Travel

Fares are going up, but a good strategy can help you capitalize on some below peak-season rates

What’s up with airfares this year?

Well, just about everything, according to some analysts. The cost of jet fuel and pent-up travel demand are two important factors that add upward pressure to fares.

“Demand and higher jet fuel prices together are really driving overall domestic airfare up,” said Haley Berg, an economist at Hopper, a travel website.

The average fare in the U.S. went up 5.2% last month, according to Scott Keyes at Scott’s Cheap Flights, a fare-watching website.

But just like politics, all airfares are local. Sure, most rates have gone up, but for Alaska travelers, they’re still well below peak season rates.

For example, travel to Europe this spring still is a great bargain. To get the best available rates, you’ll need to travel between the end of April and mid-to late May.

Earlier this year, there were great rates to Europe between $400 and $500 round trip. But you had to travel by the end of April.

This new crop of discounts is available for travel as late as May 29. Here are some of my favorites:

Fly from Anchorage to Rome on United for $682 round trip. Travel through May 25. The price goes up for travel during the summer, between $1,000 and $1,300 round trip. These are “basic economy” rates, so you’ll pay extra for checked bags and pre-assigned seats.

From Anchorage to Madrid, fly on Delta for $674 round trip. Travel through May 27. To fly during the summer, the cost is higher: $1,000-$1,200 round trip.

Similar springtime deals are available to other popular destinations like London, Paris and Athens.

[Travel chaos from pilot shortage just part of Alaska Airlines’ headaches]

If you want to fly to Africa, check out the fare from Anchorage to Nairobi, at $844 round trip on Delta, plus partners KLM and AirFrance. Travel between April 17 and May 15, before the rates start to go up. But prices come back down again between September and December. These months are much better if you’re hoping to see wildlife. Of course, the critters are there year-round, but it’s much less rainy in the fall.

Right here at home, fares are creeping up. But fierce competition between the airlines keeps those fares in check.

For example, fares between Anchorage and Seattle are on the rise. But just a little bit. Right now, you can fly between Anchorage and Seattle for $200 round trip from April 28 to May 29. Summertime rates range from $264 to $550 round trip on both Delta and Alaska Airlines.

Tickets to Portland from Anchorage on Alaska Airlines’ nonstop flights are available from $200 round trip between April 29 and May 13. The summertime rates are more dramatic: from $300 to $817 round trip. But these rates are subject to change — and they change all the time.

It’s easy to get lucky and find a great rate to Las Vegas, especially on Alaska Airlines’ nonstop: from $278 round trip for travel through May 28. There’s no advance purchase — you can fly as soon as Monday, April 11. Summertime fares range between $300 and $408 round trip.

Whether you’re flying to San Francisco or Los Angeles, there are cheap fares this spring. From Anchorage to L.A., Alaska Airlines’ nonstop is $159 one-way — $320-$330 round trip — between April 29 and May 24. To San Francisco, both Delta and Alaska offer tickets for less than $340 round trip. Fly between April 29 and May 24. Summertime rates from Anchorage to San Francisco range from $447 to $551 round trip.

Alaska Airlines is flying nonstop from Anchorage to Honolulu every day throughout the summer. Springtime rates from April 26 to May 25 range from $376 to $576 round trip. Summertime rates range from $447 to $577 round trip. For flights to Kona, Maui and Kauai, you have to fly via the West Coast or change planes in Honolulu. The nonstops to Kona and Maui will return in the fall.

You still can snag a cheap ticket to Florida or New York, but they are available only on a few days. And the return tickets are much more expensive. For example, fly on select days May 9-17 from Anchorage to New York’s LaGuardia Airport on United for $111 one-way. Fly from Anchorage to Tampa on May 8 or May 14 for $129 one-way on Delta.

From Fairbanks, it’s still cheap to fly nonstop to Seattle: $200 round trip on Alaska or Delta, between April 28-May 12. Summertime rates range from $280-$360 round trip.

If you’re traveling from Juneau, Sitka or Ketchikan to Seattle, rates will drop from $300-$330 round trip to $200 round trip on June 7. That’s when Delta resumes its seasonal nonstop service.

Because of the unbundling of the elements in a plane ticket, there are more ways to spend money and drive up the cost of your ticket.

For example, do you want to take advantage of Flair Airlines’ $66 one-way ticket from Anchorage to Vancouver, British Columbia, this summer? Chances are good that you’ll buy one of the airline’s “bundles” which includes a carry-on bag and maybe a checked bag. If you want pre-assigned seats, you’ll pay extra for that.

Most of the prices quoted above are “basic economy” or “Saver” fares. If you’re flying to Europe from Anchorage, it’s about $150 round trip to get pre-assigned seats and a checked bag.

One more price that’s going down: Alaska Airlines is reducing the rate for its Gogo inflight internet. The new price is $8 per flight and many of Alaska’s jets have the new satellite-based internet service, which offers faster speeds.

So while jet fuel and increased demand are nudging prices upwards, fierce competition keeps the fares in check.

Scott McMurren

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at zoom907@me.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.

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