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Alaska on your own - any money saving tips?

Alaska on your own - any money saving tips?

Old Mar 22, 11, 11:19 am
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Alaska on your own - any money saving tips?

Wife and I are planning a trip to Alaska during the summer for a week or two. We'll do the southcentral and inside passage. I can apply for the Alaska Airline credit card, but they are giving out only 25,000 miles and got an annual fee of $75. I know I am going during high season. Any money saving tips on airlines, boat cruise, hotels, coupon books, discount codes?
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Old Mar 22, 11, 12:09 pm
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FlyerTalk has a forum for that . Please standby for a move of the thread to the Travel->Alaska forum where you'll find great tips and ideas. Helped us put together a nice self-booked trip for 2008 mostly based in ANC with side trips to PWS and Denali Park. Ocn Vw 1K, Moderator, TravelBuzz.
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Old Mar 22, 11, 2:59 pm
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Originally Posted by opus2002 View Post
Wife and I are planning a trip to Alaska during the summer for a week or two. We'll do the southcentral and inside passage. I can apply for the Alaska Airline credit card, but they are giving out only 25,000 miles and got an annual fee of $75. I know I am going during high season. Any money saving tips on airlines, boat cruise, hotels, coupon books, discount codes?
Honestly you are quite late in booking to get any great "deals" for this summer. I am literally planning my 2012 Alaska trips now. Do you have any sort of itinerary planned out? Are you taking a cruise? Without a cruise, I think you are pushing yourself to try and visit both Southcentral (Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula, Denali, etc) and "inside passage" (which I assume you mean Southeast Alaska, or Juneau and perhaps places north and south of there) in two weeks. Without a cruise, where you can travel from town to town when you sleep, I would concentrate on either Southcentral or Southeast Alaska on one trip.

What are your interests? That will play a big part in what you do/see/where you go and what discounts and savings tips might be available.

There are two good coupon books - toursaver and northern lights. Many 2-for-1 coupons in each, more food and other coupons in northern lights, whereas toursaver is primarily though not exclusively tours. Toursaver costs twice as much, but don't let that deter you. Check each website to see which coupons offer you the most savings, then buy that book. You can also buy used toursaver books on EBay if you wait until the tourist season starts (sometimes northern lights books are also on EBay but not as often).

Car rental will be your biggest surprise expense. When I booked for Anchorage last year for this coming June, the cost was $125/week including all taxes/fees for an economy car. Apparently this is a "mistake" but it is a "mistake" that has happened every year for the past 5 years. Rates now are $300/week or more. Check both on- and off-airport car rental offices. Usually, but not always, off-airport pick up is cheaper. But that requires pick up Mon to Fri about 8am-6pm or Saturday morning. So plan your arrival into ANC Sunday through Friday and pick up the car the next morning.

Groupon can also be a good source of deals for Anchorage. I have seen some tours, lodging and restaurants in/near Anchorage offered the past few months (for use through as late as January 2012).

Lodging is perhaps one place you can save money on. Find a lodging option that includes breakfast, or find one that has a kitchenette or at least a fridge and microwave so you can have at least some of your meals in your room. Check hotwire or priceline for some good hotel deals. Just last week hotwire had a hotel in Anchorage for $50. Consider hostels. Some have private rooms or even cabins and are very nice. Private rooms and cabins in hostels still usually share a bathroom, but the savings vs. hotels or B&B's can be substantial.

The Alaska Air credit card also offers a companion ticket for $99 (not sure if that only comes after the first year or right away). That can be a good deal if you are flying from somewhere that Alaska Air flies. Also, when using your Alaska Air miles, take advantage of the stopover feature. I am flying from MSP to ANC (stopover) then to AKN (King Salmon - gateway to Katmai NP), then AKN-ANC-MSP. Same number of miles as just MSP-ANC and the ANC-AKN flight would have cost $400 RT.

My biggest suggestion is to not skimp on tours. I use miles for my flights, I book car rentals 10-11 months in advance for the deals, and I usually stay in very inexpensive lodging (sometimes hostels, sometimes USFS or AK DNR cabins, sometimes hotels). So my main expense in Alaska is for tours. That might be boat tours or flight tours or even land tours. Two weeks ago I took an unforgettable flight tour from Anchorage to the Rainy Pass Iditarod checkpoint. One hour flight each way, and almost 5 hours on the ground at the checkpoint. See the teams arrive, cared for, talk to the mushers, take photos, etc. It cost over $500, but I would MUCH rather do that than spend $150-$200/night for a hotel that I am rarely in anyway.

Also, don't make the rookie mistake of "basing" yourself in a place like Anchorage and taking day trips. Distances are just too vast in Alaska to do that. Even a day trip from Anchorage to Seward really does you a disservice to Seward, where there is so much to do/see. I spent 3 nights in Seward last summer and we still didn't get to do everything I would have liked. Fortunately it was not my first time there and won't be my last.

John
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Old Mar 23, 11, 9:52 am
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Originally Posted by fti View Post
Do you have any sort of itinerary planned out? Are you taking a cruise? Without a cruise, I think you are pushing yourself to try and visit both Southcentral (Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula, Denali, etc) and "inside passage" (which I assume you mean Southeast Alaska, or Juneau and perhaps places north and south of there) in two weeks.
Thanks John. This is quite a comprehensive reply. I have been to Alaska on a cruisetour 15 years ago, and it was quite a trip. Currently, I am on a very initial plan, so nothing concrete yet. So, cruise is being considered or just flying from Anchorage to Juneau to Sitka then to Seattle for return home.

You got the regions exactly what I had in mind (Southcentral = Anchorage, Kenai. Inside passage = southeast = Sitka, etc).

Roughly...
Day 1-3: Drive from Anchorage to Seward, hike Exit Glacier, sea kayaking, tour Kenai Fjords via boat tour
Day 4-5: Homer
Day 6-7: Go canoeing in Swan Lake, go to Whittier and take boat tour

Day 8-? (14 at most): Denali (maybe even Fairbanks) or cruise Southeast or tour Southeast on our own. If we see the glaciers in Kenai (Seward/Whittier tours), will seeing the glaciers in the Southeast be redundant?

I am thinking of staying at hotels/motels or renting an RV. RV will be quite an experience as we have never done it before. Have you tried an RV before?
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Old Mar 23, 11, 10:18 am
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I hope my reply was not too verbose . I do love Alaska and go several times a year. And here goes another long post!

I usually suggest going to Homer first, then Seward. Just easier to get from Seward back north (less driving). You said Day 4-5 Homer but didn't list any activities. I always like to figure out what interests me in each place, then determine how much time it will take.

In Seward, if you do the sea kayaking that goes to Aialak Glacier, it kind of doubles as a Kenai Fjords tour. So you might not need both (though each Kenai Fjords trip is different and I go on one every time I am in Seward).

Also, note that "hike Exit Glacier" can really only be done with Exit Glacier Guides if you meant to actually get onto the glacier. You can hike the Harding Icefield Trail (a great hike, but strenuous and 6-8 hours) or you can just get to the face of Exit Glacier on your own.

The Kenai Fjords boat trips are excellent. Be sure you get one at least 6 hours or longer. Anything shorter doesn't get out of the bay.

If you take a cruise, you won't get nearly as close to a glacier as you will on the Whittier trip (which emphasizes glaciers) or Seward (a +-30 minute stop at a glacier). I actually love being at glaciers so it wouldn't bother me at all. And if you take a Princess southbound cruise, you get to go to both Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier, which is a big plus IMO.

Tough choices re: an extra week in southcentral or a cruise. I have used Alaska cruises as "hotel and transportation" and am out in the port town most of the time the ship is in port. My biggest complaint is that I like more than just several hours in these places. So I generally do land tours now. If you take a cruise, it would have to be days 8-15 since pretty much all AK cruises are 7 nights (or start on day 7).

Personally, I love Denali. But I love the scenery, hiking and wildlife. I am an avid photographer and that also fits well with Denali. I am going there in June for 5 nights. Most people spend far less time there. Fairbanks is definitely worth a couple of nights (great museum, even for a non-museum person like me), large animal research station, Riverboat Discovery, pipeline, and more. If you do this, you might consider returning from Fairbanks to Anchorage via the Richardson and Glenn Highways. Great scenery. Maybe even detour to the Wrangell/St. Elias NP visitor center not too far south of the Richardson/Glenn Highway junction. You can't drive RV's along the McCarthy Road, but there is a shuttle bus and a flight you could take into McCarthy. This is a much less visited NP, and the largest NP in the system. There is a nice Root Glacier hike here as well as some nice free hiking (Bonanza Mine hike is an all-day strenuous hike that I would like to try sometime).

I have never rented an RV but it is a popular way to go (they are more costly for me who usually travels alone, and there are some places you just can't use an RV like Wonder Lake Campground inside Denali NP). Unfortunately for this summer you missed the sales. Usually RV's are deeply discounted when booked and prepaid about November for the following summer. Be sure to check BBB ratings of the various companies. One is particularly bad. Great Alaska Holidays is one that has a great reputation, but not the only one with a good one.

When I stay in hotels/motels, I like to book in advance. That allows me to know how much I am paying, usually gives me a better value for my dollar, and I don't waste time the day I need lodging driving around trying to find a place. If you don't like to plan your itinerary so exactly, the RV gives you flexibility. The only place that requires a reservation, even with an RV, is Denali NP (unless you want to waste a day or two waiting for an open shuttle bus, which can fill up in advance). If you decide to go the RV route and take two weeks in Southcentral Alaska, I might suggest that you go north first (so Denali is your first stop). That way you have your fixed dates for Denali and can reserve both RV camping spot and shuttle bus tickets. Also, if you stay 3 nights in Denali, you can reserve the Teklanika campground (minimum 3 nights required at this campground). That is 30 miles into the park and usually private vehicles can't travel that far. I will be tent camping at that campground in September for the first time (I normally camp further inside the park, but this time Tek works out better).

Hope this helps.

Let me know if you have any questions. I am sure others will chime in with thoughts too.
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Old Mar 23, 11, 6:46 pm
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We saw some of Alaska over 3 weeks in May last year. Basically we travelled independently, relying on Alaska Marine Highway, train & bus for the most part of our 3 week trip. We found the toursaver book valuable but needed to lock in some dates to ensure we could use the voucher eg McKinley flight that was fantastic.
I did a trip report on Australian Frequent Flyer, the link is http://www.australianfrequentflyer.c...-us-23908.html
I also covered part of Chicago, New York, Boston & San Diego in the same report but I hope the Alaska part may help. Keep in mind I was looking from an Aussie viewpoint
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Old Mar 24, 11, 10:50 am
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Great tips here.

In-laws maybe coming with us, and not sure how many people yet. Kids ages 5 and 3 maybe included, so that would affect the activities/planning.

The reason I am going to Seward first before Homer is I am planning on a loop drive (clockwise). Also, that is how Frommer's was organized. I guess I can do counter-clockwise too. We'll likely do some nature stuff at the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, maybe the boat ride to the far side of Kachemak Bay (suggested by Fommers)

Any suggested tour companies to go to the Aialak Glacier for sea kayaking?

"note that "hike Exit Glacier" can really only be done with Exit Glacier Guides if you meant to actually get onto the glacier." Is that the same as just hiking to the side of the glacier? Can you actually get on top of the glacier and walk? If so, I like to do that.

I am thinking of the Major Marine tours - 7.5 hr one or the high speed 6 hour one.

Thanks for the tip on RV rental. I'll check out Great Alaska Holidays then. We got to get more concrete first on who is going, then we'll get a better idea of the likes/interest of the group.

Sounds like Denali will be well worth the trip. I may have some more questions later.
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Old Mar 24, 11, 10:58 am
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Originally Posted by RussellJ View Post
W
I did a trip report on Australian Frequent Flyer, the link is http://www.australianfrequentflyer.c...-us-23908.html
Wonderful write up. I felt like I was there too.

Last time I was there, I took a cruisetour. This time, I like to do it on our own. But, majority will win. Don't know what the other people in my group will like.

Your write up and the previous fti's write up make me want to go to Denali. I'll the the air taxi for sure. Got to find one of those two for one coupons.
http://www.talkeetnaair.com/
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Old Mar 24, 11, 11:03 am
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Yes, with younger children that could change a lot. Denali shuttle buses can be hard with kids. 8 hours round trip on the bus, bringing your own car seats (required), etc.

Feel free to go to Seward first . I just like Homer then Seward for the reasons mentioned.

In Homer Danny J's boat goes to Halibut Cove. You can get a water taxi to Kachemak Bay State Park or Rainbow Tours goes from Homer to Gull Island to Seldovia, which is a nice trip, allowing you several hours in Seldovia before returning to Homer.

>>Any suggested tour companies to go to the Aialak Glacier for sea kayaking?

I have never done that, but will check my files for some operators.

>>"note that "hike Exit Glacier" can really only be done with Exit Glacier Guides if you meant to actually get onto the glacier." Is that the same as just hiking to the side of the glacier? Can you actually get on top of the glacier and walk? If so, I like to do that.

No, not the same. Exit Glacier Guides does a hike onto the glacier (also an ice climbing trip if interested in that). Check out their website. Otherwise you can walk to the face/side of the glacier on your own for free.

>>I am thinking of the Major Marine tours - 7.5 hr one or the high speed 6 hour one.

They both cover the same area, just that one goes faster than the other. I choose my Kenai Fjords tour based on 2-for-1 coupons. The meal is absolutely unimportant to me - I am outside much of the time viewing and usually bring some food anyway.

>>Sounds like Denali will be well worth the trip.

For most people it is. But really only if you get into the park and not just near the entrance. With kids, as I said, it can be tougher. But with shuttle buses, you can always hop off if they act up.
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Old Mar 25, 11, 11:23 am
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Thanks again fti. I did not realized Exit Glacier Guides is a tour company. There website listed out quite a few hiking/sea kayaking activities. Once we get who is going sorted out, I'll re-start the trip planning activities. Your post made me a lot more education. You can probably write a tour book about your many trips there.

That's all for now. I'll be back to re-reading these posting here later.
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Old Mar 29, 11, 6:16 am
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Originally Posted by fti View Post
Car rental will be your biggest surprise expense. When I booked for Anchorage last year for this coming June, the cost was $125/week including all taxes/fees for an economy car. Apparently this is a "mistake" but it is a "mistake" that has happened every year for the past 5 years. Rates now are $300/week or more.
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John,
FYI - Surprise is an understatement for car rental. More like shock. $550-$650/week is what they are quoting now for full size cars.

Still in the planning stage and waiting to see who is going.
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Old Mar 30, 11, 10:20 am
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Originally Posted by opus2002 View Post
John,
FYI - Surprise is an understatement for car rental. More like shock. $550-$650/week is what they are quoting now for full size cars.

Still in the planning stage and waiting to see who is going.
Once you have any possible firm dates, book your car rental. You can always change/cancel it. Also, check autoslash.com and carrentals.com for comparison. Also check off-airport companies. Each of the past 6 years I have gotten an economy car for $125/week including all mandatory fees off-airport in Anchorage. One of the regular posters on FT asserts that this is a mistake rate (could be, but it is a VERY ineffective ownership/management team if they let this go on perpetually year after year!). And in reality, even at $600/week for several of you, most likely that is going to be the best/least expensive option anyway. Trains and buses are not cheap and are quite inflexible, especially when heading north toward Denali or to Homer. Bus/train can work to Seward since you can easily get around Seward without a car.

I am going to Juneau in May. A 2-day car rental with Avis is costing me $48 booked last October. The same car booked now would cost me more than double that amount.

That is why I book my flights close to 11 months before my trip and my car rental shortly thereafter. I couldn't afford $400/week or more for a car rental as much as I travel to Alaska.
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Old Apr 9, 11, 8:02 pm
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Originally Posted by fti View Post
Groupon can also be a good source of deals for Anchorage. I have seen some tours, lodging and restaurants in/near Anchorage offered the past few months (for use through as late as January 2012).
Indeed. I've banked up several from Cafe Croissant, Humpy's, and Sacks--all restaurants I would recommend to out-of-towners if they want to experience some darn good Alaskan fare.

Today's Groupon from the Park Connection motor coach line is interesting: $40 for an $80 same-day round-trip bus Anchorage to Seward or $27 for a $65 one-way ticket. Although the train is iconic, the bus is cheaper and faster--and an insane deal with Groupon.

Groupon is at http://www.groupon.com/. If you're feeling generous and want to use my referral link, it's at http://www.groupon.com/r/uu16284288.

Originally Posted by fti View Post
One of the regular posters on FT asserts that this is a mistake rate (could be, but it is a VERY ineffective ownership/management team if they let this go on perpetually year after year!).
It is. That "ineffective management team" confirmed it was. But due to technical limitations and the bureaucracy inherent in a large organization, it's not one they can easily fix.

Last edited by jackal; Apr 9, 11 at 8:31 pm
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Old Apr 26, 11, 10:34 am
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Thanks. I'll be on the look out for Groupon alaska.

Question on transporation/logistics:

- Do I need a car around Seward? We'll be doing a boat tour (Major Marine),visiting the Alaska Sealife Center, kayaking at Lowell point, and visiting Seavey's Iditarod.

- Achorage to Seward to Anchorage: What's the difference between the views from riding a car versus train?
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Old Apr 26, 11, 10:51 am
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Originally Posted by opus2002 View Post
Thanks. I'll be on the look out for Groupon alaska.
Be aware it's something you'll need to check every day, since the groupon changes. And be ready to spring on one that looks interesting.

Today's:

Two-night stay and ATV excursion with fishing trip for two people at Alpine Creek Lodge in Cantwell
It's a $598 value for $299. Looks to be fun.

More details on today's: http://www.groupon.com/deals/alpine-creek-lodge

(And my referral link, if you're so inclined, is, again: http://www.groupon.com/r/uu16284288)

Originally Posted by opus2002 View Post
Question on transporation/logistics:

- Do I need a car around Seward? We'll be doing a boat tour (Major Marine),visiting the Alaska Sealife Center, kayaking at Lowell point, and visiting Seavey's Iditarod.
Seward's small enough that you don't need a car. It's a ~20 minute walk from the train station and Major Marine's dock (northern end of town) to the Sea Life Center (southern end of town), so it's on the longish side but perfectly doable. There may be some form of transportation (a trolley or something) in the summer; I forget.

That said, I'm not sure where the Seavey property is and where the kayaks depart from, so in case they're out of town, you might want to check on those (or see if they'll pick you up from somewhere in town) before planning to go without a car.

Originally Posted by opus2002 View Post
- Achorage to Seward to Anchorage: What's the difference between the views from riding a car versus train?
Both equally worth doing, IMHO. The train is nice because it's a relaxing ride and you have high school tour guides pointing out the scenery and interesting things about Alaskan history and life.

As far as scenery: the road and rails diverge for about 60 miles between the Portage area (just south of Girdwood) and Moose Pass (a bit north of Seward). After leaving the road, the train takes you within viewing distance of a good-sized glacier (Spencer Glacier), and it's not uncommon to spot wildlife in the open expanses the train travels through. The road, on the other hand, goes up through the imposingly broad and barren Turnagain Pass and next to several high-altitude lakes before rejoining the rail route at Moose Pass.

Both have their charms, but a couple of downsides of the train are the longer ride (4 hours vs. a 2 hour drive, though that can turn into 4 with stops) that gives you less time in the Seward area and the lack of freedom of movement you get with the car. Without a car, it's hard (but not impossible--there is a shuttle) to visit Exit Glacier, which is well worth a lengthy stop.

Ultimately, it's up to you what mode of transportation you prefer.

Last edited by jackal; Apr 26, 11 at 10:57 am
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