Wednesday, August 16, 2017
To Save Money on Flights, Look to Smaller Airports
The New York (NY) Times
Ever feel hemmed in by your airport choices? Especially for those living in major metropolitan areas, it often seems that you’re forced to fly to and from a limited list of places. But there are options for the seasoned budget traveler: smaller and sometimes more out-of-the-way airports that can save you a decent chunk of change and a fair amount of grief. I researched a number of examples throughout the United States and found a number of cases when smaller is better.
The New York City-area airport making the biggest splash in the trans-Atlantic pool is not Kennedy, Newark or La Guardia: It’s Stewart International Airport in Orange County, about 60 miles north of Manhattan. The low-budget carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle is currently offering some great deals for fall travel, including $99 one-way fares from Stewart to destinations like Edinburgh; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Bergen, Norway. (The return ticket will cost you a bit more than $99.) Adults can pay as little as $16.75 (off-peak) to take the Metro-North Railroad from Grand Central Terminal to Beacon, followed by a $1 shuttle to the airport itself.
Long Island MacArthur Airport and Westchester County Airport excel in flights to and from Florida, including major destinations like Orlando and smaller ones like West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale (a decent alternative to Miami International Airport in its own right). The no-frills carrier Frontier has invested substantially in MacArthur, with a number of new routes for this year and next, including nonstop service to Atlanta and Chicago, as well as attractive $128 nonstop round-trips to Orlando on select dates in late August. The same itinerary would cost $199 from Newark.
Chicago has two major airports, O’Hare and Midway. The budget carrier Southwest Airlines dominates the latter; O’Hare, of course, is the 800-pound gorilla, routing multiple airlines to and from most of the free world. Travel into the city proper, though, can be arduous, even on public transportation. O’Hare, which sits far to the northwest, can be particularly bad, especially if you’re not going somewhere served by the Blue Line, the leg of the Chicago Transit Authority that serves that airport.
Are there alternatives? Rockford International Airport, about 85 miles from downtown Chicago, is a bit isolated for the casual traveler. But flying into General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee offers some opportunities to cut costs. I’ve personally saved about $200 flying into Milwaukee instead of Chicago when I needed a last-minute ticket from the West Coast. Currently, a round-trip from Los Angeles to Milwaukee during select dates in August would run just $224 on Delta; the next cheapest non-red-eye option on a major carrier would cost $321 to O’Hare.
Granted, the Delta flight has a layover, and you’ll need a kind soul willing to make the 90-minute drive from Chicago to pick you up. But those on their own needn’t fret: Amtrak’s Hiawatha route can get you from Milwaukee’s airport to Chicago’s Union Station in 80 minutes for $25 — or take a Greyhound bus, which can run as little as $10.
As someone who frequently uses Los Angeles International Airport, I don’t think it’s a bad airport, it’s just a pain to get to (and leave from). Its location is inconvenient for those who don’t live on the west side of the city, and the traffic surrounding it is frequently gridlocked. Many a friendship (and Uber rating) has been strained over an LAX pickup.
Hollywood Burbank Airport has occasionally saved me a few dollars but, more important, frequently allowed me to keep my sanity. Security lines are short, and traffic is rarely bad entering or exiting the airport. Most important, its location is far more convenient for much of Los Angeles’s non-beach-dwelling populace. Sample nonstop fares to and from San Francisco in August and September are $97 round-trip — identical to flying out of LAX. But given the added convenience, I’d certainly choose Burbank.
And then there’s nearby Long Beach Airport, 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. That same flight to San Francisco on JetBlue, which has invested heavily in Long Beach routes, is even cheaper — only $87. Like Burbank, it’s a less hectic airport than LAX and offers a smoother drop-off and security experience. Other Los Angeles-area airports, like John Wayne in Orange County and Ontario in San Bernardino County, are notable for good deals to Mexican destinations like San Josť del Cabo and Guadalajara.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport isn’t necessarily the best airport for Seattle-area denizens — Bellingham International Airport, close to the Canadian border, can sometimes save those bound for Washington’s biggest city (and even those who are Vancouver-bound, too) a significant amount of money. A sample route I searched, San Diego to Bellingham, was a mere $104 round-trip on Allegiant Air during select days in September.
The same itinerary into Sea-Tac would have cost double (and a ridiculous $556 into Vancouver). Those worried about transportation from Bellingham to Seattle need look no further than Bolt Bus — fares for the roughly two-hour trip are as low as $1 (plus $2 service fee), though fares typically range from $8 to $15.
Dallas Love Field Airport is practically in downtown Dallas — at least compared with Dallas Fort Worth, the city’s main international airport (and American Airlines headquarters), which sits far to the northwest of the city center. In addition, routes from Love Field, where Southwest Airlines is headquartered, adequately cover most areas of the United States.
In some cases, flights from Love Field best those from Dallas/Fort Worth by a substantial amount. A one-way from Dallas/Fort Worth to Omaha, for example, might run you $255 on select days in September. That same itinerary from Love Field would cost you only $93 on Southwest.
The name Manchester-Boston Regional Airport does seem to be pushing it a bit, considering the airport isn’t even in the same state as Boston — it’s about 20 miles over the border in New Hampshire. But those willing to make the 75-minute trek from that airport into Boston can be well rewarded for their effort. On select dates in September, for example, a one-way from Chicago to Boston will run you $132 on American or United — not bad, but significantly pricier than spending $85 to fly into Manchester on Southwest. When you factor in the two free checked bags on Southwest and their painless change policy, the savings become even more significant.
The only trick is getting into Boston: It’s too far for a taxi, and many of the shuttle services aren’t well priced, either. Your best bet is to take a Greyhound bus directly from the airport; fares start at $10 each way. There are only a few departures daily, so you have to take care to sync up your flight arrival with the bus schedule, and hope you’re not delayed. Worst-case scenario, you can head to the main bus depot in Manchester (10 minutes from the airport) and go from there.
Orlando International Airport is the larger of Orlando’s airports (and the closest to Disney World), but Orlando Sanford International Airport, about 30 minutes northeast of downtown, is a clear winner on certain routes, particularly on Allegiant, which offers nonstop service to cities on harder-to-find routes: Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Plattsburgh, N.Y.
It also has some intriguing deals on flights to the Caribbean, including $166 round-trip fares to San Juan, P.R., for select dates in September (beating Orlando International by over $30) and $265 round-trip fares to Aruba, besting Orlando International by about $90.
Major airports dominate for a reason, and you’ll have little choice but to use them much of the time. Overlook the smaller airport at your own peril, however: They frequently can offer you great deals in addition to a much smoother experience than their larger brethren.