What goes up, must come down.
That’s true for airplanes in general and for airfares to Europe in particular.
Two weeks ago, it was a mad rush to get tickets to more than 40 destinations for about $500 round-trip.
Those fares went away as scheduled, on Nov. 8.
But a variation of the low rates returned soon after. Prices are a little more, but they’re still really cheap. In fact, I checked the detailed rules for tickets from Anchorage to Paris and was surprised to find the actual charge was 50 cents each way. All the rest of the fees and charges amounted to $567.40. That includes a “carrier-imposed surcharge of $386, a $52.10 “United Kingdom Passenger Service Charge Departure” (there’s a connecting flight through London on the return to Anchorage) and a host of other taxes and fees.
The latest collection of fares is another opportunity to see a variety of cities during the offseason. Some of the rates, including to Paris, are available through March 11, while others have a cutoff date of March 5.
From Anchorage, fly to Spain (Barcelona, Madrid), France, Ireland, Poland, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Romania, Hungary, Morocco, Greece and major cities in Scandinavia. Prices range from $500 to $571 round-trip. Some days are a little higher.
There’s no advance purchase for these fares. You can leave this week if you wish. Fares are much higher for peak Christmas travel. There are more available dates in early December, January and February.
All of the best rates are either on United and its Star Alliance partners (Lufthansa, Swiss, Air Canada) or Delta and its SkyTeam partners (AirFrance, KLM, Virgin Atlantic).
Fairbanks travelers can only access the Delta specials, since United doesn’t fly there in the winter.
Honestly, I get a little giddy looking at the low rates. But remember — all of these fares, whether on United or Delta, are basic economy. That means you must pay an extra $180 per ticket to pre-reserve your seats, to check a bag and to earn SkyMiles credit. United does allow basic economy travelers to accrue MileagePlus credit.
Some travelers reached out to me, trying to find airlines where they would earn Alaska Air miles. That includes British Airways, American and Iberia. But the oneworld Alliance isn’t playing this round of fare cuts. There are some isolated examples where I found flights that earn Alaska miles. Between Anchorage and Milan, Delta charges $519 round-trip (Nov. 28-Dec. 4). For the same dates, American Airlines charges $595 round-trip. But there’s a 15-hour layover in London.
Speaking of London, the prices are about $70-$120 more than other European destinations. Traveling later this month (Nov. 27-Dec. 6), Delta had a good connection through Seattle for $647 round-trip. American Air and British Airways have slightly lower prices (from $620 round-trip), but it’s a lousy schedule. The total trip duration is more than 26 hours and includes a stop in Orlando. In Florida!
The published purchase-by date for the best fares is Nov. 21. However, don’t wait until the last minute, as all fares are subject to change without notice — and they change all the time.
If you want to look beyond Europe for a bargain, you can fly to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines for less than $400 round-trip through March 6. From there, take advantage of four money-saving deals:
1. Fly nonstop from Honolulu to Sydney on Jetstar. The airline, which is owned by Qantas, flies Boeing 787s and charges for every little thing separately. That means you’ll pay extra for checked bags, for assigned seats, for snacks and so forth. But the base price is cheap: from $284 round-trip, between Feb. 10 and April 20.
2. Fly nonstop from Honolulu to Melbourne on Jetstar. The airline also flies a Boeing 787 on this route. Prices start at $301 round-trip between Dec. 21 and March 20.
3. Fly nonstop from Honolulu to Tokyo on Zipair, which is owned by Japan Air Lines. Zipair also flies a Boeing 787 and the price is as low as $383 round-trip between Jan. 9 and March 16.
4. Take a nap in your lie-flat seat on Zipair between Honolulu and Tokyo. These business-class seats are available for as little as $1,540 round-trip. Fly between Jan. 9 and March 16.
Travelers can book these rates directly with the airline. However, I recommend searching for the seats on a site like Google Flights. It’s easier to see at a glance what dates have the lowest fares. Then there’s typically a button to click through to the carrier’s website to book.
You should be nervous when an airline tries to simplify things. Typically, that means travelers will end up paying more.
Last week, when Alaska Airlines announced it was simplifying its award structure for partner airlines, I was immediately suspicious.
“Unfortunately, we’ve trained our guests to equate ‘simplicity’ with ‘devaluation,’ but that’s not what this is all about,” said Brett Catlin, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of loyalty, alliances and sales.
Mileage award inflation is going strong in the airline business, including at Alaska Airlines. That’s why you always should use the miles and points that you’ve earned. That’s because your miles are worth more today than they will be tomorrow. You’ve got to “earn and burn” your miles for maximum value.
But this latest initiative aims to corral Alaska Airlines’ 24 different partners into a single mileage-based award redemption plan to make it simpler for travelers to plan.
There are many aspects to an airline loyalty plan: earning miles/points, redeeming points for trips, using a co-branded credit card and premium tiers for upgrades and special perks. Then there are partner airlines, each of which typically have their own loyalty plans, their own credit card deals and their own schemes to reward frequent flyers with status. These differences were reflected in the award levels for Alaska’s Mileage Plan travelers.
One feature of the new award charts is the ability to book Premium Economy for as little as 30% more than coach class. I’ve flown Premium Economy on two of Alaska’s partners: Singapore Airlines and Condor. It’s nice to have a little extra legroom and a bigger seat. In both cases, I could see the lie-flat seats up front. But that’s as close as I got.
Although the mileage-based award chart has been published, the new mileage levels have not yet been loaded into Alaska’s booking portal at alaskaair.com.
There are three Alaska Airlines partner carriers operating in Anchorage: Condor (Anchorage-Frankfurt), American (Anchorage-Dallas and Anchorage-Chicago) and Ravn (in-state destinations).
One important note: The new award chart indicates the minimum number of miles that will be necessary under the new plan. It does not mandate a maximum amount. And there’s no guarantee that the new levels will have space available on every flight. But Catlin claims “all of our partners will have seats available at the ‘starting from’ level.”
Mileage redemption levels solely on Alaska Airlines are not affected by this new adjustment. For example, coach seats still are available between Anchorage and Seattle for as little as 10,000 miles each way.