Seasonal airlines return with tourists: Alaska Air dominates year-round reliability.

Author:Bohi, Heidi
Position:TRANSPORTATION: SPECIAL SECTION
 
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There is nothing quite like the news of less expensive airfares to send Alaskans packing. In a state that is removed from the continental United States, where almost nobody is from here, and locals have to fly via Seattle just to cross the street, the chance to book an itinerary that is relatively affordable and easy to use means one more opportunity to fly to the Lower 48 or beyond without wiping out the year's entire travel budget.

As recently as 20 years ago, Alaskans were held hostage by less than a handful of carriers, with Alaska Airlines dominating the market. Many Alaskans, depending on where they live, will say that's still the case, as both passengers and competing airlines wait to see what their next move is before making any decisions. While that is open to interpretation, as local travel guru Scott McMurren says, "God bless Alaska Airlines," for being counted on to offer year-round service to Seattle from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Ketchikan, along with increased daily summer service from Anchorage to Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

SUMMER COMPETITION

In any market, competition means better prices for the consumer. As the number of flights and new destinations scheduled for Alaska this summer is increasing, it is likely that it will create more frenzy feeding among carriers resulting in cheaper tickets to larger cities in the Lower 48 states. And McMurren says the possibility exists that prices will drop even further in highly competitive markets where Alaskans travel to most--such as Seattle and Chicago--especially as the number of airlines entering these markets continues to increase. At the same time, as prices in key markets drop, this benefit may also spill over to odd markets like Hartford, Conn., and other out of the way markets.

But, what happens next is anyone's guess, McMurren says, and savvy travelers know to follow the market closely if they want to know what new routes are out there and what promotions allow them to take advantage of deals.

"It's a moving target and the informed traveler pays attention because these days the airline is not going to tell you what their best deal is," he says. "It's like a crime of omission."

What most Alaskans don't know, he says, is that there is no correlation between airfares and the route. It is simply a matter of supply and demand, along with the competitive structure in each market. A classic example of this, he says, is the fares between...

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