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David Greer Alaska

We Went to Alaska on a Budget & You Can Too!

I’m David Greer, content marketing lead for TravelPirates, and I visited Alaska in spring 2022 on what worked out to essentially be a budget road trip. If you’re looking to see some of Alaska, but want to avoid the huge costs (private flights, chartered boats, you name it!) often associated with it, Anchorage is a great place to start (and end) your trip. That's what I did, at least!

Here’s some of what I took away from my week-and-half trip and all the great deals I got — hopefully, it can help you plan a trip to Alaska, too.

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You'll Probably Want a Car

Car rentals are known to be more expensive than in the lower 48, which is generally true, but you can snag deals. A great trick is to start your rental a day or more before May 1st, because that’s generally the day that rental companies change from winter to summer pricing. But, if you start your rental before May 1st like I did, you can usually get at least a few weeks for entirely winter prices (significantly less).

With everything included, I paid about $46 a day renting from Thrifty. I had actually booked a rental using the same idea for travel in 2020 that I canceled because of the pandemic. At that time, I booked for about $25 a day, but it seems that the current demand doesn’t allow for rates quite that low.

Anchorage has somewhat functional public transport, and the Alaska Railroad will take you to a lot of the main attractions within reach of Anchorage. Still, you'd struggle to see much of what you came to Alaska for without a vehicle.

Gas costs certainly add up, but overall prices didn’t seem much worse than the West Coast. The roads in around Anchorage are also really well maintained, but as winter starts to end each year, there is a ton of construction. With most roads being just one lane in each direction, these means lots of delays. I had a good half-hour wait on the highway to Seward, so definitely add some cushion time to any trip.

Finding the Right Flight Deal

There are a lot of great flight deals to get you to and from Alaska — Anchorage in particular. That said, if you want to fly within Alaska once in the state, or fly to more remote destinations within the state, prices skyrocket. The best way to get around that $500 flight from Anchorage to Nome, you ask? As it usually is, the answer here is to book with miles.

An obvious choice could be Alaska miles, since often routes go for 5,000 miles plus $5.60 in taxes and fees. But now that Alaska has joined Oneworld Alliance, and you can book using partner miles, American Airlines miles, Avios, and plenty of others also offer you a good route to avoid getting ripped off completely on intra-Alaska airfare. All this said, I'd still recommend spending at least week exploring the part of Alaska easily accessible from Anchorage — let's say the area between Denali National Park, and Seward to keep it simple.

Speaking of miles, that’s how I flew to Anchorage... and also how I flew from Anchorage to Barcelona on the same ticket! In fact, I booked flights from Seattle to Anchorage with a 10-day stopover, and then flights from Anchorage to Barcelona via Seattle and Philadelphia for a grand total of about $24 in taxes and fees. Oh, and those 22,500 Alaska Miles that I earned enough miles to cover twice by meeting a credit card spending bonus. So one great way to visit Alaska to get great value is on your way to or from Europe, using Alaska’s low season pricing and awesome stopover allowance.

Where to Stay in Alaska

I found that, for the most part, the best value in and around Anchorage can be booked on Airbnb. The main hotels in Anchorage seem kind of geared towards business travelers, or just nobody at all in some cases, and prices in cash and points seemed like poor value. There are plenty of cabins, mostly not far from Talkeetna, that can be booked for under $100 a night too. Don't miss out if you have the time!

I did stay at a kind of run down motel in Seward for about $80 a night near the port, but affordable options there are limited. For someone just looking to overnight before an early morning cruise, I’d still recommend it. Seward has definitely put effort towards trying to bring people to the town to do more than visit the surrounding natural beauty, but you’re unlikely to want to be stuck in town for long once you get a glimpse of what’s around you.

Consider a Single-Day Nature Cruise

Prices for nature cruises are set, though you can sometimes get a small discount for booking direct online with some companies. I found multiple half-day options available for under $100 per person, usually including a small lunch. And if you’re not already going to be going out on the water while in Alaska, a boat ride from Seward is a great option to budget for.

On the nature cruise I booked, I saw all kinds of wildlife in about 4 hours, from whales, to orcas, and to migrating birds — the captain even made time for a quick stop by a nearby glacier. I was lucky to have very clear weather, which won't always be the case during spring, but it's not all that uncommon either. And as you can see on our Instagram, Kenai Fjords National Park is immensely beautiful.

Food, Food, Food

Since most of the food people eat in Alaska isn’t from Alaska, and Alaska is far away from most places that the food comes from, it costs more. That said, I found the legend of a hyper-expensive 49th state isn’t really true in and around Anchorage. Though, I did notice that the grocery store in Talkeetna, as well as the grocery store in Seward, had significantly higher prices than in Anchorage. I’d imagine the price situation is worse in much of the state. Since there are no Trader Joe's in Alaska, I made a huge shopping trip in Seattle before my flight and checked in a suitcase full of groceries. If you're looking to optimize your budget, bringing some stuff with you to Alaska is a good idea.

In Anchorage, though, you can find cuisine from all over the world, and prices aren’t much different from the West Coast for most things. Famous Alaskan seafood products didn’t seem to be all that much cheaper in Alaska, but you can get top quality when it's the season. Sadly, I was a little early for salmon during my spring trip.

The biggest takeaway is that you can take an enjoyable trip on a budget to Alaska, but considering travel before or after peak season can really change the game. When I first arrived to Anchorage late April, there was even a high chance of Aurora Borealis visibility (seeing the Northern Lights), and by the time I left mid-May, it seemed like the days lasted forever, with just a few hours of true night. So save up some miles, or grab a great cash fare (we've seen them from the mid $100s).

To read more about traveling to Alaska, check out the useful information we've compiled on our Alaska page.

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