Alaska is a hot destination to save money!
It seems like everyone is talking about Alaska recently. So why is Alaska such a hot travel destination? Well for the mileage runners there are two factors: the cost of the flights are relatively cheap and Alaska is far away so they can gain lots of miles. The flight deal website seems to recently have a string for good deals from the lower 48 to Anchorage. Flights from Houston, LA, Ft Lauderdale and New York have appeared for around the low to mid 300’s RT. This could also be to the start of shoulder season in Alaska.
I would also like to throw my hat into the Alaska ring and say I am going to Alaska! It has never been on the top of my bucket list but everyone that I talk to tells me this is one of their top three trips they have ever taken. So Travelmista and I are going. But we will be doing it our way – an Alaska Cruise. We are taking the Northbound NCL Sun starting in Vancouver and going to Whitter (Anchorage) The cruise was incredibly inexpensive for a 7 day trip in an inside cabin. We are using saver level (12,500) United miles to fly direct to Vancouver and back from Anchorage for a total of 50,000 miles for 2 people. Our big expense will be the excursions at each port. But because I like to search for the best deal here are some of my secrets to keeping the cost low.
Tip 1- Every major city has a free walking tour. Check them out. We are using the www.TourGuys.ca in Vancouver for a free walking tour of Granville Island. They had a easy booking website which you can reserve through EventBrite. Do expect to give the guide a tip at the end of the tour
Tip 2- Search Groupon for deals in your another city. We were able to get the Hop on Hop off bus tour for half price by using a Groupon. Total cost $39CAD.
Tip 3- Use your hotel points for hotel stays in expensive cities. While Vancouver is not the most expensive city in the world it is not cheep. We are arriving early and staying at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver prior to our cruise. Cost 12,000 Hyatt points per night and staying two nights.
Tip 4- Use Alaska Tour Saver coupons or Northern Lights Coupons– Travelmista really wanted to go on a float plane so we are using a 2 for 1 coupon on Taquan Air for the Classic Misty Fjords Tour. Total cost $269 for two. Wish me luck with this one because it is out of my comfort zone on a prop plane. http://www.toursaver.com/ and http://www.alaska-discounts.com/
Tip 5- Get a used Tour Saver book off of ebay and save over 50%. Just make sure it still has the coupon you need. I got my book from a guy in Brooklyn that only used it for the coupons in Denali and since I am not going to Denali it made for a perfect book for me. The Tour Savers book typically costs $99 (Northern Lights costs $55) but I got my book for $40. I will save that cost with one excursion.
Tip 6- When a coupon does not work don’t use it. I really wanted to go sea kayaking and Southeast Sea Kayaking had a coupon but not for the tour that I wanted. I was not interested in a two hour sea kayaking tour near the city of Ketchican. So we splurged and went for the 4 hour tour. Now I just hope it doesn’t rain the entire 4 hours. Total cost $300 http://www.kayakketchikan.com/
Tip 7- Don’t be afraid to be your own tour guide. After lots of reading and research I found that I could visit the Mendenhall Glacier on my own. There are Blue Buses that take visitors up to the glacier every half hour. The cost is $16RT/ person. We get to explore and hike on our own and when we are tired we can return at our pace.
Tip 8- Change your plans if the weather is not cooperating. Alaska weather is always changing while I am hoping for sunny weather everyday you can never guess. We hope to use another 2 for 1 coupon on the Mount Roberts Tram but if it is too foggy we can decide to just change our plans at the last minute. http://www.goldbelttours.com/mount-roberts-tramway/
Tip 9- Rent a car. Sometimes the best way to see a area is on your own. My original plan was to rent a car and drive to Emerald Lake using Murray’s guide but since Travelmista vetoed this as he didn’t want to drive I had to change my plan. This would be a great way for a family to save money as the cost of a car rental is around $100 and the guide is $5. Car rentals in Skagway http://www.sourdoughrentals.com/ and www.avis.com Murray guide: http://www.murraysguide.com/
Tip 10- Splurge on a independent tour. After lots of researched, I finally found the perfect excursion for us. I personally don’t like cruise line tours as I don’t want to travel on a huge packed bus. We wanted to do the White Pass Railroad but also wanted to see Emerald lake. We are now doing the Chilkoot Charter & Tours- Bennett Scenic Journey. We travel up by mini bus and return on the train. We visit Bennett lake, Emerald lake and Carcross plus a lunch at the Bennett depot. We are spending $229/ person which is almost the entire cost of our 7 day cruise. cha-ching! http://www.chilkootcharters.com/
Glacier Bay, Alaska
Tip 10- Be patient and wait to the last possible minute to upgrade to a balcony. Now this doesn’t always work if the cruise get sold out but you can watch the NCL website to see how many rooms are still available. Currently our cruise show over 200 open rooms. (Shoulder season!) I booked directly with NCL and every week I call and ask how much it would be to upgrade to a balcony. It started at $440 and it is currently at $340. I am hoping for a drop below $300 especially with the number of rooms still available. At that point I will upgrade! Update: The price dropped again 11 days out. We got a upgraded to a GTY balcony for $140. I am glad I was patient!
Tip 11- Book early. Well this goes against my rule to wait but for some excursions and transfers it is good to book early. I didn’t realize that independent transfer/ tour that I wanted would sell out. I am now stuck on the early am direct transfer back to the airport from AK Cruise shuttle cost $28/ person. This was the least expensive transfer available. We get to ANC at 10 am and our plane leave until 8 pm. I keep hoping something will open up but I should have just booked early. I really wanted to go on a Glacier tour but we would not arrive back to ANC until 7:30 pm and our plane leaves at 8 pm. That is way to close for comfort and Travelmista has to work the next day. http://www.akcruiseshuttle.com/
Tip 12- Ask for advice. They best advice I get is from people who have already visited an area. Since we have all day in Anchorage what should I do? Any ideas? I also used Twitter to contact @visitanchorage and they sent a link to guide book http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/anchorage/officialguide2013/#/12 and I have also emailed firstname.lastname@example.org to ask for advice.
Update: Ask a local was very helpful with ideas. We ended up taking the original transfer to ANC airport and renting a car for $35 for a day. This way we can have more flexibility.
Check back for an Alaskan trip report soon!