Alaska News

Scott McMurren: Fly north to go south, and other tips for cheaper short-notice flights

It's important to regularly examine the ever-changing basics of traveling from Point A to Point B. But it's more important to figure out why you want to go.

Sometimes, the "why" event comes with little or no notice. Maybe it's an impromptu reunion or surprise tickets to a concert. Perhaps it's a last-minute business opportunity. Last week, for me, it was a memorial service for a dear friend. Making a personal appearance is so important -- and frequent, affordable air travel options make it possible.

There are some tricks to getting short-notice bargains, though. Once you're within 21 days of departure, many airfare prices go up. For example, a one-way ticket to Seattle with 21 days' notice is $142. The walk-up rate is $441 each way.

If you need to go south right away, it's helpful to have some miles in the bank. Last week, when I was shopping for a short-notice ticket to Seattle, a one-way ticket was running about $550-$750. It wasn't just that it was short notice. It was that all the planes were full. Even using miles from Anchorage to Seattle was going to cost 30,000 miles one-way.

Through some extra searching, I found an Alaska Airlines flight from Fairbanks to Seattle for just 12,500 miles. It felt funny flying north on Ravn's Dash-8 just to catch the nonstop red-eye going south from Fairbanks, but there were several other travelers doing the same thing. The flights out of Anchorage were totally full.

One note about flying with Ravn to Fairbanks, Kodiak, Homer or their other destinations: There is no TSA security checkpoint. You can leave your shoes on and carry your water bottle on board. Of course, the planes are smaller -- but sometimes I'll go out of my way to avoid the TSA.

If you need to get Alaska Airlines miles in a hurry, you can buy them. It usually doesn't make sense to buy 25,000 miles. That adds up to almost $700. But if you need to top off your account with a few thousand miles, it's a nice option.

If you have a little more time, consider getting the Alaska Airlines Visa card, since it comes with a 25,000-mile bonus, which is enough for a free ticket. The card costs $79 per year -- and also comes with a $99 companion pass (plus fees). We have two of the cards, primarily for the companion tickets -- but the miles come in handy!

If you are looking for Delta miles, the airline's co-branded American Express card features a 30,000-mile bonus.

Just as it's counterintuitive to fly north to head south, you could save money by flying to a different airport. Because of the increased airline competition, not all the cheap tickets require a 21-day advance purchase.

For example, if you're going to Los Angeles, the walk-up fare is $451 one-way. From Anchorage to Las Vegas, you can fly on one day's notice for $169 one-way on Alaska Airlines (changing planes in Seattle and Portland). Although fares change all the time, low fares to L.A. and Las Vegas are often available with little or no advance notice.

Here are a few other sweet short-notice airfares:

- Anchorage-San Jose, California: $174 one-way on Delta This is an instant-purchase fare but I found seats available three days out, via Minneapolis.

- Anchorage-Austin, Texas: $276 one-way on United with two days' notice. That's about half the price of a short-notice ticket to Houston.

- Anchorage-Pensacola, Florida: $274 one-way on United, via Chicago and Houston. No advance purchase is required. You can fly right away at this price.

- Anchorage-Orlando: $246 one-way on United. There is no advance purchase required.

- Fairbanks-San Diego: $279 one-way on Delta. Technically, there is no advance purchase, but practically, it's helpful to have three or four days to plan, as the cheap seats sell out.

- Fairbanks-Orlando: $248 one-way on Alaska Airlines. There's no advance purchase required, but the date I checked included a 10-hour layover in Seattle.

- Juneau-Phoenix: $256 one-way on Delta, via Seattle and Salt Lake. There is no advance purchase required, although your chances are better if you have two or three days' advance purchase.

- Juneau-Boston: $252 one-way on Delta, via Seattle and Salt Lake. This type of ticket is more dependent on available space than advance notice. But I found these seats with two days' advance notice.

When you're planning your short-notice trip, remember that you can buy a ticket and then refund it within 24 hours at no charge.

When it comes to rental cars and hotels, the advance-notice clauses generally do not apply. Still, the sooner you can make reservations, the more choices you will have.

You can shop the individual hotel and rental car sites, or use Priceline or Hotwire if you're interested solely in the commodity of a car and a room.

If you use Priceline or Hotwire, look first at BetterBidding.com or Biddingfortravel.com, both of which offer a list of successful bids for cars and hotels.

The last time I was in Seattle, I used some Chase points from my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to stay at the Hyatt Place near the Space Needle. The Chase card costs $95 per year, but I got 60,000 bonus points when I got the card. It cost me about 40,000 points to get four nights at the hotel, since I was able to transfer the points from my Chase account to my Hyatt loyalty account over the phone. The deal was worth it to me since my conference was just a block away.

Keep in mind that all prices -- airline, car and hotel -- now are "dynamic," which means they change all the time based on demand and competitive situations. You might get a better price if you plan three weeks out. But that doesn't mean you can't get a good deal within seven days. You might have to dig a little deeper, but it's worth it if you'll get to show up at that important event. I did it -- you can, too.

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.

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