Newly relaxed entry rules: What it’s like to travel to Alaska right now
Alaska is again open for tourism, and while you can’t go on a major cruise there at the moment, there’s still plenty to do and see. In fact, it may be the best time in our lives to visit the 50th state, as there are fewer tourists, wide-open spaces and lots of deals to be found.
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TPG staffers Clint Henderson and Benét Wilson just got back from a trip to “The Last Frontier.” Here’s all you need to know about visiting right now.
Why go to Alaska now?
Now is a great time to go. A lack of cruisers means a lot less crowding at popular sites such as Glacier Bay National Park and Denali National Park. Plus, local businesses are happy to see tourists after a year of the pandemic. Alaska is the largest state in the U.S. and that means there is always plenty of room to roam — though note that overland travel in Alaska can be complicated and time-consuming, so plan your trip carefully.
The lack of cruise crowds mean you’ll have even more elbow room. We were there in March just as winter turned to spring and it was really quiet. It will be busier this summer, but there will be more than ample opportunity to social distance.
Related: 4 tips for visiting Alaska right now
There are also great deals to be found right now. We found flights from Los Angeles to Anchorage for June for as low as $207 roundtrip. More details below.
Alaska entry requirements during COVID-19
Changes to Alaska’s testing and quarantine requirements back in February have made it easier to visit. For example, you now have more testing options and quarantine requirements have eased. The state still wants you to get tested, but testing is now available on arrival (see details below). We were both super stressed about the possibility of being denied entry, but the testing-on-arrival process was simple.
Before your trip, you’ll need to complete a “safe travels” application, and plan on getting tested twice — once before or on arrival, and again between five and 14 days after arrival. We took our free COVID-19 test after landing at Ted Stevens International Airport (ANC) and found the whole process to be pretty simple.
Register prior to arrival in Alaska
As part of the pre-arrival application, you’ll need to fill out a travel declaration and a quarantine plan. You can do this through the Alaska safe travels portal or through the app. You can see what that looks like below. It’s fairly straightforward and easy to complete prior to arrival.
Getting tested on arrival
Both of us were tested on arrival in Alaska. It is not mandatory, and you can opt instead to do your own testing within 72 hours of arrival, but we highly recommend testing on arrival. The best part is that it is free! As you leave the gate area, passengers who want to be tested go into a separate line inside the terminal. You then approach a group of administrators seated behind plexiglass shields at about 20 stations.
You answer a few questions including if you’ve been tested within 72 hours, if you are a resident of Alaska, and if you want a COVID-19 test. You then proceed downstairs to the baggage claim area where there is a test site set up not far from where you pick up your bags. It took less than 15 minutes, total, to receive the nasal swab rapid PCR test.
They told us we’d have our results within 48 hours, but both of us got our negative results that same night.
The one thing to note is that you are technically required to quarantine at your first destination until you get the negative test result back. For us, that was at the Marriott Courtyard Anchorage Airport hotel. We’d probably choose another hotel next time, but that’s a story for another day.
What it was like in Alaska?
Alaska was relatively free of tourist crowds, though this is somewhat typical at the end of the winter season. We rented a car, stayed the night in Anchorage and did the scenic three-hour drive to the coastal town of Seward — a popular stop on Alaska cruise itineraries in pre-pandemic times. The town itself was pretty empty. Most people were wearing masks in public, although there were a few scofflaws. There were some who were judgmental toward those of us who were wearing masks, but for the most part people were trying to be respectful.
Some restaurants and bars were closed, but that probably has a lot more to do with the winter season than with COVID-19. Among the places that were open, the food was pretty good. We enjoyed breakfast and coffee every morning at the Mermaid Grotto Cafe and Boutique (the Bad Brenda breakfast sandwich was delicious). Other places to try include Chinook’s Seafood and Grill for fresh king crab legs, the Lone Chicharron Taqueria for great tacos and the Saltwood Smokehouse for delicious smoked red salmon and black cod.
The people we talked to in Seward were clearly missing the tourist dollars that come from the cruise industry, but most said they’d managed despite the crisis.
According to Visit Anchorage, “In Anchorage, face masks are required in indoor or communal outdoor public places. Gathering size limitations, physical distancing requirements, and other public health precautions remain in effect. Travelers are also asked to observe statewide testing recommendations.”
The state’s COVID-19 page supports this — face masks are required while indoors and whenever social distancing is challenging, They also have this handy graphic for travelers:
How to get there on miles or cash
There are lots of deals to be found right now for late spring and early summer flights. Alaska Airlines is in a bit of a fare war with Delta Air Lines as Delta tries to horn in on some of Alaska Airlines’ most popular flights. Flights from Los Angeles are now as low as $208 and from New York for just $368. If you want to use your Mileage Plan miles you can go in coach for 30,000 miles or first class for 50,000 Alaska miles one-way. Some dates have availability for just 15,000 miles one-way.
Related: Delta makes a big play for Alaska
Delta is offering flights from New York as low as $338 in Basic Economy. Flights from Atlanta were $384 in Basic Economy or $514 in the main cabin. You could book the same flight using Delta SkyMiles for 35,500 plus $11.20 in taxes and fees.
You could also fly Delta roundtrip from San Francisco to Anchorage via Seattle in May for just 20,500 Delta SkyMiles plus $11.20 in taxes and fees. The same flight would cost you $320 in basic economy for $415 in main cabin if you pay cash.
On Alaska Airlines, that same flight would set you back 32,500 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles or $522.
American Airlines has flights from Chicago (ORD) direct to Anchorage for as low as $315 roundtrip. You could go from San Francisco via Phoenix for $401. You could book the same flights for 30,000 American Airlines miles roundtrip plus $11.20 in taxes and fees.
The last word on our Alaska visit
Visiting Alaska is much easier now that the state has eased its testing and quarantine requirements for visitors. Now is a great time to visit before the serious cruise crowds return. You can also take advantage of some great deals, and — like Benét — check off the 50th state on your travel list!
Featured image by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.
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