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How to Find Alaska Cheap Flights

In one of those strange twists of frequency, Alaska has come up in three travel conversations I’ve had this past week and one podcaster I was listening to was talking about how it was the state in North America he still hadn’t been but wanted to so he was making plans. It feels like a lot of people have the destination on their bucket list. Finding Alaska cheap flights is a tough task though, so here’s a little advice.

Alaska cruise

Traveling to Alaska can offer breathtaking views of unspoiled nature and an encounter with wild places unlike any other section of the United States. Since it’s so far away from the rest of the country, however, it’s quite a journey over a long distance in the air, especially if you’re coming from the eastern half of the country.

Whether you’re going to be visiting Denali, exploring the Kanai Peninsula like I did on my last trip, or looking for the best connection before sailing on a glacier cruise, the flight cost can be significant if you don’t plan well.

Searching for cheap flights involves more than just punching in some dates and hoping for the best deals to pop up. It requires a bit of strategy and flexibility. Whether it’s your first time heading to Alaska or you’re a seasoned traveler looking to stretch your dollars, I’ve got some ideas to help you navigate the process of booking economical flights.

Alaska’s popularity means that flight costs can fluctuate considerably depending on the time of year and demand. To ensure you get the most bang for your buck, it’s important to understand the best times to book, which airlines offer competitive rates, and how to leverage any available discounts.

You’ll probably be flying into Anchorage (Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport—ANC) since that airport has the most Alaska cheap flights thanks to the competition, but don’t think there’s just a big city and that’s it. I rode the rails, camped by a glacier lake, saw lots of animals, and cruised by icy mountains on a boat from there. See the full story here: Gawking at Glaciers in Wild Alaska.

Junea is the capital though and Fairbanks (FAI) is the destination for checking out the Northern Lights. Then there are prop plane and seaplane flights within the country. Alaska has a great rail system too though, so don’t overlook that for getting around in comfort. 

travel to alaska

Here are some ideas on getting to Alaska’s airports for less.

Use Loyalty Points for a Free Flight

My favorite flight price is free, so when I eventually get back to Alaska, I plan on cashing in One World Alliance points to get there and back. OneWorld is the partnership program that American Airlines is part of, so it’s easy to earn on American and cash in on Alaska Airlines. If you have an AA credit card from Citi or Barclays, it’s easy to rank up points by paying your bills.

The more direct option would be to get an Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card, voted tops by the readers of Global Traveler magazine (where I’m a regular contributor) 12 years in a row. As I write this, their sign-up bonus is 70,000 points after the minimum spend, which could get you to Alaska and back from the lower 48 or Canada. Alaska even flies to Mexico if you’re living in Cabo or Puerto Vallarta. This card is from Bank of America and has a $95 annual fee.

One quirky perk to this card is that it enables you to buy a companion pass at a discount. There’s a minimum spend involved, so check the fine print, but you could end up bringing a partner along at a reduced price.

These aren’t your only options though. American, Delta, United, and Air Canada all fly to Alaska too, so if you’ve been saving up frequent flyer points on any of those, cash them in and you’re off to Anchorage. Here’s what it costs in points on American to go about as far as you can possible go in June — Tampa to Anchorage: 

Alaska on frequent flyer points

Use the Calendar Functions for Finding Alaska Cheap Flights

There are three flight search tools I use on a regular basis: Google Flights, Kayak, and Skyscanner. In theory they’re all getting the same data, but they present it in different ways and sometimes you see differences in the prices from one to the other depending on your search history. (Pro tip: clear your browser history and use Incognito Mode when doing a new search. Using a VPN can’t hurt either.)

All of these flight aggregators offer some kind of calendar function that allows you to search a week or a month to see which days are the cheapest and which are the most expensive. You may find that shifting your vacation plans by a day or two will save you hundreds of dollars in the cost.

You can also usually toggle a switch or check a box to have alternate airports show up too. This doesn’t help you much if you live in Iowa, but in a competitive airport city like D.C., NYC, Chicago, or San Francisco, you may find that a different airport has a better flight price.

One gotcha to look out for on all of these though is the dreaded “Basic Economy” option that doesn’t allow any baggage and is usually non-refundable. It’s harder than it should be to turn this off and in Kayak you have to turn it off again for every single search. I’m sure they do this to make the flight prices look more attractive, but it’s really misleading since that’s seldom going to be anywhere close to what you’ll pay, especially for flights to Alaska where you need plenty of layers. I had a heavy coat on in September…

Snag a Good Flight Deal When You See It

A study came out recently showing that flight prices overall are lower than they were before the pandemic and in inflation-adjusted dollars, are cheaper than they’ve been since 2008. This won’t last if the price of oil spikes again or one airline stops flying to where you’re going, so if you see a good price, jump on it.

Most of the flight search engines will tell you if a price is historically low or high compared to the average. They have the data on bookings, so you can probably trust them on this. Don’t “wait and see what happens” if the price is already on the low end of historic norms. Take that deal!

For instance, when I did a search on Google Flights, I found that it was far cheaper to fly in late May than it was in late June, which makes sense because of temperatures and when summer school vacations hit. This handy graph really spells it out:

alaska flight prices calendar

Then when I searched Kayak and Skyscanner, they both told me that the Alaska Air fare shown below was a great deal and that it was below what’s normal on that route. If I were ready to plan that trip, I would pull out my credit card and take it. Just $385 round trip from Chicago! 

flight deal to Anchorage

Set up Alaska Flight Alerts

On the other hand, if you’re not seeing any Alaska cheap flights, you’re probably better off waiting. Airlines are all using dynamic pricing algorithms these days, which means airfares can change by the day or even by the hour depending on demand and sales patterns. If a flight is not filling up, the price will drop eventually.

Thankfully you can let someone else do the searching while you sleep. All the places where you would go to search for flights will be happy to get you on their e-mail list any way they can, so they all offer some kind of alert service for specific routes. Usually while you’re searching, you’ll see some kind of prompt like this one from Kayak that you click on and sign up.

set up a flight deal alert on Kayak

Those prices are not attractive, so it would be better to get on a flight alert list and wait for the Alaska cheap flights to land in your e-mail inbox later. Then when one matches with your vacation plans, jump on it and start planning your trip to Alaska!

Shrey Malli

Friday 19th of April 2024

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