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Discount PFD airfares stack up for lucky Alaskans

Scott McMurren
Loren Holmes photo

Now that most Alaskans are $900 richer thanks to the annual Permanent Fund Dividend payout -- which started showing up in eligible Alaskans' bank accounts Thursday -- more discount Alaska travel deals are bubbling to the surface, both in and outside of the Last Frontier.

The Alaska Airlines PFD sale still is king of the hill, with specials from their in-state destinations like Kodiak and Kotzebue, in addition to Anchorage, to almost everywhere on their system including Chicago, Las Vegas and most destinations they serve in the western U.S. They have a page on their website devoted to the sale.

No other airline or travel company comes close to romancing the PFD deal like Alaska Airlines. But there are other bargains available from other, smaller carriers, so let's take a look. Later, we'll review some developments that should impact prices for next summer.

Era Alaska is offering some great rates between Anchorage and Aniak and between Anchorage and Unalakleet. Fly to either destination for just $89 each way. These are true "fall travel" sales, for travel between now and Dec. 19. There is a seven-day advance purchase, but you shouldn't wait too long, since all tickets must be purchased by Oct. 8.

Penair also is offering a fall sale to many of their Alaska destinations. Like Era's flights, the tickets must be purchased no later than Oct. 8 and travel must be completed by Dec. 19. 

• Anchorage-Unalakleet $89 each way
• Anchorage-Aniak $89 each way
• Anchorage-McGrath $169 each way
• Anchorage-Cold Bay $319 each way
• Anchorage-St. Paul $359 each way

For a complete list of Penair destinations on sale, visit: http://penair.com/alaskaspecials

If you're traveling to the East Coast, United and US Airways are still having a battle of their own, which means two destinations are on sale: US Airway's hub cities of Philadelphia and Charlotte.

Between Anchorage and Charlotte, you still can book tickets into February of 2014 for as little as $380 roundtrip. Depending on the day, US Airways or United may have the lowest fare.

Between Anchorage and Philadelphia, the rates start at $410 roundtrip on either United or US Airways.

Frequent travelers between Anchorage and Minneapolis are familiar with high air fares. The Minneapolis-St. Paul airport is a classic "fortress hub" for Delta. That means rates are consistently high -- and any price cuts are short-lived because Delta is swift with a competitive response. So it's a nice break to see Delta offering nonstop flights from Anchorage for as little as $516 roundtrip. That's not cheap, but it's less than the everyday fares, which can top $700 roundtrip. The best rates are available on Mondays and Tuesdays. It's no coincidence that Delta is offering this deal as Alaska offers a one-stop deal between Anchorage and Minneapolis for $532 roundtrip. Sure, Alaska and Delta are "partners". But that only goes so far, it appears. As always, spite and malice are more important in airfare wars than supply and demand. 

If you're planning on flying next summer, JetBlue has announced it once again will fly Anchorage-Seattle and Anchorage-Long Beach, starting May 16, 2014. The initial fares between Anchorage and Seattle are $242 roundtrip. Between Anchorage and Long Beach, the lowest rates are $296 roundtrip. This is good news for travelers, as Alaska Airlines (and other airlines) likely will offer competitive pricing to Los Angeles/LAX and to other nearby airports like Santa Ana/Orange County, Burbank and Ontario. 

Denver travelers take note: ultra-low-cost airline wizard Bill Franke has put together an offer with Indigo Partners to purchase Frontier Airlines. Frontier flies nonstop between Anchorage and Denver and between Fairbanks and Denver during the summer months. Franke most recently was with Spirit Airlines, but resigned his position to focus on the Frontier takeover. If Spirit's policies are any indicator, travelers could score some great up-front travel deals. But, they may also be greeted with a broad assortment of new fees: early boarding, carry-on bags, credit-card surcharge and such. That said, consumers in other ultra-low-cost markets have shown they are willing to put up with the "unbundling" in exchange for low prices. Business is good.

On the local front, Alyeska Resort is offering a "PFD Flash Sale" with $99 rooms between now and Nov. 25. Rooms must be booked by Oct. 10. 

Again, the purchase deadline for Alaska Airlines' PFD sale is Oct. 29. Anchorage travelers will see other deals come and go throughout the winter months. But travelers outside of Anchorage should take a hard look at their travel plans between now and then to lock in what could be the best travel deal of the PFD season. 

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 or follow him on Twitter for breaking travel news.