Ask anyone who’s traveled during the pandemic, and they’ll tell you the travel experience is changing.
That’s such an understatement, but it’s an accurate description. It’s not just flights that are more expensive. Nor is it the shortage of rental cars. Nor is it fair to blame vaccination requirements and mask mandates. On the contrary, it is that all these things occur at the same time.
For my flight on Friday morning, I was looking forward to seeing what the airport looked like in the new “masks are optional” mode. By my calculations, less than 10% of people at the airport were wearing masks.
At the gate, just before boarding, Alaska Airlines canceled the flight. There was no pilot to fly the plane. Luckily the staff at the gate booked me in for the next flight 90 minutes later.
When planning my last minute trip to Fairbanks on Thursday night, it was a challenge to find a rental car. I finally found a brand new Jeep Cherokee at Alaska 4×4 Rentals. The cost was almost as much as my plane ticket. And my last minute ticket was expensive.
Price and availability shock and awe certainly aren’t limited to Alaskan cities, though. But it’s hard here. Airlines are struggling to find staff to meet increased travel demand. Some carriers are cutting flights. And car rental companies still can’t find enough cars.
“I could use 400 to 500 more cars here in Anchorage,” said Gary Zimmerman, general manager of three rental car brands in Anchorage: Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty.
If you cannot find a hotel room, it may not mean that all rooms are booked. On the contrary, there may not be enough staff to clean the rooms.
Looking at US travel prices, prices are up and availability is limited. Reports that air prices have risen 40% in the past few months are an oversimplification, I think. But almost everything costs more, and prices continue to rise.
Last month, it was easy to find a ticket from Anchorage to New York for $111 one-way. Earlier this year, prices hovered around $103 one way.
If you want to fly in late June, United offers a daily nonstop flight, priced around $1,023 roundtrip. Alaska Airlines offers one-stop service via Seattle for approximately $851 round-trip.
Renting a car in Newark isn’t cheap either. A two-day weekend rental will cost around $228. A one-day mid-week rental costs more: around $199 per day. To check rental car rates, I used Costco’s rental car search engine. You have to be a member to book it, but I found it to be a reliable source.
Are you flying to Chicago? Last month, I found tickets for $127 one-way on nonstop flights with United and Alaska Airlines. For travel in late June, Alaska offers one-stop service for $561 round-trip. United’s nonstop flights are $608 roundtrip. For comparison, I chose a June 29 departure for a one-week stay. Prices vary – meaning they could cost a lot more, but not a whole lot less.
To rent a car on weekends, the cost was $273 for two days. Using Costco’s search engine, you’ll find four featured companies: Avis, Budget, Alamo, and Enterprise. However, these are really just two companies, as Avis and Budget are owned by the same company. Alamo is owned by Enterprise, which also owns National.
In Denver, prices hovered around $149 one way for most of the winter. But traveling in late June will cost more: $563 round-trip on Delta, via Seattle or Salt Lake. Alaska Airlines offers a nonstop round trip: $638. A rental car for two days will cost around $273 round trip.
Between Anchorage and San Francisco, United and Alaska offer nonstop summer services. They are more expensive than one-stop service this summer. For most of the winter, layover flights sold for $139 one way. Traveling in June costs more: $460 round-trip on Delta via Seattle, or nonstop on Alaska Airlines for $556 round-trip. Cars also cost more: around $314 for a two-day weekend rental.
Even Seattle prices are going up. Last month the going rate was $99 one way on Alaska or Delta. This price doubles if you travel at the end of June. I couldn’t find a single car for rent at the end of June on the Costco site. So I went to Hertz and found a two day rental for $398.
It’s one thing that prices go up on scheduled flights. It’s another thing when flights are cancelled. And it happens on national and international carriers.
Icelandair has completely canceled its Anchorage-Reykjavik schedule. But other international carriers are also canceling flights. Eurowings Discover, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, had scheduled three flights a week from Anchorage to Frankfurt from June 1. But now, the first flight is June 13.
Condor Airlines also flies Anchorage-Frankfurt, starting May 21. But the airline canceled its first two Sunday flights, May 22 and May 29.
Flair Airlines, Canada’s super budget airline, was scheduled to start flying to Vancouver, British Columbia on May 20. But the carrier pushed the launch back more than a month, to June 24.
Alaska Airlines is reducing its schedule to several destinations. The daily nonstop Anchorage-Salt Lake flight was scheduled to launch on June 17. Now the first flight is June 18, but will only operate once a week during the summer.
Alaska’s daily nonstop service from Anchorage to Minneapolis was scheduled to launch on the same day, June 17. But now Alaska only flies on Saturdays and Sundays until July 1, when daily service begins.
Schedule changes and cancellations happen all the time. But these are last-minute changes, driven in part by labor shortages, the pandemic, rising demand and fuel prices. As scheduled flights are cancelled, this adds upward pressure on fares for the remaining flights.
My rescheduled flight to Fairbanks was a success – and it’s beautiful here in the Golden Heart City. I’m not really upset about the cancellation of my original flight either. I got a note saying the pilot’s wife gave birth at the last minute, which is why he called.