Airfares are a moving target. They go up, they go down, they go all around. They appear, they disappear and they reappear.
Still, since we Alaskans love to travel, there's a certain amount of sport in the quest to nail down a great price to a popular destination. Call it the "game-ification" of travel.
Grab your credit card and your laptop and get ready to score one of these deals before they expire. Fair warning: Rates are subject to change without notice.
Here's my special of the day: Anchorage-Seattle for $207 round-trip on either Alaska Airlines (12 flights daily) or Delta (three flights daily). For the best deals, you have to plan at least 21 days in advance. Oh — forget about spring break. The cheap seats for travel between March 11 and March 23 have been gone for months. Those that remain cost about twice as much. But other dates in March and April are available. In fact, the cheap seats should be available through the end of April.
On May 5, JetBlue drops the fare from Anchorage to Seattle to $203 round-trip on its daily red-eye. I think the fare will drop lower as that date approaches. But when those fares will be available, for how long and for how much … well, those are good questions that I cannot answer.
Moving down the coast, the fare from Anchorage to Portland is available for as little as $204 round-trip, with a stop in Seattle. While Alaska matched Delta's lower rate to Seattle right away, that's not the case for the Portland flights. Still, Alaska's least expensive rate to Portland is $292 round-trip. Alaska's nonstops are nice. But right now, they are priced higher. That, of course, will change in May. That's when JetBlue starts flying its seasonal Anchorage-Portland nonstop. Then, both Alaska and JetBlue offer one-way flights for as little as $101 each way (for the red-eye flights).
Let's skip over San Francisco for a moment. There aren't any super-cheap deals from Alaska to the Bay Area. The best deal to Northern California is between Anchorage and Sacramento for $318 round-trip on Alaska Airlines. There are just a few dates available in February, scattered dates in March — but April is wide open.
But Los Angeles is another story. LAX has been a magnet for cheap fares all winter. Right now, Alaska is offering nonstop flights from Anchorage for between $261 and $264 round-trip. That's a great deal for travel between March 1 and April 30. Delta also offers a $264 round-trip rate through Seattle. In May, JetBlue returns with nonstop flights from Anchorage to Long Beach for as little as $258 round-trip.
JetBlue's nonstop to Long Beach is a sweet flight, particularly if you are connecting to Austin, Texas. Starting May 14, JetBlue is offering flights from Anchorage to Austin for as little as $292 round-trip.
Do you want to leave Anchorage right away? Hop aboard United's nonstop to Denver tomorrow. Then, connect to their Denver-Las Vegas flight. The cost is just $342 round-trip. If you can plan ahead, you can fly on Alaska or Delta for as little as $314 round-trip.
The Anchorage-Phoenix flights are available with little or no advance purchase. Hop aboard American's daily nonstop next week for as little as $353 round-trip. If you can plan ahead, you can trim the fare to as little as $313 round-trip on American. Alaska Air is available for as little as $323 round-trip in February and March (excluding spring break).
Fairbanks travelers also have a good shot at some great fares. From Fairbanks to Seattle, both Delta and Alaska offer a $271 round-trip fare. Alaska flies a 737 on the route, while Delta operates a regional (smaller) jet: an Embraer E-175. I haven't flown this plane, but there are no middle seats. Both Delta and Alaska are buying more of the E-175s.
Between Fairbanks and Portland, Delta is offering rates as low as $253 round-trip. There are a few dates in February, a few in March and a whole bunch of seats in April.
The Fairbanks-Sacramento fare on Delta is $320 round-trip. That's a great rate — but there are just a few dates available in February, with a smattering of non-spring break dates in March. April is looking good, though.
Alaska Airlines offers the best price between Fairbanks and Las Vegas: $318 round-trip. Right now, you can get these cheap seats into May and June.
There are a few good rates available between Fairbanks and Los Angeles in February and March, but not many. The best deals, for as little as $296 round-trip, are available between mid-April and May. Again, the inventory changes all the time, so it's worth it to check back if you don't see the rate you want on the first try.
Juneau travelers also are enjoying some great rates to the Lower 48. This is due in large part to Delta's year-round flights. However, Delta has cut back its 737 service to five days a week until March 6, when it adds a sixth flight. The seventh weekly flight comes back on May 4.
Between Juneau and Seattle, the lowest rate on either Delta or Alaska is $209 round-trip. The good news is it's available with just a one-week advance purchase. And there are plenty of seats available.
Between Juneau and Portland, Delta is offering a $263 round-trip fare. There is no advance purchase required (this is huge). You can leave tomorrow.
From Juneau to Los Angeles, both Delta and Alaska offer a $269 round-trip fare with a 21-day advance purchase.
Finding the best fare on the best flight is part art, part science and part magic. Often, the best price isn't offered on the best flights. Some travelers hate red-eye flights, while other prefer them. There are travelers who can only fly during the school breaks, while others can pick up and go at a moment's notice. There are travelers who simply won't fly if the price is too high, while others must fly, regardless of the price. These are variables that airline analysts dream about to maximize revenue on their expensive aircraft.
Remember, rates and availability are subject to change without notice. Airfares are moving targets. So are frequent-flier plans, credit card bonuses, extra fees and the benefits of "elite status" with your favorite airline.
If you want to hone some of your travel skills, join me on Wednesday, Feb. 17, for "Travel Secrets: Revealed." I'll share some of the latest intelligence on rates, new service and summertime options during the event, then open it up for questions. We'll meet up at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum on Lake Hood, near Rust's Flying Service. This is an evening event (6-9 p.m.), so there's pizza from Moose's Tooth. There also will be travel prizes: some airline tickets, as well as some flights, cruises and tours around Alaska. The cost is $14.95 (plus a $1.81 fee from Eventbrite) and tickets are only available in advance, online at eventbrite.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.