When airfares go low and stay low, travelers start thinking differently about travel. Here in Anchorage, for example, it's not such a big deal to go "Outside" to Seattle or other destinations in the Lower 48 when the airfare is less than $200 roundtrip.
Lower fares already are creeping in for travel to Los Angeles, but the real deals start showing up in the middle of May as the airlines that provide seasonal service start landing. Those carriers include: Condor Airlines, with flights to Frankfurt starting May 7; Frontier Airlines, offering nonstop service to Denver starting May 16; JetBlue, with service to Seattle and Long Beach starting May 17; Icelandair, with nonstop flights to Reykjavik starting May 16; and Virgin America, with nonstop service to San Francisco starting June 6.
These new carriers are upsetting the apple cart of incumbent airlines that fly year-round, including Alaska Airlines, Delta and United. And that means more goodies for travelers. For example, Alaska Airlines has introduced double mileage for all "Club 49" members all summer long on all flights (May 17-Sept, 3, 2013).
Over on the Alaska Travelgram Facebook page, I checked in to see how the lower rates werer being received. Karl Krenz writes, "I just got back from L.A. I would not have gone, but the roundtrip price was less than a one-way ticket to Seattle." Jason Harper adds, "Yep, I'm planning two trips I wasn't thinking about initially. With the lower West Coast fares, it's made East Coast destinations more accessible."
Based on past behavior, travelers can assume fares will be lower all summer long. That said, certain days may be sold out -- and the flights may not be the most convenient. But with the low rates, it may be worth it to fly the red-eye! Let's take a look at the best and the brightest:
Anchorage-Seattle These $196 roundtrip tickets are great! Thank JetBlue for offering this great sale for trips between May 17 and June 27, 2013. JetBlue says their sale is ending tomorrow , Apr. 17, 2013.
Anchorage-Long Beach This is another JetBlue route, which also starts on May 17. The best fare is $296 roundtrip, which is a great fare. Plus -- it's a nonstop flight. Again, tickets must be purchased by tomorrow, Apr. 17. It's almost certain the rates will be low all summer -- but this is the lowest I've seen it in a long time.
Anchorage-Los Angeles/LAX Alaska Airlines started their seasonal nonstop to LAX on April 8 -- and the rates have been low ever since. Right now, you can fly through Phoenix on USAir for as little as $340 roundtrip with a seven-day advance purchase. Alaska's nonstop deals change all the time -- but right now they are available for as little as $318 roundtrip starting on May 20, 2013. Don't forget: double miles!
Anchorage-Denver Frontier Airlines is stirring things up for travel to and from the Mile High City. Right now, you can fly on the carrier's red-eye flight on May 16, 17, 18 or 19, returning the following Saturday (May 25) for $366 roundtrip. Frontier also flies nonstop Fairbanks-Denver, as low as $381 roundtrip for the same dates.
Anchorage-San Francisco When Virgin America's nonstop flights start on June 6, the fare drops to $326 roundtrip. The rates are a little lower in late May, around $348 roundtrip. And just last week, there were tickets available for as little as $263 roundtrip. Virgin Amierca is jockeying for position in the market -- and United is fighting back with their own nonstop between Anchorage and San Francisco.
Anchorage-Dallas American Airlines is starting its seasonal nonstop between Anchorage and Dallas on May 9. American has not been a "low fare leader," but it's encouraging to see the airline offering some deals -- however scarce. Fly on the nonstop on May 10 to Dallas, returning on United via Houston on May 19. The fare? $435 roundtrip.
Anchorage-Austin I'm not quite sure why Texas's capital city is on the list. But why ask why? And sometimes you have to cobble together deals with more than one airline. Fly south on USAir to Austin through Phoenix on June 4. Return on United through San Francisco. The grand total? $348 roundtrip. Awesome!
Anchorage-Reykjavik, Iceland Anchorage welcomes another European carrier this year: Icelandair. The Icelanders have no problem offering up some great rates: as low as $636 roundtrip for travel May 20-June 5. And this is nonstop!
Anchorage-Frankfurt Condor Airlines has offered nonstop service from Anchorage over-the-top to Germany for a dozen years. This year's flights start on May 7. Fares are a little higher, starting at $871 roundtrip May 14-25. But price it out via the Lower 48 on Delta or American, then look how long it takes -- typically 24 hours in each direction. That's when the 9-1/2-hour nonstop starts to look pretty good.
These are just a few of the bargain rates available this spring and summer. The best east coast rates are playing hide-and-seek right now. I was looking at rates between $375 and $400 roundtrip from Anchorage to either Boston or New York for travel in late August and early September.
Will these low rates be available in the peak summer travel season? I think that depends on how mad the airlines are at each other. That's why they call it an "Air Fare War."
Author's note: Fares change all the time. I use a combination of the airline websites and Google's ITA software to find the best rates.
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based travel marketing consultant who has lived in Alaska for three decades, spending much of that time traveling the far-flung corners of the state. Visit his website at www.alaskatravelgram.com and follow him on Twitter at @alaskatravelgrm.