April 14, 2012 3:34 PM   Subscribe

My sister is being induced on May 1st in Fairbanks, Alaska. I live in Toronto. Help me get there.

My sister, who lives in Fairbanks, is scheduled to have a baby on May 1st. I'd like to go out and help her and I'm looking for some pointers. Airfare is expensive, which I expected, and some lower-priced flights are just poorly....scheduled. (Paying $900 to fly from Toronto to Detroit, Detroit to Chicago, Chicago to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Fairbanks just seems like a terrible idea, although paying $2500 to fly Toronto-Seattle-Fairbanks is a little hard to swallow, too.)

To save costs, I am considering flying out of Buffalo or flying into Anchorage and renting a car to drive to Fairbanks (and I'll need a car to get around Fairbanks anyway). Do you have experience with that drive at this time of year? I am a very good winter driver and I have lived in Alaska before, although I lived in Seward (which is southeastern Alaska) and most of my winter driving experience has been upstate NY and southern Ontario.

Is there another possibility I'm missing? I know about the train that runs from Anchorage up through Denali, and I've taken it. It seems like a pretty slow way to get where I'm going.

To sum up, I can afford to pay $2500 in airfare and I'll probably end up doing that if there aren't better options. I've lived in Alaska and I've lived in Asia so the romantic notion of a rugged, twelve-stage trip across the country is dead and buried. Having said that, I'm not opposed to driving from Anchorage to Fairbanks if it's a reasonable thing for a regular person in a rental car to do.

posted by kate blank to Travel & Transportation around Alaska (16 answers total)
You probably already know this, but you didn't mention it in the question, so just in case: there are non-stop flights from Anchorage to Fairbanks for around $250 round trip. So if you can figure out a cheap way to get to Anchorage (good luck with that!) then you can avoid the winter drive for $250.
posted by caek at 3:42 PM on April 14, 2012

You might want to look at flying out of Detroit as well. The drive from Toronto to Detroit is about half as long as the drive from Anchorage to Fairbanks.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:50 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

The drive is totally doable in May in a rental- barring a blizzard (possible! but very unlikely) it's a straight shot. There was a fleet of school buses from Anchorage that went up for a jazz festival this weekend, and no one blinked twice. But it's at least a six hour drive, which you would be doing twice, so-ugh. The train ride is slow but you don't have to focus, so that seems like a more-pleasant option to me, actually.
posted by charmedimsure at 3:51 PM on April 14, 2012

Expedia shows $848 Jazz flights from Vancouver to Fairbanks (that have layovers in Seattle and Anchorage). Getting a cheap flight from Toronto to Vanvouver might land you between your two extremes of price and inconvenience.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:55 PM on April 14, 2012

Crap - the angled brackets got me.

Just poking around on kayak.com, for the 29th I found WestJet Toronto to Vancouver for less than $700, and Vancouver to Fairbanks (via Anchorage) for $900, or Vancouver to Anchorage direct for $650. YYZ->YVR->ANC->FAI might be your best option, as all of those legs are well serviced routes.
posted by cgg at 4:20 PM on April 14, 2012

As of 3 weeks ago the roads were great. If the roads are dry you can really haul and make it in about 7 hours. It's light out until 10 now. Fairbanks is absolutely great right now. The snow is melting off incredibly fast this year. You should be fine if you want to drive.
posted by madred at 5:06 PM on April 14, 2012

Go to the Alaska Airlines site directly, they will have flights on there that aren't on kayak or Travelocity. Also try Delta and United sites, directly. Hubs for cheaper flights to Alaska are Salt Lake, Minneapolis, Portland, Vancouver and Seattle mostly. Delta also flies direct to JFK sometimes although it is a miserably long flight. And it's on Delta.

Just looked and Delta will fly Toronto to Anchorage for $1,077 those dates.

The roads will be totally fine if you drive to Fairbanks but yes, it's a 6 hour drive. You can fly for about $100 (same as gas!) on a regional carrier like Pen Air or Era Aviation. Buy those on their sites too.
posted by fshgrl at 5:08 PM on April 14, 2012

oops, that price is one way. Sorry!
posted by fshgrl at 5:08 PM on April 14, 2012

It's not clear how long you want to stay in Fairbanks. That said, I've found several $871 roundtrip Delta flights on Kayak, arriving a day or two before May 1 and leaving 7-10 days later. Each way has two stops but the total duration is 14 and 12 hours, which is not too bad.
posted by acidic at 5:11 PM on April 14, 2012

Hipmunk shows me some decent flights leaving Saturday the 28th.

The one at the top of the list sounds reasonable: leave TO at 5:35 PM, buy ridiculous airport gifts for people/drink/chat up strangers for 3 hours and 15 minutes in Seattle, then Alaska Air to FAI. Arrive 1:40AM on the 29th.

Not so terrible. $860 and no drive. I only did a one way, but I'm sure there is something similar for the way back.
posted by tracert at 5:36 PM on April 14, 2012

Best answer: I live in Anchorage and have lived in Fairbanks and have driven between those two cities hundreds of times. The end of April is totally drivable in a rental car, you'd be fine. The roads are currently dry and will stay that way, and it's still too early for the tourists to clog up the roads so you'd make great time. 6-7 hours.

You could probably post on the Anchorage Craigslist to split the cost of gas with someone. If I were driving north around then I'd totally take you, but I'm not and I don't know of anyone doing it.
posted by rhapsodie at 7:22 PM on April 14, 2012

Alaska airlines (or maybe orbitz) was just advertising ~$800 tickets for Chicago to Fairbanks, round trip, but I'm not sure what dates. And about $300 anchorage to Fairbanks, round trip.

(on the other hand, I flew Fairbanks to Toronto for a conference in November, and it was just expensive. But I think we only paid about $1400 even so. )

It's fabulous right now in Fairbanks:breakup is in full swing, it's warm (ish) and sunny, and everything's melting...So I wouldn't be so worried about the drive, except presumably you've got better things to do with your trip, like spend time with your sister.
posted by leahwrenn at 10:22 PM on April 14, 2012

This sounds like a perfect problem for FlightFox - though I haven't tried it yet myself, it seems promising.
posted by pahalial at 10:32 PM on April 14, 2012

Skyscanner is a really good tool for figuring these problems out. It allows for all sorts of things like changing carriers, even transferring from one airport to another.

For a double-transfer, right now, it's giving $1687 CAD for weekday tickets YYZ-->FAI, with a two week layover on Delta (through JFK and SeaTac). A similar weekday through BUF-->FAI is $896, also on Delta (through DTW and SeaTac). Detroit directly is actually $50 more expensive.
posted by bonehead at 7:30 AM on April 15, 2012

Sorry, those are two way-return flights, btw.
posted by bonehead at 7:31 AM on April 15, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for all the answers! I should have mentioned that I don't have a car (living in downtown Toronto, I don't need one) which is why I was thinking more about driving on the Alaska end, since I will have to rent a car there anyway.

I'll update again when I make a travel decision.
posted by kate blank at 8:06 AM on April 16, 2012

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