How long have you been dreaming of taking an Alaska vacation? Months? Years? Decades? Has it stayed in the dream phase because of how expensive Alaska is? You know it doesn’t have to be, right? You can make it happen on a more reasonable budget just by following some simple tips to help keep your costs down. Before I delve further into this, I want to be perfectly transparent. An Alaskan vacation is never going to be as cheap as some vacations can be, but that is not to say that it can’t be done on a budget. I came here, didn’t I? I did it on a budget and I even moved here after visiting! It is well worth the added costs associated.
Disclosure: This post not only shares information on how to travel to Alaska cheaply, but also has Affiliate Links that I earn commissions from. This is how I make a living and keep this little blog running. Thank you for supporting me! I appreciate it. Much love, Kristi.
If you are curious as to how to make your Alaskan vacation as budget-friendly as possible, here are some of my favorite tricks to help you keep costs down.
This never gets old… Kayaking right up to a glacier!
When to Go
To save the most money on your Alaska vacation, you need to book your trip during shoulder season. Alaska’s tourist season runs from mid-May through mid-September, with the most popular time to visit being June and July. Mid-April through Mid-May and then again from Mid-September through the end of September are generally considered to be Alaska’s Shoulder Season. Trips that are booked during shoulder season are often up to 25% cheaper all around. You will find this deal on hotels, restaurants, cruises and local retailers.
When to Book
Keep in mind that Alaska has a very busy tourist season and things are often booked far in advance – like 1-2 years! Make sure you do the same… or not. In most cases, you want to start planning and booking a year or so in advance to be sure to get your deals. BUT there are a lot of last minute deals to get butts in seats that happen too. Personally, I rarely plan in advance. In Alaska, there are always dealing being played on the radio for last minute deals. Calling up a fishing charter you might find that they have a couple seats open on their charter in the morning and will give you a discount as they want the boats full. You would be surprised how far a simple respectful phone call can go in Alaska.
Typically I suggest booking flights and hotels in the 45-90 day range to find the best deals, but this is not always true for Alaska. Alaska’s airfare battles start in March. That’s when airlines determine how many flights they are going to have to Alaska. Year round air carriers include Alaska Airlines and Delta. Then in the summer you will find United, JetBlue, and American Airlines flying the friendly skies. Every summer they all fight for the tourism dollars and the prices of flights can be as low as $99 one way, typically a great deal is more like $199 one way. On the flip side, in the winter months a one-way ticket averages $400-700!! I kid you not!
The winters though… drop dead gorgeous with a mighty impressive light show!
How to Get to Alaska
Use a travel booking site like Travelocity, Expedia, Booking.com or Orbitz
These sites search out the best deals available for the flights you are looking for, which can save you quite a bit on airfare. Additionally, with these sites, you can bundle your airfare and hotel for added savings. I also use Google Flights which shows what the average is on those dates before I then either book direct with the airline or head over to Expedia.
Use Airline Miles
Do you use a credit card that rewards you with airline miles? I highly recommend using them on your Alaska flight since the price is quite a bit higher than other flights throughout the country. In the time before you book, try and use this card (responsibly, of course) as much as possible to get even more miles. I know several people who end up with free flights several times per year doing this. The Alaska Airlines card is a great one to have as you accumulate miles based off of all of your purchases down with the card.
Sign up for alerts from your favorite airline so that you can check on flights into Alaska. This is especially helpful if your airline chooses not to be on travel booking sites like I mentioned above. You can set this up with Google Flight Alerts too. Also, remember that flights are cheapest on Tuesdays to purchase, and 15-28 days out can be some sweet deals. Don’t forget that one-way tickets are often cheaper per leg of flight, so book two one-way tickets instead of a roundtrip ticket. Who knows – maybe you will stay in Alaska like I did and not need that flight home?
I admit it, I’m biased – I love Alaska Airlines!
Fly into Seattle or Los Angeles
Sometimes it’s more affordable to fly to Seattle or LA then book another direct flight into Alaska. If you aren’t finding any great deals on flights to Alaska, try and find a flight into Seattle and then separately book a flight from Seattle to Alaska, which average $99-149 one way. It is definitely a roundabout way of doing it, but it may just help you save big.
Road Trip Time
Be like me, and drive up here if you have the time – it is so stunningly beautiful. Now, it took me 9 days to drive from Seattle to Anchorage, but I only drove 6-8 hours a day, stayed an extra night in Smithers, Canada, and took my sweet time to make the drive. If you are booking it or have someone to help you drive, you can do it in four days. Gas in Canada is not cheap by any means, but if you camp instead of staying in a hotel room, it will all wash out in the end.
Transportation While You’re in Alaska
I highly doubt you are staying just in Anchorage when you fly in. Most people either take a cruise up into Seward and then jump on a bus to Anchorage and then train it up to Denali and fly out of Fairbanks back home or they do that in the reverse. If you are an independent traveler and want more say over your schedule, think about renting a car, a van, or an RV once you hit Southcentral Alaska – which is the area that Anchorage is located.
There is a bus system called People Mover. Both Uber or Lyft (new signups can get a discount) are in parts of Alaska. There is also Toro where you can rent local’s cars if you need something for a short amount of time.
If you decide that you want your own wheels, there are options. Please note if you are traveling to Alaska in June or July expect to a premium for every car or RV you try to rent. Our season is short and operators need to make their yearly budget in just a few short months.
- Uber it. If you want to get around the city and don’t want to walk in the Midnight Sun, stick with Uber or Lyft (if you are a new user, you can get a big discount for signing up, making your trip even cheaper by using my link!).
- Travel site discounts. Did you book your flight with a travel site like Expedia or Orbitz? You will get you a discount for also booking your rental car. Book it early! Seriously, do not wait if you know you want a car while in Alaska.
- Carrentals.com. I almost exclusively use carrentals.com when I rent a car. I have found by far the best deals on this website.
- Rent from smaller rental car companies. Just because it isn’t one of the big name rental agencies, doesn’t mean it’s not good. Don’t be afraid to book with the little guys.
- Wait it out. Waiting until about 2 weeks before your trip often results in the best deals on rental cars. You can always reserve one (without cancellation penalty) before that just for peace of mind. This will not be true doing June and July though – I can’t stress that enough.
- Sign up for Turo. Have you heard of Turo before? It’s a car sharing app that helps you save big money over a typical rental car. I like to think of it as AirBnB for cars! Plus, new customers get a $25 credit toward their first rental!
- Stick with 2WD. Unless you will be going off road, you do not need a 4×4, even if you are driving to Denali or Seward. Seriously – the roads are paved my friends, it isn’t like what you see in the movies. Just because you are in Alaska, doesn’t mean you need a 4WD vehicle. If you are visiting during the tourist summer season, chances are you don’t. Besides, 4WD are much more expensive to rent and they often have the worst gas mileage.
Where to Lay Your Head
- AirBnB. Don’t forget to check out AirBnB to see how much it would cost to rent a room or even an entire house. You may find that it is cheaper than a hotel.
- Again, if you used a travel booking site, be sure and check there first because you will get a discount.
- Just ask. Why not call up the hotel you are interested in staying at an ask them for a discounted rate. You may find success with this especially during shoulder season.
- Make a phone call. That’s right. Sometimes a real human can be more helpful than a computer – especially in Alaska where some hotels don’t have a website (gasp, how can that be???)! I have found that you will often find better deals by calling in your reservations over doing it online, especially with smaller hotels in smaller communities like Seward, Homer, Kenai, or Denali.
- Camp. Did you know that Alaska has an amazing amount of free camping available? (Check out this post on how to find free and cheap camping in Alaska.) Seriously. Alaska has one of the best camping systems in the country! Why not save big money on lodging and camp?
- Rent an RV. Ok, so you aren’t really the tent camping type? No worries – rent an RV and not only save on hotel fees, but now you have wheels too!!!
What To Do
Alaska is home to some amazing natural tourist attractions and adventure-filled tours. Alaska is also home to some of the most beautiful National Parks in the country. These parks will cost you a total of $80 to visit if you buy the annual National Parks Pass – which is good for any U.S. National Park Entrance Fee.
My favorite summertime activity is definitely fishing!
Followed closely by camping… Fishing + Camping = Heaven
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