Alaska is a majestic and wild state, with stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, and plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. But it can also be an expensive place to visit, especially if you’re trying to plan a trip to Alaska on a budget.
If you’re on a budget, don’t worry – there are plenty of ways to see the best of Alaska without breaking the bank.
In this post, I’m going to share everything you need to know to plan a trip to Alaska on a budget and save tons of money in 2023!
- What Does an Alaska Trip Cost?
- Planning a Trip to Alaska On a Budget: 10 Travel Tips
- Cheapest Time to Visit Alaska
- Cheapest Way to Get to Alaska
- How to Fly to Alaska For Free
- Getting Around Alaska on a Budget
- Affordable Accommodations in Alaska
- Cheap Eats in Alaska
- Alaska Activities On A Budget
- Best Way to Plan an Alaska Trip
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What Does an Alaska Trip Cost?
Most of the time Alaska is expensive for a holiday. On average, visitors to Alaska spent $259 per person per day. Food and dining accounted for $57 per person per day, followed by outdoor recreation/sightseeing/entertainment ($48), shopping ($47), and lodging ($46).
A total 7-day Alaska trip cost comes out to $1,813 per person, not including airfare. So, how much is a trip to Alaska for two? If you include airfare, you’re looking at a budget of $4,800 minimum.
However, if you rent a car and stick to camping, it’s possible to do the same trip for less than $2,500. Keep reading to learn all of the ways you can travel to Alaska on a shoestring budget!
Planning a Trip to Alaska On a Budget: 10 Travel Tips
By following these tips, you can plan a trip to Alaska on a budget that will allow you to see the best of the state without breaking the bank.
- Create a budget. Decide how much you can afford to spend so that you can cut costs to stay within your budget.
- Do your research. Before you can plan a trip to Alaska on a budget, you need to do some research. Start by researching the cost of flights, hotels, and car rentals.
- Be flexible. If your travel dates are flexible, you’re likely to find good deals on flights and accommodation, especially during the shoulder seasons.
- Plan ahead. Most Alaska visitors begin planning their trip more than eight months in advance. The earlier you start planning your trip, the more likely you are to find good deals on flights (check out the Club 49 PFD Sale) and accommodation.
- Stick to one region. Alaska is made up of five regions: Southcentral, Interior, Southeast, Southwest, and Arctic. Choose one area to save on travel costs.
- Prioritize. Make a list of the must-see attractions and activities that you don’t want to miss. This will help you focus your planning efforts and ensure that you’re not trying to do too much.
- Break it down. Divide planning into smaller tasks, such as booking flights, accommodations, and activities. Tackle one task at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
- Use a travel planner. A travel planner like the Ultimate Alaska Travel Planner can help you stay organized and keep track of all your trip details in one place. This will make it easier to manage your itinerary and ensure that you don’t forget anything important.
- Seek advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from friends, family members, or travel experts. They can provide valuable insights and recommendations that can help you plan your trip more effectively.
- Take breaks. Planning a trip can be stressful, so make sure to take breaks and give yourself time to relax. This will help you recharge and come back to your planning with a fresh perspective.
Cheapest Time to Visit Alaska
Alaska’s summer tourist season begins in early May and ends in late September. June, July, and August are the peak season months, which makes them the most expensive months to visit Alaska.
If you want to save 10% to 25% on your Alaska vacation then I recommend visiting Alaska during the shoulder seasons (May and September) or during the off-season (October to April). May and September are generally the cheapest months to visit Alaska.
Here are some of the benefits of visiting Alaska during the shoulder seasons:
- Lower prices. You can save money on accommodations, flights, and activities when you visit Alaska before June 13 or after August 20.
- Fewer crowds. The shoulder seasons are less crowded than the peak summer season, which means you’ll have more space to yourself and shorter lines at popular attractions.
- More opportunities for wildlife viewing. Wildlife is more active during the shoulder seasons, so you’ll have better chances of seeing bears, moose, and other animals.
- More comfortable weather. The weather in Alaska is mild during the shoulder seasons, so you won’t have to deal with the heat of the summer or the cold and snow of the winter.
The main downside to traveling during the shoulder season is that many tour operators are closed.
Cheapest Way to Get to Alaska
Flying to Alaska
If you’re looking for the cheapest way to reach Alaska, flying is generally the best option. The earlier you book your flight, the more likely you are to get a good deal.
Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines are two airlines that offer flights to Alaska. Usually, they offer their lowest fares several months in advance, so it’s worth checking both of their websites regularly. Roundtrip flights from Seattle to Anchorage round trip are generally $300-$700, though this varies.
Here are some tips to save money on your Alaska flights:
- Fly into a larger city. You’ll find more flight options from Anchorage, Fairbanks, or Juneau.
- Be flexible with your travel dates. Travel on a weekday instead of a weekend and you’ll likely find cheaper flights.
- Pack light. Avoid excess baggage fees.
Take a Cruise
Alaska’s cruise season runs from May to September. In 2022, just over half of visitors to Alaska were cruise travelers. Those visitors spent an average of $253 per person per day, with shopping, dining, and outdoor recreation or sightseeing making up most of this cost.
One of the best ways to save money on a cruise is by taking a repositioning cruise, which is when the boat sails to and from its home port at the beginning and the end of the cruise season.
During May and September, you can save as much as 50% on your cruise to Alaska. Some of these cruise deals aren’t even repositioning cruises, they’re just affordable early-season options.
Look for cruise itineraries with Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Holland America, and Norwegian Cruise Line. You can find deals for a seven-night itinerary departing in May 2023 out of Vancouver B.C. with fares that start at only $349 USD per person! That’s less than $50 a night!
All-in-all a cruise is a great way to save money on transportation and accommodations!
Driving to Alaska
Only 5% of Alaska visitors arrive in Alaska using transportation that’s not a commercial airline or cruise ship, which makes sense because Alaska is separated from the Lower 48 by over 2,200 miles!
Driving a rental car or your own personal car or RV is the most expensive way to get to Alaska. Costs vary depending on the type of vehicle, gas prices, and travel distance. You also face huge expenses if something unexpected happens with your vehicle along the way.
It might make sense to visit Alaska using your own vehicle or RV if you plan to spend a few weeks or an entire summer in Alaska. Or, if you’re moving and want to enjoy a scenic road trip.
If you do plan on driving the Alaska Highway or Dalton Highway, I recommend picking up a copy of the 2023 Alaska Milepost. The Milepost is a popular travel guide that includes mile-by-mile descriptions of more than 15,000 miles of road in Alaska and Canada. Knowing where to park or camp can save you some money along the way.
How to Fly to Alaska For Free
Alaska Airlines Award Flights
One of my favorite ways to travel for free is using miles! I’ve saved thousands of dollars by earning points and spending them on flights in and out of Alaska.
Alaska Airlines offers award flights to and from Alaska that you can book flights using the miles you’ve earned though their program. Once you enter your travel dates and destination, you’ll be able to see a list of available award flights.
The miles are accrued with credit cards, so once you sign up for an Alaska Airlines credit card, you can start to rack up enough miles to earn free flights.
The trick is to sign up for the card when there is a huge sign-up bonus. Currently, you can earn 50,000 bonus miles and a $100 statement credit, after qualifying purchases (spending $3,000 in 90 days). That’s a free roundtrip flight!
Now, credit cards are not for everyone! I only recommend getting into travel hacking if you can pay off your monthly credit card statements on time each month. If you can’t, you will lose so much money in the long run from paying interest!
A perk of this credit card is the annual companion fare, which is perfect when you want to travel with a partner or friend. This allows you to book a second flight for another person for only $99, plus taxes and fees. You’ll also earn miles for each mile flown.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
If you already have an Alaska Airlines credit card or want a card with more transfer options to other airline and hotel partners, I recommend a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.
Currently, you can earn 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. The $95 annual fee is reasonable and the value of the points it earns makes it a great first travel credit card.
There’s definitely a lot more that goes into travel hacking and earning free flights and accommodations, but these card options will start you in the right direction.
Getting Around Alaska on a Budget
You can save a lot of money by using public transportation in Anchorage and other major cities in Alaska. The problem is that the bus system is pretty unreliable so I don’t usually recommend it.
Many hotels in Alaska offer free shuttle service to and from the airport. You can check with your accommodations to see if they offer this to avoid paying for a taxi or Uber.
Private Bus Transfer
Taking a private bus is a great way to get to different cities and towns in Alaska, especially in Southcentral Alaska. Park Connection is one company that offers transport from Anchorage to Denali Park, Seward, Talkeetna, and Whittier. The rate from Anchorage to Denali Park is only $105 per adult and from Anchorage to Seward is $75. You can also combine their motorcoach with a tour on the Alaska Railroad.
Alaska Marine Highway Ferry
The Alaska Marine Highway is the state-run ferry system. It’s a cheaper alternative to taking an expensive cruise or flight. If you’re traveling throughout Southeast Alaska, can get from Ketchikan to Skagway for $173. The journey will take you nearly a full day and departures don’t run daily.
Car rentals in Alaska are super expensive these days and you can expect to pay over $300 per day during summer. If you’re traveling in a group, this could still be an affordable transportation option.
Turo is a great website to check out if you’re open to renting a car from a local, you can find a cheaper rental car for $100 a day. Make sure to check reviews because some visitors have had bad experiences with last-minute cancellations leaving them stuck with expensive alternatives.
Keep in mind the average price of gas in Alaska last summer was $6.73 per gallon. Since the distances between popular Alaska destinations are miles apart, it can become very expensive to travel this way.
If you stick to one area, like the Kenai Peninsula, you can easily reduce your fuel costs.
Camper Van or RV Travel
One of the best ways to get around Alaska on a budget is by camper van or RV. Using a camper van or motorhome to travel helps you save money on the daily costs of hotels and dining out.
The costs of a daily RV rental range from $200 to $400, depending on who you book with. If you are traveling with a group of friends or family, you can split the cost of the rental to bring down your daily spending.
The biggest perk of traveling with any recreational vehicle is that you get the luxury of convenience. You get to stop where you want, travel at your own speed, and eat a good home-cooked meal while you’re parked in front of incredible places.
A local company to consider booking with is Great Alaskan Holidays. They offer unlimited mileage and 24/7 assistance. You can also check RV Share, it’s basically like Turo for RVs. You can find some pretty good deals using this site, but make sure to check for any daily mileage and road restrictions.
Another cost to consider is RV campsite fees. If you want to stay in a private or public campground with a full hookup and showers, you can expect to pay at least $30 per night. Most towns and state parks have campgrounds in and around town.
Keep in mind, Alaska has a ton of highway pull-offs where you can conveniently park for free overnight. This can save you a good chunk of change.
Affordable Accommodations in Alaska
I love camping in Alaska, whether it’s car camping or tent camping. Plus, it’s a great way to have a cheap Alaska vacation. Alaska has many established campgrounds to choose from, including private campgrounds, municipal campgrounds, state park campgrounds, and park service campgrounds.
There are plenty of wild camping or dispersed camping options as well. This is definitely the cheapest accommodation in Alaska! If you need help finding campsites on public land or BLM land, I like to use iOverlander. Make sure you don’t wild camp on private land!
Some campgrounds accept reservations, but most campgrounds in Alaska are first-come, first-served. Here’s a list of Alaska State Parks Campgrounds. Expect to pay at least $15 per night.
If you are required to make a reservation, for instance at a Seward campground, you definitely want to book in advance, especially during any weekend in June and July. If you don’t prepare to arrive early for the best chances of securing a site.
Hostels are a great way to save money on accommodation. Unfortunately, there are few hostels located throughout Alaska. Most hostels are found in bigger cities like Anchorage. A 1-night stay at Base Camp Anchorage in a shared female dorm will cost you $56 per night.
Public Use Cabins
For the adventure traveler, a public use cabin is the perfect accommodation. You can find these state-run cabins in state parks and national forests around Alaska, and most of them can only be accessed by foot or boat. Cabins usually cost somewhere between $60 to $85. Most of them sleep 6 to 8 people, which means you could pay $10 each!
If you enjoy hiking and want a unique outdoor experience in Alaska then make sure to reserve a public use cabin for your trip.
Apartments and B&B’s
Airbnb is a popular way to find lodging in Alaska, but sometimes the fees are insane. If you can’t find a good deal on Airbnb, then I recommend staying at a B&B. It may cost you $100 to $200 per night, but you’l most likey have a place to cook your own meals to reduce daily travel costs.
Hotels are the most expensive accommodation in Alaska. Sometimes you can find a good deal, but most of the time you’re paying at least $200+ per night for a basic hotel room. On top of that some cities have high a bed tax – up to 14%!
If you want to get free hotel stays, I would recommend getting into travel hacking and using points to book your accommodations. I’ll talk more about this below.
Cheap Eats in Alaska
Dining out while traveling can be spendy! If you’re on a budget and want to save money on food in Alaska then cook your own meals. This is why it’s great to travel with a camper van or have access to a kitchen so you can cook.
Depending on the time of year, you can also enjoy Alaska’s natural resources, like salmon and wild blueberries.
There are plenty of supermarkets to shop for groceries and food supplies. I recommend trying to get as much food and snacks as you can in larger cities so it’s a bit cheaper. The best part is most places in Alaska don’t have a sales tax!
Also, you’ll soon find out that there are long stretches in Alaska where you won’t find a single restaurant or grocery store, so it’s good to always have some food on hand.
If you pack a cooler, make sure to store it properly (inside your vehicle or a bear box) so that you don’t have any unexpected bear encounters.
If you want to dine out every once in a while, there are plenty of restaurants and food trucks where you can get a great meal for less than $20 per person. On the other hand, you can easily spend $70+ on dinner for two and a few $6 pints of beer.
Alaska has plenty of fast food options as well if that’s what you’re into. You’ll find McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Burger King and Sonic.
The tap water in Alaska is amazing! I always carry a reusable water bottle and 5-gallon water jug in my vehicle while traveling around Alaska so I don’t spend any money on bottled water. If you get water from a lake or river, make sure to filter it first.
Alaska Activities On A Budget
Free Activities in Alaska
Alaska is known for its natural beauty. There is always something incredibly scenic to see around every corner… I’m not kidding!
With this in mind, most of the free activities in Alaska are outdoor-related. You can go hiking, backpacking, camping, visit parks, and see glaciers and wildlife for FREE.
Actually, most of the state and national parks in Alaska don’t have any entrance fees! The only national park that actually charges an entry fee is Denali National Park, and that’s only when you travel beyond Mile 15. Well, guess what, I’ve seen grizzly bears and caribou before this point.
If you’re not outdoorsy, you can also find free events like live music, or free days to visit museums and other historical sites. You may even come across a complimentary walking tour. Facebook is a great place to check for upcoming free events.
Low Cost Alternatives to Expensive Alaska Activities
If you followed my travel planning tips above then you already have a list of tours and activities that are important to you. I get it. It’s Alaska and there are some once-in-a-lifetime activities that you don’t want to miss, like flightseeing in Denali.
The good news is that most of the expensive tours in Alaska have low-cost options. Here are some alternatives.
Glacier viewing on a budget
Instead of taking a helicopter tour with a glacier landing or paying a guide, you can plan your own hike to many glaciers in Alaska. Root Glacier is one of my favorite glaciers to visit that you can actually walk on!
How to see the Northern Lights on a budget
You don’t need to spend the night in an expensive dome to see the Northern Lights. All you need is a good website like Aurora Notify and clear skies.
If you are staying at a hotel, ask them if they have an aurora wake-up call! Most hotels have this option so that you won’t miss your chance of seeing this natural phenomenon.
Visit Denali National Park on a budget
Denali National Park is the most popular park in Alaska. You can save money in Denali by using one of the non-narrated transit buses or a free shuttle.
You can avoid paying the entrance fee if you don’t drive past Mile 15 of Denali Park Road. This area by the Savage River is a great place to see wildlife, like bears and caribou!
Bear viewing in Alaska on a budget
Bear viewing is one of the most expensive tours in Alaska, especially if you go to Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park or Lake Clark National Park.
Instead of flying to a remote national park, you can try and spot a bear while driving around, on the river, or you can go to a conservation center like the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Portage or the Fortress of the Bears in Sitka.
How to save money while fishing in Alaska
Instead of staying in a fishing lodge or booking a fly-in trip, you can simply buy a fishing license, rent some fishing gear (or bring your own), and fish right from the riverbank.
How to Tip in Alaska
When you plan your activity budget, make sure to account for any tips. It’s common to tip 15-20% of the cost of your tour. Not all companies, like the Alaska Railroad, allow their guides to accept tips.
Using Alaska Coupon Books
The Northern Lights Coupon Book and Tour Saver Coupon Book are two great resources for saving money on activities and attractions in Alaska.
Both coupon books can be purchased online or at a number of locations throughout Alaska. To use a coupon, simply present it to the activity provider or tour operator at the time of purchase.
It only makes sense to buy either of these coupon books if you have planned tours or activities with the vendors listed.
Northern Lights Coupon Book
The Northern Lights Coupon Book costs $55 and includes coupons for a variety of tours, such as dog sledding, whale watching, and glacier cruises. Most of the tours offered in the book are found in southcentral Alaska.
This coupon book also has a lot of coupons for restaurants and food trucks in Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla, Kenai Peninsula, Denali, and Fairbanks.
Alaska TourSaver Booklet
The Alaska TourSaver includes coupons for travel, tours, and lodging in Alaska. It costs $100 for the statewide travel coupons, but you can save money by only purchasing coupons for select regions using the app.
One of the best coupons in the statewide book is 25% off Alaska Airlines airfare. It can be used for up to 4 people so you could save more than $1000 on your flights! This coupon as well as other coupons in the booklet have restrictions, so make sure to read the fine print before you decide to purchase the booklet.
Best Way to Plan an Alaska Trip
Once you being to plan a trip to Alaska on a budget, I highly recommend using my Ultimate Alaska Travel Planner. This planner allows you to keep all of your trip details organized in one place.
Using this Ultimate Alaska Travel Planner, you can manage your daily itinerary, create pre-trip to-do lists and packing lists, set a savings goal and budget and track your expenses. You can manage all of your bookings and reservations for flights, accommodations, transportation, and activities for easy reference.
Here are a few benefits of using an Alaska travel planner:
- It can help you stay on budget.
- It can keep you organized.
- It can help you make the most of your time in Alaska.
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Do you have any questions about how to plan a trip to Alaska on a budget? Ask your questions below!