Saturday, June 13, 2009

Juneau: Really hard to get to, really hard to leave

Living in a rainforest that averages 220 rainy days per year creates a desire to escape to warm places. Mexico, Hawaii, and Orlando are popular destinations, but many residents can't afford to spend a lot of money on leisure travel. Here are some tips for airline adventure, without breaking the bank.

Alaska Airlines credit card

A must have for any Juneau resident looking for a change of scenery is an Alaska Airlines credit card. The card earns you a free ticket after accumulating 25,000 sky miles. Work the system by funneling all monthly household bills and every possible purchase through this card for maximum miles, and an annual companion fare ticket can be purchased for $50 along with a paid fare. Every year many expire because the airlines rarely mention them, so folks don't know or forget they have a ticket. People can use someone else's companion fare, but the person donating the coupon has to purchase the primary ticket as well.

Being flexible saves cash

Web specials are another cheap way out, but require spontaneity and time constraints. Sign up for the weekly Insider Newsletter from Alaska Airlines, which notifies mileage plan users about hot deals from Juneau. Frequent traveler Juneau's Yumi Arimitsu shared her big tip that also involves being footloose.

"If they are looking for volunteers because they overbooked your flight, run to the ticket counter. Do not think about it just do it - it will always work out in the end. Recently they (Alaska Airlines) started giving $400 vouchers instead of free roundtrips, but it is still worth it. Sometimes I have made it back to Juneau at the same time or just a few hours later by being rerouted, and it saved hundreds of dollars on my next ticket."

In addition to spontaneous travel using web specials, and bumping yourself off flights, being open to different days keeps green in your pocket.

"Being flexible on your dates is another good way to save money because it is cheaper to fly on certain days," said Carrie Baxter Graham of Paradise Beach Tanning & Travel Salon.

Before using a mileage ticket or purchasing one, always check to see the going rate for buying miles. It costs $687.50 to purchase 25,000 miles, which might save money depending on ticket prices.

Make sure and travel light since airlines are starting to charge for checked luggage.

Bait and switch

Once you get to Seattle or another city that offers other airlines, there are a handful of smaller carriers like Virgin America, Jetblue, and Southwest that can get you to cities for under $100 each way. Alaska Air code-shares with several of its partners so always check the routing on their partners' Web site as well because sometimes Delta or Northwest will charge less for the same seats Alaska is charging.

The more the merrier

Vacationing with ten or more friends will get you a discounted rate if all passengers are traveling on the same dates to the same destination said Christy Virgilio-Ciambor, of Simpatico Travel. "For example, if 10 people are renting a house in Hawaii - discounts can sometimes be up to 20 percent off what you see online."

If you are the romantic partner of a frequent work traveler, tag along on their trips where the room and car are already provided.

Virgilio-Ciambor also recommends Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO), found at, which offers rental by owners all over the world. Home Away,, insures your rental (under $5000) for free.

Early bird gets the package

Graham thinks packages are the way to go financially. "You can book about a year in advance and packages can include air, hotel, car, transportation to and from the airport, and activity at your destination. People are required to put a deposit down within seven days of booking, which varies with consolidators, but any where from $100.00 to $200.00 per person is about average. Final payment is usually not due until 60-30 days prior to departure." She pointed out that by planning a year in advance people can budget an extra payment in their bills and have the vacation paid for before they leave.

"Packages offered through various wholesalers, and travel agents usually have more-valued added perks and can even offer a better rate on a particular hotel since they contract a year out," said Virgilio-Ciambor.

Making reservations online can also save greenbacks., and travel bidding on sites like, and, can make things affordable by naming your price. Sign up with a company like who will alert travelers via email of fare reductions.

Graham believes in travel agents over Internet use however.

"By letting a travel agent do the research for you they can help you find the best deal possible. Booking on the Internet is not always the best deals and you have to pay for your hotel, car, and condo right then and there."

The path less traveled

Shoulder season travel can be a wonderful time for escape. Our family went to Disneyworld in Orlando Florida at the end of April, beginning of May and we had the place to ourselves. Room rates were better, crowds were tolerable and the weather was great.

Pair off-season travel with an unusual destination and expect deals. Take Iceland for example.

"There are some phenomenal introductory fares on Icelandair direct out of Seattle and they are offering special add-on rates with Alaska Air," said Virgilio-Ciambor. "It's an incredible destination and a great springboard to some other European cities, as Icelandair allows free stopovers in Iceland in both directions."

A subscription to Budget Travel for $12 a year contains discounted packages and suggested itineraries. For European destinations, Virgilio-Ciambor suggests checking

"Karen Brown has searched the world for the best B&B's, inns etc and offers a variety of price ranges."There are lots of other ways to travel cheap. For the teen with everything, try a global volunteer vacation where you pick an impoverished country and go build a house or teach English there as a family. Travel green and join the ecotourism movement, or go on a bicycle vacation. For real savings, always stay in a place with a kitchen. And don't forget to use your Alaska Airlines card for the groceries.

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