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Cheap fares and cheap tricks for Alaska travelers

Scott McMurren

Travelers in Alaska really get around. That's why they're always hunting for a good deal on airline tickets. And while there's a huge appetite for tickets to Hawaii in November -- on Alaska Air's new nonstop to Kona, for example -- let's not forget our always-sunny destinations around the state. 

Typically, plane tickets cost more during June, July and August to accommodate the tourist trade. But right now there are some sweet spots around the state that are downright cheap. And the expensive destinations? Read on for the "judo chop" to make them more affordable! 

Fly between Anchorage and Fairbanks for just $218.10 on Alaska Airlines between July 10 and Aug. 7. This is a great rate. You have to purchase the tickets at least two weeks ahead of time, but it's worth it. Bask in 80-degree weather. Head up to Chena Hot Springs. Take an air tour up to Bettles Lodge above the Arctic Circle. Go on the popular "Riverboat Discovery" run by the Binkley family. Visit the Morris Thompson Cultural Center. There's lots going on in the "Golden Heart City."

Head from Anchorage to Kodiak for $232 roundtrip on Alaska Airlines between July 10 and July 23. I love Kodiak. The fishing is fabulous. So is the beer. Stop in and say hello to Ben Millstein, owner of Kodiak Island Brewing Company. I'm especially fond of the "Night Watch Porter" that he makes there.

Make time in Kodiak to sail with Marty and Marion Owen on the Sea Breeze. Each day, they put together a gourmet meal of fresh Alaska seafood, along with some organic greens from their garden. The Galley Gourmet cruise is a popular way to combine wildlife viewing with a delicious meal.

Still hungry? Check out the sushi at the Old Powerhouse Restaurant. Or the French cooking at Mill Bay Coffee Company. I'm not kidding -- both of these restaurants serve up delicious fare. 

Hike around Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park. There are some great vistas where you can see miles of ocean (and maybe some whales). Check out the military history museum at Fort Abercrombie. Volunteers have assembled a huge collection of wartime memorabilia from World War II. Don't miss it.

Speaking of Kodiak museums, there are two others you should see: The Alutiiq Museum and Baranov House. Both are downtown within a block of the ferry terminal. 

Fly PenAir to either Aniak or Unalakleet for as little as $258 roundtrip. I have not been to either destination, but fishing and wild adventure have to be on the agenda! Of course, the fares work both ways for travelers coming into Anchorage. 

If you've ever wanted to visit Adak and were scared off by the cost -- I can't blame you. The least-expensive ticket on Alaska Air's twice-weekly nonstops is a budget-busting $1,203 roundtrip. And Dutch Harbor isn't much better. PenAir flies the route on behalf of Alaska -- and the price is consistently more then $900. Right now, it's hovering around $958. 

Listen up, folks. This is what frequent flyer miles are for. If you hear me beating the mileage plan drum over and over, this is why: for 15,000 Alaska Air miles, you can fly roundtrip to either Adak or Dutch Harbor. Heck, the same is true for travel between Anchorage and Barrow, Ketchikan or a host of other Alaska destinations. It's the best deal going. 

If you don't have enough miles on Alaska Airlines, go ahead and get an Alaska Airlines credit card. You get 25,000 miles just for getting the card. There is a $75 fee, but you also get a $99 companion fare certificate. I think it's worth it -- which is why I have two of the cards myself. 

You also can go to the Alaska Airlines website and purchase miles. It costs $412.50 to buy 15,000 miles -- still a lot cheaper than paying the published fare. 

Once you're in the mileage game, you'll understand the importance of double-miles promotions, like the ones Alaska Airlines is running between Anchorage and Los Angeles, Seattle and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., or Portland, Ore. and Washington, D.C.

Are you still looking to get out of Alaska this summer? Fly from Anchorage to Long Beach for as little as $319 roundtrip on JetBlue in August. Or, travel from Anchorage to Phoenix in July and August for as little as $467 roundtrip. Is Europe on your mind? Fly nonstop on Condor from Anchorage to Frankfurt for $818 roundtrip, Sept. 25 through Oct. 2. 

Of course, plane rides are not the only way to go on vacation. Take a ride with Princess Tours on their private rail cars between Anchorage and Denali National Park. Next month you can get a package that includes your train ride from Anchorage to Denali Park and two nights at the Denali Princess. That's plenty of time to take a tour into the park to see all the critters. The cost is $299 per person. Bring your camera.

You also can take the train from Anchorge to Talkeetna (on Princess's private rail cars), then get a ride from the station to the McKinley Princess -- and stay for two nights. The cost? Just $259 per person, double. While there, take a flightseeing trip and go on a jetboat adventure. 

Since the sun is out all night long, you've got plenty of time to sit up late with your calendar and plan out some great adventures. I'll see you at the airport.  

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 Twitter.com/alaskatravelgrm for breaking updates.