For many visitors, Alaska is the trip of a lifetime. Visitors are often surprised that everything in Alaska costs more than they think it will. What makes Alaska so expensive? There are two key factors –Alaska is a long way from the rest of the lower 48 states and the summer tourism season is only four months long. All products that arrive in Alaska travel a long way to get here so everything from food to clothes to souvenirs are priced higher to cover the additional shipping costs. Hotels in Denali, Talkeetna and even some in Seward close after the summer tourism season so they have only four months to make their business profitable. The best plan is to be prepared, keep in mind that it is the trip of a lifetime and budget accordingly. I will also share some ideas on how to save money on your Alaskan vacation.
The most obvious way to spend less is to travel during non-peak times. There are some hotels that offer lower rates during May and September. Be sure to ask your reservation agent which hotels offers early and late season discounts as not every hotel offers lower rates during this time. The Alaska Railroad also offers lower rates during the early and late season. Most tours have the same price throughout the summer season.
The beauty of Alaska will not be found within the walls of your hotel room. If you are on a limited budget, consider value properties rather than higher end accommodations and book early to take advantage of specials. Look for hotels that have breakfast included, although you will find few hotels outside of Anchorage that offer this amenity.
Choosing the most economical transportation depends on the size of your traveling party. For parties of four or more, traveling by rental car is your best option. For a couple traveling independently choose bus travel over rail travel.
For those who wish to include rail travel, we recommend that you travel one direction by train and one way by bus. This gives you the opportunity to see and experience the scenery rail belt and the Alaskan road system. You also can choose between levels of train service with the standard service on the Alaska Railroad as the least expensive option. If you would like to upgrade to dome service, be sure to travel on the Wilderness Express train which offers dome seating and excellent service at a rate far less than the Goldstar dome service offered by the Alaska Railroad. Another transportation option to consider is renting a motorhome. This offers accommodations and transportation in one package. Be sure to budget for campgrounds and fuel costs!
My best suggestion for tours is to budget for the “must see” trips. I truly believe that any trip to Alaska would not be complete without a day cruise into Kenai Fjords National Park or Prince William Sound, a flightseeing trip to Mt. McKinley and a bus tour into Denali National Park. These tours may seem expensive but the experience they offer is well worth the price!
Denali National Park is only accessible by bus. Generally, we recommend taking a tour into the Park to maximize your experience. A tour bus includes narration about the history, geology and wildlife of Denali National Park and a boxed lunch. A less expensive option is the shuttle bus service offered by the National Park Service. This service is more of a transportation service rather than a tour. It does not include narration but you would still get to travel the Park Road! For the budget minded traveler, look for hikes in each area you visit. Hiking is a great inexpensive way to see what Alaska has to offer. We generally recommend guided hikes but if cost is an issue you can do it on your own you just need to be sure to pack and plan accordingly.
For visitors that want to see glaciers but cannot afford to take a day cruise, consider visiting a number of the roadside glaciers. Exit Glacier in Seward, Byron Glacier in Portage and the Matanuska Glacier north of Palmer offer amazing glacial views and give you an up close experience with Alaska’s rivers of ice. The last suggestion I have is to be sure to visit our Alaska travel deals page. We offer several rebates that are listed on this page. It will also let you know about hotel and tour specials.
Once the planning and budgeting is complete be sure to relax and appreciate the beauty of Alaska and treasure your vacation to a unique travel destination.