta, you can’t get a pre-assigned seat. With Alaska, there are a limited number of assigned seats available in the last five ros of the plane.

I just picked a few key cities. There are many others. For an overview of low fares, check out the map at “Google Flights.” You can view the lowest fares to most cities, then click through to see the specific flights. Right now, there still are great rates to the East Coast (New York and Philadelphia) and to Florida (Tampa and Ft. Myers).

In addition to the low fares for tickets, both Alaska and Delta are offering bargains for the frequent flyers who want to cash in their miles.

Right now, from Anchorage to Honolulu, Alaska is charging 15,000 miles each way in November. That’s low for this season. From Anchorage to Seattle, Alaska is asking 10,000 miles in each direction. To Phoenix, the charge is 12,500 miles each way.

On Alaska’s website, the airline is offering their credit cards with a 50,000 bonus miles. If you apply for and are approved for the Bank of America credit card, you’ll have enough bonus miles for a trip to Hawaii. You have to spend a minimum of $2,000 to get the bonus miles — and there’s a $75 annual fee. There’s also an annual $121 companion fare ($99 plus taxes and fees of at least $22).

Delta is offering 70,000 bonus SkyMiles and a $200 statement credit when you are approved for the airline’s American Express Card. Plus, Delta will waive the first year’s membership fee. You have to spend at least $2,000 in the first 90 days to get the bonus miles.

Delta’s SkyMiles are awarded based on what you spend for tickets, not how many miles you fly. From Anchorage to Seattle, Delta charges 6,000 miles each way, starting Oct. 9. From Anchorage to Phoenix, the cost is 7,000 miles each way. From Anchorage to either San Diego ro Denver, it’s 6,500 miles each way, starting Oct. 15.

Whether you’re using miles or cash, prices are low, particularly between now and Dec. 14. That’s because there’s plenty of room on the planes, because many travelers are hesitant to travel.

I can’t blame folks for their “travel hesitancy.” The surging case numbers and the overloaded hospitals underscore our precarious position as we head in to fall.

I got a case of travel hesitancy myself on Friday, pulling the plug on the road trip to Prudhoe Bay. Despite my best-laid-plans, the facts got in the way: blowing snow and slick roads.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you be fully vaccinated before traveling internationally. I think it’s good policy even if you’re traveling across the street.

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