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Newly relaxed entry rules: What it's like to travel to Alaska right now

March 26, 2021
9 min read
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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?

A view from Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

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.

Ted Stevens International Airport (ANC) in Anchorage. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

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.

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Related: Traveling soon? Here’s where you can quickly get a COVID-19 PCR test for travel

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.

(Screenshot courtesy Alaska safe travels)

Getting tested on arrival

COVID-19 testing site at Anchorage Airport in Alaska March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

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.

(Screenshot courtesy COVID Secure)

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?

Urbach's store in Seward, Alaska March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

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.

The Mermaid Grotto Cafe and Boutique in Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

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:

(Screenshot courtesy Alaska.gov)

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.

(Screenshot courtesy Alaska Airlines)
(Screenshot courtesy Alaska Airlines)

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.

(Screenshot courtesy Delta Air Lines)

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.

(Screenshot courtesy American Airlines)

Related: Fair warning: Hawaii is crowded again

The last word on our Alaska visit

Clint and Benet in Seward Alaska, March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

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 Seward, Alaska March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023