Travel

While free travel perks and trips are increasingly rare, they aren’t totally extinct

Delta Free WiFi

The best things in life are free.

For travelers, the inventory of “free” stuff has been on the decline for more than a decade. Gone are the free meals, the checked baggage, changes and cancellations and pre-assigned seats. Instead, many of the free add-ons now are attached only to higher-cost airfares or reserved for top-tier frequent flyers.

Delta is bucking that trend. The Atlanta-based airline, which serves Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau from its Seattle hub, announced it will offer free satellite-based internet access starting next month.

The free offer is in partnership with T-Mobile, the wireless phone service provider.

T-Mobile already offers its subscribers inflight internet access. But the new offer is available to all travelers, as long as they have a Delta SkyMiles frequent flyer account. It’s free to sign up for SkyMiles.

Starting Feb. 1, Delta aircraft that have satellite access will offer the free Wi-Fi. That includes flights between Anchorage and Seattle — because I’ve paid extra for the fast service on a flight.

Delta’s CEO, Ed Bastian, announced the free Wi-Fi initiative at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Our vision has long been to deliver an experience at 30,000 feet that feels similar to what our customers have available on the ground,” said Bastian.

Another feature of the free in-flight internet promotion is Delta Sync, which will offer more in-flight entertainment options. This new program will start up in the spring.

By the end of 2023, Delta plans to offer the free Wi-Fi on more than 700 satellite-equipped aircraft. By the end of 2024, the airline aims to offer the service on its international flights, as well as aboard regional aircraft such as the Embraer 175. Delta’s regional partners fly the E175s from both Sitka and Ketchikan to Seattle during the summer.

Alaska Airlines also offers fast internet connectivity using satellites, although many of its aircraft still offer Gogo, which connects via ground-based antennas, especially within Alaska.

If you’re on an Alaska Air jet with satellite internet, you can access the service for $8 per flight.

Alaska Airlines knows, however, that “free” is a powerful marketing tool. That’s why, more than 10 years ago, the airline launched the Club 49 program for Alaska residents. The one outstanding feature is the offer to check two bags for free on flights to or from Alaska.

Delta, as it increased the number of flights between Alaska and the Lower 48, finally matched the two-free-bags offer.

Even so, some travelers reported that not all Delta check-in staff around the U.S. were familiar with the promotion and refused to waive the checked-bag fees. So travelers should provide the Delta customer service staff with the promotional reference code: 218503.

It’s easy to get excited about the free things while you’re flying around. Of course, you need to purchase an airline ticket to get them (or cash in some “free” airline miles).

But in communities around Alaska this month, there are plenty of free things to see and do. But yes, you have to get there in the first place!

Cathy Renfeldt is in charge of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce. When she calls on the phone, I know she wants to let the world know about the Iceworm Festival.

Cordova’s signature festival starts on Jan. 28. The whole community is involved, with variety shows, photo shows, fireworks and a unique hunt for the “Iceworm Tail.”

Clues for the Iceworm Tail contest are broadcast on the local radio station, KLAM. The person who finds the Iceworm Tail wins $100 and (more importantly) gets to march with the Iceworm in the parade.

The parade, which features a new 100-foot Iceworm, takes place this year on Saturday, Feb. 4 at 1 p.m.

“Everyone should see it once … or twice,” said former Cordova Mayor Margy Johnson. “The Iceworm Parade was my favorite part of being mayor.”

Between Jan. 28 and Feb. 4, there are dozens of community events, some of which are free. Choose from the crowning of Miss Iceworm, the talent show and the “shuck and suck” oyster shucking contest. Pay extra for a workout in the “beer mile.” The beer mile participants run four quarter-miles and drink four beers. “Please plan safe and legal transportation to and from the event,” is the disclaimer listed on the schedule of events.

Cordova saves its best fireworks for the Iceworm Festival. Watch them this year on Saturday, Feb. 4, between 8 and 8:30 p.m.

ADVERTISEMENT

You can’t drive to Cordova. But Alaska Airlines is offering a discount to fly over from Anchorage. Use code “ECMW428″ at Alaska Airlines’ website to save 7%. The Alaska Marine Highway System also sails from Whittier to Cordova if you want to bring your car.

Up north in Talkeetna, the community is hosting the Talkeetna Ice Festival, Feb. 1-5, with plenty of activities. Some are free, others cost money.

Try your hand at ice carving on Wednesday, Feb. 1, from noon to 10 p.m. at the Village Park.

On Saturday, Feb. 4, from 12-3 p.m. at the Village Park, there’s an ice carving demonstration, a scavenger hunt, family-friendly games and even a “Dog Keg Pull” down Main Street. Later, watch the fire dancers at the Sheldon Community Arts Hangar.

The next day, Sunday, Feb. 5, sign up for the “Poker Ski,” which starts at noon. Later, do some curling at Talkeetna Elementary School.

So go ahead — take some photos of the free Iceworm Parade in Cordova, or the free ice carving demonstration in Talkeetna. And then send an email to your friends flying overhead with their free inflight internet.

Don’t miss out on all the “free” stuff going on this winter, whether you’re in the air or on the road around Alaska.

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.

Sponsored