Nothing about booking airfare is straightforward. The way airlines figure out how much to charge to get from city A to city B drives me crazy. Idiosyrancies in the pricing system led to passengers booking hidden-city tickets with the help of websites like Skiplagged. While that method to save money on airfare doesn’t match our travel style, there’s another way to save I’ve looked into and current technology makes it easier than ever to find these fares.
You can save hundreds of dollars on airfare if you’re willing to drive a bit further to a different airport.
Why Should You Look At Alternate Airports?
Of course, the first airport you’re going to look for is the one nearest your home. If you’ve turned on location services on your device, it might even fill that part in for you.
For us, the most convenient airport is Orlando International (MCO). It would make sense that with the competition to the area, flights from MCO would be the cheapest, but are they? There are several airports, such as the other Orlando airports (Sanford and Melbourne) as well as Daytona and Tampa, that are all within a 100-mile drive:
There are even more, including Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami if you expand that search to 200 miles.
There are at least two reasons you might find a cheaper airfare from a different airport:
- If you live near a smaller airport with little competition, a larger airport with more airlines will often have less expensive airfares.
- However, a smaller airport may have less costly fares for direct flights serviced by Low-Cost Carriers who don’t fly to the main airport.
How To Find Airfares From Nearby Airports
Most of the online search engines make it easy to find alternate airports. However, not all of them are easy to use.
Say that you want to fly from Providence, RI to Las Vegas for a weekend. What would be the best and cheapest way to get there?
The ITA Matrix tool makes it really easy to select alternate airports. Once picking your home airport, just click on “nearby.”
While flying from Providence would seem to be the best option, there aren’t many good flight options. One-stop on Sun Country or Frontier are the cheapest, but those prices do not include extras like bags or seat assignments:
You can expand the search a bit to include Boston Logan and Hartford, CT (Bradley) and get different results:
Then there are non-stop options with Spirit, JetBlue and Delta:
Granted, the prices aren’t that great but I’d sure prefer a non-stop to a flight with a stop when we’re only talking about a quick weekend trip.
If you’re looking for a more user-friendly interface, Google Flights can search nearby airports.
When typing in a flight search, there’s a pop-up over the “nearby airports” tab:
When you click on the dropdown box from the airport, you’re given a choice of cities and the least expensive airfare from each one. The nice thing about Google’s search is that it gives the distance and the driving time.
The downside with Google Flights is the cheapest flight shown may not be one you’d ever want to take.
While the Frontier flight is only $269 from Providence, it’s a three flight itinerary over 13 hours, with stops in Orlando and Greenville-Spartanburg. Not exactly the most direct routing. The same thing with the 28 hour trip on Sun Country with an overnight layover in Minneapolis.
What Things Should You Consider When Booking At An Alternate Airport
If it was only as easy as looking for a cheaper flight when considering driving to a different airport. There are several other things to consider besides price.
If you’re driving a long distance to an airport, you need to factor that time into your travel. Is the flight early in the morning? If so, you’ll have to leave in the middle of the night or the day before and pay for a hotel. Would that expense eat into your savings? You also have to consider the airport parking, gas and tolls into the cost.
Finally, there’s the time of the return flight. If you arrive late in the evening from a long day of travel, you’ll still have a long car ride home. That’s not taking into consideration the chance of flight delays.
It’s possible to save a good deal of cash on flights if you drive a little further to an alternate airport. Even if the price isn’t that much different, the choices of airlines and direct flights may be better if you pick a different city to fly from.
It would be best if you weigh these advantages against the extra costs and time you’ll spend when going to a further airport. Everyone values their time, comfort, and ease of travel differently so when deciding if this makes sense for you, Your Mileage May Vary.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary