As Alaska flight options multiply, here’s what looks good — and what doesn’t

Travelers have so many questions. “What’s on sale … and what’s not?” “Who’s flying and who’s not?” “Which border is open … and which is not?”

For the past year, it’s been a struggle to plan, because of the raging COVID-19 pandemic. Flights were canceled, borders were closed and most people just weren’t going anywhere.

Now that more travelers are getting vaccinated, there’s a little more confidence — and more routes are opening up, even though international travel still is hobbled by COVID.

What’s on sale? Tickets from Alaska to most destinations in the Lower 48. Travel in May and June is really cheap to destinations like Washington, D.C. ($129 one-way on American), Atlanta ($119 one-way on Delta’s nonstop) and Orlando ($129 one-way on American). Even prices to hubs like Houston, Detroit and Minneapolis are on sale.

What’s not on sale? Hawaii. The world knows that COVID-19 infection rates are low in the islands. So travelers are jumping through the testing hoops to get there. Alaska Airlines offers nonstop flights from Anchorage to both Maui and Honolulu. Prices are $298 one-way.

But there are changes for travelers headed to Hawaii. In Maui, travelers will be subject to an additional COVID-19 test on arrival, according to Maui Mayor Michael Victorino. The mayor hopes to launch the program by late May.

International destinations also are not on sale, because most of the borders still are closed. There are some countries that still welcome U.S. visitors, but you may want to think twice about going to areas in Mexico or Brazil where virus numbers are on the rise.

Who’s flying? Airlines that fly year-round to Alaska, including Alaska Airlines, Delta and United are adding more flights. So are summer-only carriers like American Airlines and Sun Country. In fact, American Airlines has upgraded its nonstops from Dallas and Chicago to Anchorage to Boeing 787s.

Who’s not flying? Eurowings. The airline was scheduled to start flying from Anchorage to Frankfurt in June. Since much of Europe is once again in a pandemic-related lockdown, the airline is going to wait until 2022. I suspect the same will be true of Condor.

A shopper pauses to look at a sign spelling out the word ’Denver ’ while shopping in the Denver Pavilions Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Frontier Airlines flies twice each week between Anchorage and Denver starting June 10. The cheapest fare on Frontier is $78 one-way on their nonstop flight. That price does not include a seat assignment and you cannot bring a regular-size carry-on aboard. There are strong incentives to get you to buy a bundle of “perks” for $43 that includes a seat assignment, a carry-on bag and a checked bag. Add these two charges together and the Frontier flight costs the same as nonstop flights offered by Alaska Airlines or United.

But the “low fare, high fee” model is the preferred business plan for ultra low-cost carriers like Frontier, Allegiant, Sun Country and Spirit. Even if you never fly a “ULCC,” you can thank them for keeping fares low at legacy airlines.

The same is true for Anchorage-Minneapolis nonstops on Sun Country Air. Right now, the airline offers nonstop flights for as little as $114 one-way, without any carry-on bags, seat assignments or checked bags included. Flying on Delta’s plane costs just $119 one-way. At least you can bring a full-size carry-on bag aboard.

As airlines “unbundle” the travel experience, flyers end up shelling out extra money for lots of things that used to be included. All of the prices I mention are for “saver” or “basic economy” tickets. Usually, that means the tickets are non-changeable, there’s no seat assignment and you board last.

Since I like to pre-reserve an aisle seat, I don’t buy the “saver” class. Usually, a main cabin ticket costs about $30-$45 more each way. There are additional charges for extra legroom in premium class (called “Comfort+” on Delta).

While tickets to many popular cities are on sale now, so are fares to gateways to some of the Lower 48′s wide-open places. From Anchorage to Bozeman, Montana, the fare is just $109 one-way (saver fare) in May on either Alaska Airlines or Delta. Bozeman is close to Yellowstone National Park.

If you want to go to Utah to see the state’s national parks, you can fly nonstop on Delta to Salt Lake City for $109 one-way. If you have your heart set on the Grand Canyon, you can fly to either Phoenix or Las Vegas for $119 one-way in May.

In this May 15, 2020 file photo, Tanya Wyler takes a photograph as Matthias Zather and Ines Zather, all of Switzerland, gather at the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

In addition to dropping fares, airlines are getting more competitive with frequent flyer awards. Delta has some great Skymiles deals for travel in May, including Anchorage-Seattle for 8,000 miles round-trip, and Anchorage to Atlanta, Houston or Minneapolis for 15,000 round-trip.

If you don’t have any Skymiles to spend, scan Delta’s website for a credit card offer from American Express. I found the Delta “Gold” card,which featured a $200 statement credit when you buy a Delta ticket, plus 70,000 Skymiles when you spend $2,000 within three months.

Alaska Airlines offers 5,000-mile one-way tickets from Anchorage to Juneau, Sitka, Yakutat, Cordova, Nome, Kotzebue and Fairbanks. For most of these destinations, that’s a great deal. But not Fairbanks. That’s because Anchorage-Fairbanks is on sale all summer long since United is offering one flight each day for $49. So Alaska matched the fare between June 3 and Sept. 29.

Right now the best prices for either miles or money are in May and early June. After that, airlines are banking on pent-up demand for travel to fill up the planes, with corresponding higher prices. We’ll see.

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