Travel

While Lower 48 airfares are still high, competition is pushing down the cost of flights from Anchorage to Europe

Bring up the subject of airfares with any Alaskan, and you’d better have a tissue ready. There’s likely to be wailing and gnashing of teeth about tickets to the Lower 48 that cost more than $1,000 round trip.

I just bought a ticket to New Orleans at the end of September for $885 round trip. I wept bitter tears.

But tickets to Europe from Anchorage are getting cheaper, not more expensive. That’s because of competition between Condor Air and Eurowings.

Condor is a familiar name in Alaska. The airline has flown from Anchorage, Fairbanks and Whitehorse to Frankfurt for more than 20 years. Eurowings is a startup leisure airline that landed for the first time in Anchorage on Monday, June 13. It is a subsidiary of Lufthansa.

Both airlines fly three times each week to Frankfurt. Both airlines are based in Germany and use Lufthansa flights to carry passengers to their final destinations, such as Barcelona, Rome, Paris and Athens. Both airlines piggyback on a bigger airline for frequent flyer points: Condor partners with Alaska Airlines while Eurowings works with Lufthansa and United.

Now that the season is in full swing, both airlines are competing on price as well as frequent flyer miles to coax travelers on board.

Recently, the U.S. government dropped the requirement that travelers needed to test for COVID the day before returning to the U.S. Changing this requirement likely will encourage more travelers to consider a trip to Europe this summer. For the past two years, no airline offered nonstop service to Europe. Now there are two.

Prices for last-minute travel to Europe from Anchorage are pretty good. I booked tickets from Anchorage to Frankfurt on Thursday, June 23, returning on June 30 for $840 round trip on Condor. It’s “economy light,” which means there are additional charges for checked bags and seat assignments.

To travel on Eurowings on the same dates, the cost would be much more: $2,464 round trip. That price includes one checked bag.

Starting in mid-July, prices between the two airlines are more similar. Between Anchorage and Rome, Condor charges $1,400 round trip on July 14. Eurowings charges $1,155 round trip, departing on July 18.

Between Anchorage and Athens, Condor charges $1,540 round trip, departing July 17 for a week. For the same dates, Eurowings charges $1,204 round trip. All fares are subject to change without notice — but I tried to line up similar flights and dates.

Travelers can earn-and-burn their Alaska Airlines miles on Condor. Previously, it’s been difficult to secure the nonstop to Frankfurt using miles. But today, you can get an economy seat Thursday, June 23, for 25,000 miles and $98. The better deal is to spend 45,000 miles for a premium economy seat, plus $98. There’s extra legroom and an increased baggage allowance. On the return for June 30, only economy is available, plus there’s a $218 fee. So, to travel round trip in economy, it’s 50,000 miles and $316.

If you’re collecting miles, your Condor flight between Anchorage and Frankfurt will earn you 9,320 elite qualifying miles toward your MVP status.

Since Eurowings is a subsidiary of Lufthansa, travelers can burn their United Airlines “MileagePlus” miles to get a ticket. Next week, starting Thursday, tickets are available for 33,500 miles, plus $5.60. Business class costs more: 73,500 miles one-way, plus $5.60. The return trip on June 30 costs 30,000 in economy, plus $125. So the total price would be 63,500 MileagePlus miles, plus $131.17.

I couldn’t find Alaska mileage seats for destinations beyond Frankfurt on Condor. But on Eurowings, there were MileagePlus seats for 30,000 miles each way to Rome, to Athens and to Barcelona.

There are a couple of booking considerations if you’re looking at Eurowings. The airline has its own website, but you cannot book flights there. You have to book at lufthansa.com, or with your travel agent. You also can book at any of the major online travel agents like Expedia or Priceline.

If you’re going to book with Condor, it’s important to add your Global Entry number in your record when you check in at the airport in Anchorage. This should yield you a “pre-check” boarding pass so you can go through the short TSA line. But Global Entry is supposed to help when you reenter the U.S. as well.

Supposedly, when you have your Global Entry card, you don’t have to fill out the regular customs declaration, which they hand out on the return flight to Anchorage.

However, on arrival in Anchorage, the Global Entry procedure was not working. We stopped at the special kiosk on arrival and it took our picture and printed out a receipt. But we still had to go through the regular line and fill out the paper customs declaration. Hopefully, the process will be streamlined for the increased number of international travelers this summer.

Another heads up for Condor travelers: You must offer the check-in agent your Alaska Airlines frequent flyer number. Don’t forget — or you won’t get the miles.

Although last-minute European travel may be more attractive now that the COVID testing requirement has ended, airports across Europe, including Frankfurt, are having problems dealing with the increasing number of travelers.

According to the German trade union Verdi, the shortage of staff in areas like security control, check-in and baggage handling is hitting large airports such as Frankfurt.

“The situation is only going to get worse,” said Christine Behle, deputy chair of the supervisory board at Lufthansa.

For example, both Lufthansa and Eurowings have preemptively canceled more than 900 flights in July to relieve some of the pressure due to understaffing.

Traveling through Frankfurt Airport earlier this month, we waited more than an hour to retrieve our bags. That’s because our Lufthansa flight from Naples was delayed by more than two hours, arriving after most of the baggage handlers had gone home.

So, if you’re going to change planes in Frankfurt, budget at least three hours to connect. That will protect you if your flight is late leaving Anchorage. Our flight to Frankfurt in May was delayed by two hours. For our return flight, the connections were too tight, so we elected to spend the night before at a hotel. I redeemed some Chase points to stay at a Hyatt property nearby.

Competition between Condor and Eurowings is keeping prices down for nonstop flights to Europe. But prospective travelers should be prepared for “irregular operations” this summer.

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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