Alaska News

Here's how new online tools can mean fewer check-in counters on your next trip

It's a soggy morning in Eugene, Oregon. I'm in the middle of an eight-stop, six city, 10-day tour of the West Coast. That means it's back to "carry-on only" for luggage. There's no real need to unpack, either.

Quick trips like this highlight the modern miracle of air travel, along with the increasing role of technology to round out the edges of a trip. Now that technological tricks like online booking and check-in are available, travelers have more options to make their journey faster, less expensive or both.

At almost every step, from booking to check-in, there are opportunities to upgrade your experience. On quick trips, where you have set appointments, your time becomes more valuable. Airlines and rental car companies know this — and price services accordingly.

For example, I purchased a one-way ticket to Los Angeles with just a few days' notice. The least-expensive ticket on Alaska Airlines was $160, which is a great deal. It's also a red-eye. It also included a stop in Seattle.

My friend in LA strongly encouraged me to fly into Burbank, because of the traffic. Essentially — he wouldn't pick me up at LAX.

But to fly on the same day would cost about $485 one-way. I wasn't a math major in college, but even I could do a quick calculation to determine that was out of my price range.

In the end, I opted for the nonstop flight to LA for $202 on Alaska. Not the cheapest, but it was the fastest. Then it was time to get a car.


Renting a car is part science, part art and part experience. Lately I've had great luck with Costco's car rental booking site, which automatically plugs in any applicable discounts for members.

But renting cars on a weekday can be expensive. For me, it was pricing out at more than $60 per day.

Because they were so proud of their cars on that particular Monday, I opted to try Silvercar. The company only has a few locations, including San Francisco, LA and Austin, Texas. There's no rental counter — everything is handled on a smartphone.

Silvercar only rents Audi A4s. In fact, the company recently was acquired by Audi.

As frequent travelers know, a visit to the car rental counter can be time-consuming and expensive. First there's the waiting, then the pitch for optional insurance and the pitch for the upgrade. Finally, there's the march to find your car and leave the airport.

With Silvercar, make a reservation on your phone, and the company sends a text message when you arrive for pickup instructions. At the lot full of silver A4s, unlock your car by tapping a button on the phone.

The whole process would've been faster, except this was my first rental and I didn't know how it worked. The service isn't cheap: $69 per day, though there's a 30-percent-off promotion on its website right now.

Of course, the Audi A4 is a great car: swift, with a sunroof and a great sound system that played tunes from my phone.

Flying north to Portland from LA, there are a bunch of flight options. Since it's a competitive route, the prices are low. Really low. But not for every flight.

For example, if I'm willing to fly late in the evening, I could take an American Airlines flight for $69. Or, if I didn't mind a stop in San Francisco, it's $77 on United.

Alaska's nonstops started at about $85 for the 6 a.m. flight. To fly in the middle of the day is more. So, I opted for an 8:10 a.m. flight for $139.

You can thank Spirit Airlines for additional downward pressure on prices. The ULCC, or ultra-low-cost-carrier, has one flight per day and the prices start at $51 one-way.

Portland's airport is not nearly as congested as LAX or even Sea-Tac. But mid-week car rentals can be expensive at the counter.

A two-day rental was runs between $55 and $70 per day. So, I took the MAX light rail, which leaves from the terminal all the way to downtown.

The Enterprise car rental office is less than a block from one of the stops and I got a sporty Toyota Corolla for about $27 per day. Trust me, those airport rental fees really add up.

My favorite travel app is Google Maps, which can guide me turn-by-turn to my next destination. It's not perfect, but it's saved me quite a bit of time while traveling on a crowded itinerary. I've even used it to find bus schedules in Seattle, and it's worked like a charm.

I've got a little side trip coming up east of the Cascade Mountains. Typically, the fares for these short flights are higher than competitive routes up and down the coast.


That's where my Alaska Airlines miles come in handy. If you plan 21 days in advance, take advantage of Alaska's new 5,000-mile award for destinations within 700 miles. I didn't, so I couldn't get the deal.

Instead, it's costing about 25,000 miles to fly from Portland and back to Seattle. But it's a much better deal than spending $500 for a short trip.

From Seattle, I got a really good deal on a first-class ticket: $207 one-way on Delta. Here's the extra-special part: since it's before April 30, I still get Alaska Air mileage credits. In fact, since it's in first class, there's an extra 25 percent bonus.

Delta's push for first-class travelers has caused Alaska to drop its fares, too. Right now, the least-expensive first-class fare on Alaska is $276 one-way.

It's time to pack up and head up the highway to my next stop. Thankfully, the coffee is really good in Eugene — and I've got a nice "road trip" playlist on my phone, which plays nicely in the car.

Tech tricks and hacks give me more time to spend with the folks that matter, and less time at the rental counter. And I'm thankful for that.

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 Subscribe to his e-newsletter at For more information, visit