Alaska is an expensive destination any way you slice it. For the sake of consistency, regular rates are used throughout the book, but keep in mind that when tourism drops drastically, it is easy to negotiate breaks.
With the exception of rural highway motels, rack rates for standard motel rooms are rarely less than $140 in the high season. (We've rated them this way: inexpensive, less than $135; moderate, $135-$174; expensive, $175-$250; very expensive, more than $250.) Airfare from Seattle to Anchorage fluctuates wildly with competition among the airlines and fuel prices, with a round-trip with 14-day advance purchase currently about $600. (Flying is cheaper than the alternatives, driving or taking the ferry and bus.) Flights from Anchorage to Bush communities are that much again, and more. Even the train is expensive, with a one-way fare from Anchorage to Fairbanks (a 350-mile trip) costing $210. A couple ordering a good salmon dinner, appetizers, and wine will pay at least $100 in a fine restaurant, plus tip. One reason cruise ships have become such a popular way to visit Alaska is that, for the same quality level, they're less expensive on a daily basis than independent travel and offer the chance to see remote coastal areas that can be quite costly to get to for land-based visitors.
To travel at a standard American comfort level, a couple should allow $175 per person, per day, for room and board. The cost of an activity such as flightseeing, wildlife cruises, or guided fishing is typically $100 to $350 per person. Add ground transportation: A car is the best way to see much of the state, and you won't do much better than $55 a day for an economy model from the major national firms. Weekly rentals generally cost the same as renting for 5 individual days. You also may need train and ferry tickets.
You can trim your costs, however, by cutting your demands. You'll learn more about the real Alaska staying in B&B accommodations than in a standard hotel room. Expect to pay $100 to $125 for a nice room with a shared bathroom, $125 to $150 for a private bathroom (much more in a luxury B&B inn). The free breakfast cuts down on food costs, too. And there are plenty of family restaurants where you can eat a modest dinner for two for $50, with a tip and a glass of beer. Traveling in that style will bring down the cost of room and board to about $115 per person, per day for a couple.
You can save the most money by giving up a private room every night and cooking some of your own meals. Camping is a fun way to see Alaska and costs only $10 to $20 a night in state and federal government campgrounds. Hostels are available in most towns for around $25 a night.
Don't economize, however, when it comes to activities. Unlike other destinations, where relatively inexpensive museums or an interesting street scene take up much of your time, a trip to Alaska is all about getting outside and seeing nature. You can hike for nothing, but going sea kayaking, whale-watching, or flying out to see bears or to fish in a remote stream, you have to pay. Cut those expenses, and you cut much of the reason for coming in the first place.
You can save on activities, however, by traveling in the shoulder season, before and after the peak summer season. Hotel and guided activity prices drop significantly, typically 25% or more. May and September are solidly in the shoulder season, and sometimes you get bargains as late as June 15 or as early as August 15. Traveling in the winter is a whole different experience but certainly saves a lot of money -- where hotels are open, you'll find their rates typically running a third to a half lower than their high-season levels.
Carrying your money need not be a problem, regardless of your style of travel; those from the United States don't need to make any adjustments in their usual habits. Even Bush hub communities now have ATMs. The only places that don't usually have ATMs these days are remote outdoor destinations such as lodges or parks and tiny Native villages.
Every business you'd expect to take credit, charge, or debit cards at home will accept them here. Even bed-and-breakfasts and greasy-spoon diners take cards. Few businesses of any kind will take an out-of-state personal check. Traveler's checks are good just about anywhere, but there's no longer any reason to go through the hassle and expense.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.