Among the many modes of land transportation in Alaska, interior flights are expedient, trains are scenic, buses are a relative bargain and driving may be more economical for a group, according to travel planners.
If you fly into Anchorage or Fairbanks, you’re in what’s known as the “railbelt” of Alaska, served by the Alaska Railroad, which also runs south of Anchorage to Seward. Travelers can upgrade to domed cars for best viewing to Seward on the railroad’s GoldStar Service ($224 one way from Anchorage in early June, compared to $113 in regular cars) or to Denali with the private Wilderness Express service ($249 from Anchorage, versus $176).
A Park Connection bus between Denali and Anchorage costs $100 one way in summer.
Like other parts of the country, Alaska is experiencing a rental car crunch as demand outpaces supply, resulting in higher rates, nearly double statewide compared to 2019, according to Kayak.
“All over the U.S.A., we’re seeing elevated car rental prices, but it can still be cheaper than piecing together train and motor coach combinations, particularly if you’re more than two travelers,” said Anna Harrison, the owner of the agency Travel Observations in Pittsburgh.
Rental cars, however, are hard to find this summer. Clicking around the Avis Alaska site for a rental car recently, I couldn’t find a weeklong rental, a compact for $473, until late August. Travel experts warn against one-way car rentals, which are more costly than round-trips.
Day trips vs. road trips
Two more ways to save include basing yourself in Anchorage, which has a range of accommodations, and doing day trips, or rent a car, camper van or R.V. and camping.
“Anchorage is great as a base for those who are short on time and who don’t like moving around each night,” Ms. Harrison said, noting that travelers looking to use loyalty points or miles are more likely to be able to do so in the city.
We’re in between the two tallest pillars of the retail universe: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And many travelers are itching to go somewhere.
It’s a delicate balance for travel companies offering deals, though. Coaxing travelers to fly, to sail or to stay somewhere when COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in many communities is challenging for companies. After all, there’s still no vaccine to fight the coronavirus and preventive measures — masks, physical distancing and hand-washing — can be difficult to enforce.
Also, each state or country has its own protocols for entry, which may include advance testing, quarantine on arrival, or both. And those entry requirements change all the time.
So this week, travelers who are shopping for deals are betting on a vaccine and for improved testing and mitigation conditions in 2021. Feeling lucky?
The Alaska Collection by Pursuit is offering a 40% off sale for 2021 adventures here in Alaska. This includes Kenai Fjords Tours in Seward, Denali Backcountry Adventures and the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge.
My favorite boat ride in Seward is the six-hour “National Park Cruise,” which departs Seward’s small boat harbor, heads out Resurrection Bay and rounds the corner to visit Aialik Bay. Regular price for the cruise is $169, plus tax, and lunch on board is included. Cruises start on May 1, 2021. The sale price using the code CYBER40 is $112, and there’s no discount on the taxes.
Major Marine Tours also is offering a 40% off sale for its cruises in Seward to Kenai Fjords National Park.
If you want to stay overnight in Seward, which is a good idea, stay at the Seward Windsong Lodge. The hotel opens May 14 and the sale pricing brings the cost down from $179 to $107 per night. Use the discount code CYBER40.
Up in Talkeetna, the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge is opening for spring break starting on March 6, 2021. The rooms are much cheaper, and the snow will be ideal for skiing, cycling or snowmachining. The regular price is $129 per night, but the sale price is $77 per night. When the lodge reopens for the summer season on May 15, 2021, the rates go up to $229 per night. Using that same discount code brings that down to $137 per night, plus tax.
At Denali National Park, the company Pursuit offers a daily tour from the park entrance all the way back to Kantishna, at the end of the 92-mile park road. The Denali Backcountry Adventure tour includes a meal at the end of the road at Denali Backcountry Lodge. Very few travelers get this far back in the park. It’s a great opportunity to get the perfect shot of Denali, with Wonder Lake in the foreground.
Usually, the bus tour is $199 per person, but the sale price — including the $15 Denali National Park fee — is $134.40. The discount code is a little different: CYBER40DBA. The tour leaves from Denali Cabins, located 8 miles south of the park entrance. However, the bus will pick you up at other hotels or campsites.
Denali Cabins consists of 46 individual cedar cabins. Usually, the summertime rate is $169 per night, plus tax. But using the CYBER40 discount code, the cost comes down to $101 per night.
There are other Black Friday sales for hotels, but none caught my eye like Fairmont Hotels. I got on their mailing list after staying at their beautiful hotel Chateau Lake Louise in Canada’s Banff National Park.
This is a big hotel in a spectacular setting. The rate when we stayed there was more than $500 per night. I used some credit card points there, as well as at the Fairmont Jasper Lodge farther north on the Icefield Parkway in the Canadian Rockies.
Of course, both of these hotels are off-limits to us right now, since the Canadians don’t want visiting Americans to potentially spread COVID-19.
But Fairmont has some beautiful hotels around the world, including the Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle. I checked the sale price for a stay in January: $185 per night. The Kea Lani resort in Maui also is a Fairmont resort, but I could not find a date where the Black Friday discount would work. The rack rates started at more than $500 per night.
It’s worth surfing around the Fairmont site to see if there’s a property that works for you in Chicago, California’s Sonoma County or Scottsdale, Arizona.
One cruise company that stood out, though, is Hurtigruten. This Norwegian company has the craziest itineraries: around Iceland, to Antarctica and to Greenland. They also offer some itineraries around the coast of South America, in the Caribbean and in Alaska.
There were a few airfare specials on various airlines, but none here in Alaska. Sometimes, when there are no super-specials from Alaska, you have to cobble together a ticket to San Francisco or Los Angeles, along with a ticket to your final destination.
Cathay Pacific has some good Black Friday deals for travel starting in April. So, clearly, they’re banking that travelers will be allowed to visit by then. Here are some of the best rates:
• San Francisco-Taipei: $475 round trip
• Los Angeles/San Francisco-Ho Chi Minh City: $480 round trip
• Los Angeles-Manila: $469 round trip
• Los Angeles-Denpasar, Bali: $474 round trip
Other destinations also are available, including Tokyo and Singapore. But at this time, American citizens are not allowed to visit. Travelers on Cathay Pacific can earn Alaska Airlines miles.