Travel Alaska on a Budget
Updated August 2022 | Originally written August 2022
It’s no secret, Alaska is not a cheap destination. It’s remote, with limited infrastructure, and many highlights require long drives, flights, or boats to reach. With that said though, it’s possible with some advance planning to save some cash and travel Alaska on a budget.
In some areas, you’ll have to get creative and in other categories willing to sacrifice some comforts, but reducing your Alaska travel costs is possible. So in this Alaska budget travel guide, you’ll find some tips, tricks, and insider secrets on how to see Alaska without spending a fortune.
Traveling Alaska on a Budget Tip #1: Shoulder Seasons
A no-brainer in most touristy destinations is to take advantage of the shoulder and off seasons, and Alaska shares these similarities to a degree.
You can take advantage of cheaper rental car prices and lower accommodation costs when opting to visit outside the main peak season of summer (mid-June to mid-August). As demand dwindles your potential for savings increases.
That all said, Alaska comes with a few caveats. Many accommodations shutter from September to May, meaning that there aren’t as many hotel options abound. So while you will see lower prices among what’s remaining open, you may not see rock-bottom prices.
A way that many find useful in cutting costs is eliminating accommodations altogether by camping while in Alaska, but with the cold temperatures during the off-season months of October to April, camping will be of no use for 99% of visitors.
This brings me to the golden shoulder seasons of May to mid-June and mid-August and September. These are lovely times to travel Alaska and you’ll usually save 10-25% on accommodations, tours, and rental cars compared to peak season prices.
Traveling Alaska on a Budget Tip #2: Book in Advance
The early bird gets the worm when it comes to traveling Alaska on a budget. Making last-minute decisions may leave you with not many options to choose from especially if visiting during the peak season.
So how far in advance should you start booking in advance? A good minimum amount of time to start would be 4 months before your trip though I find many people begin planning about 6 months in advance. If you’re wanting to save you could even start a year in advance.
Traveling Alaska on a Budget Tip #3: Self Drive
Public transportation in Alaska is abysmal, to say the least. Sure, the railroad links Anchorage to Fairbanks to the north and Seward to the south but it is by no means a form of public transport. Hell, many times booking a flight is cheaper than taking a train.
This is by design, Alaska trains are set up with extracting as much money as possible per person as humanly possible. Public buses between cities? Forget it.
So where does that leave us? With self-driving.
But since 2020 rental car prices have become insane, bit just in Alaska but pretty much everywhere. So what to do? Welcome, Turo.
Turo is like the Airbnb of cars. People rent out personal vehicles on Turo, people rent them, and voile.
Having your own transport is key to traveling Alaska on a budget for all the reasons mentioned above. Well worth mentioning is that having that ultimate freedom to go where you want when you want is priceless.
Traveling Alaska on a Budget Tip #4: Search Airline Sales and Use Mileage
The vast majority of you will arrive in Alaska by plane, so why not try and save some serious $$$ on that? If you have an airline credit card, check out if they have companion fares that could be used to book your trip to Alaska if traveling in pairs. Another thing to check out is your mileage balance to see if you have enough to get a free ticket.
No mileage or companion fares available? Start using fare calendars to determine the best days to travel on with the cheapest airfares. This segues nicely to…
Traveling Alaska on a Budget Tip #5: Have some Flexibility
Having some flexibility on the dates you can travel to and from Alaska will help you to stick to a budget for your Alaska travels. When pulling up fare calendars for flights you may notice a Tuesday flight is significantly cheaper than a Friday flight- so if you have some wiggle room on when you can fly, take advantage of it.
Traveling Alaska on a Budget Tip #6: Go Camping
Visiting Alaska in the warmer months of May-September? Save some serious money on accommodations by packing a tent with you and taking advantage of the countless campgrounds scattered all over Alaska’s Southcentral, Kenai Peninsula, and Interior regions.
Most state-run campgrounds range from $10-25 per night for tent campers making it a very Alaska budget traveler-friendly option.
Traveling Alaska on a Budget Tip #7: Stay at Non-Hotel Accommodations
Airbnb, VRBO, or even RV rental are great ways to save money in the accommodation category if you just plain don’t want to tent camp or the temperatures are just getting a bit too chilly for you at night. Another great option is to google the area you’re looking to stay in and see if there are local accommodations on offer that wouldn’t be listed on major booking platforms. Sometimes these can be rustic log cabins or small locally-owned b&bs.
RVs can also be a great way to combine your accommodation and your transport which can help you save some money on your Alaska trip, especially if you’re traveling as a family or a group.
Those on an extremely tight budget may want to look into Couchsurfing as they try to travel Alaska on a budget as hosts offer up a free couch or bed in their homes to travelers.
Traveling Alaska on a Budget Tip #8: Prepare Meals Your Own Meals
One thing you’ll likely notice right away is that everything is expensive in Alaska. Owing to remoteness and the fact that many things have to be freighted in, food prices are markedly higher in Alaska compared to other parts of the US and abroad.
To save some money on food expenses while traveling in Alaska you could plan to prepare some or all of your meals as it will come out to be cheaper than eating out.
Traveling Alaska on a Budget Tip #9: Get Outdoors, Skip the Tours
Alaska offers endless possibilities for outdoors lovers which can make it easy to skip out on a lot of tours and hiking excursions without feeling like you missed out.
So whether you opt to take on one of the many countless hikes in Alaska, or opt for wildlife viewing without the flightseeing trip, this is one area to save money. Ultimately you will need to decide for yourself what tours and excursions may be worth the money to you and which ones might be worth skipping.
Traveling Alaska on a Budget Tip #10: Check out Alaska’s Roadside Glaciers
Many visitors to Alaska want to see or even walk out on a glacier while they are here. You can find countless glacier tours, often requiring a helicopter or small plane to reach which can be an awesome experience in Alaska, but they come with a premium price tag.
One thing that makes Alaska unique is the fact that there are several what we like to call ‘roadside glaciers’, meaning glaciers you can essentially drive to and reach by a short walk. Some of these glaciers include Byron Glacier (near Anchorage), Portage Glacier (near Anchorage), Exit Glacier(near Seward), Mendenhall Glacier (near Juneau), Worthington Glacier (near Valdez), and Matanuska Glacier (between Anchorage and Valdez).
Traveling Alaska on a Budget Tip #11: Don’t Try to See it All
Many travelers to Alaska want to try and “see it all” which can get expensive as the state is massive. If trying to travel Alaska on a budget it would be wise to try and visit only one (or a couple) regions. The cheapest of course to combine is Southcentral (Anchorage and around), the Kenai Peninsula, and the Interior as these three regions are connected by road and fairly easily accessible. If wanting to more remote regions such as the Arctic, Western Alaska, the Southeast, or the Aleutians it’s best to visit them as a stand-alone.