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Save Money by Using Alternate Airports

Airfare deals are getting more scarce every year. Sometimes it requires a little creative thinking to make a family vacation affordable. Using alternate airports is one such ploy. If you explore using airports other than the one closest to your house, you just might save a bundle.

What are Alternate Airports?

Using alternate airports means departing from a city that’s near–say, within 100 miles of–your home city.  Since airfares are based on competition in a particular market, not distance, driving a few extra miles can add up to big savings. For instance, the average airfare departing from Milwaukee is $108 less per person than the average from Chicago’s O’Hare airport, 100 miles away. That may not be worth the drive for a single traveler, but for a family of four, $416 is something to think about. And, that’s just the average. Similar savings exist all over the United States. A recent airfare search between Cleveland and San Francisco yielded the rather high price of $538; the same dates were available from Akron (32 miles away) for $398. Travel sites, such as Expedia.com make looking at alternate airports easy with a “check nearby cities” option right in the booking window.

Other Advantages to Alternate Airports

Saving  money is just one advantage to using alternative airports. Smaller airports generally offer cheaper parking. For example, the daily parking rate in Boston is $18. In Manchester, NH, the rate is $10; in Hartford, it’s just $6. Smaller airports are also generally less crowded, offer speedier baggage handling, and have fewer flight delays. Since there is less property to navigate, you usually have easier access to rental cars at these airports, too.

Examples of Alternate Airports

In addition to the city pairs mentioned above, below is an incomplete list of alternate airports to larger, big city airports around the United States. These airports are all within 100 miles of the larger city airport.

  • Chicago – Milwaukee
  • Boston – Hartford, CT; Providence, RI; Manchester, NH
  • Cincinnati – Louisville, KY; Dayton
  • Detroit – Toledo, OH; Grand Rapids
  • New Orleans – Baton Rouge
  • Cleveland – Akron
  • Miami – Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach
  • Tampa – St. Petersburg, Sarasota
  • Los Angeles – San Diego, Long Beach, Orange County, Burbank
  • Denver – Colorado Springs
  • Columbus, Ohio – Dayton
  • San Francisco – San Jose, Oakland
  • New York City – Albany, Islip, White Plains
  • Philadelphia – Atlantic City
  • Austin – San Antonio
  • Washington DC – Baltimore
  • Charlotte – Greensboro
  • Orlando – Daytona Beach

Do you have an example of an alternate airport you’d like to add to our list? How far would you drive to save money on airfare?

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15 thoughts on “Save Money by Using Alternate Airports”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Kansas City airport (MCI) is very expensive. I am planning a destination wedding in the Dominican Republic and the tickets were well over $800 per person from Kansas City to the Dominican. I remembered my fiancé having driven to Chicago to fly out for a trip to the Bahamas while we were in college because it was so much cheaper. I decided to check it out and it was only $540 per person out of Chicago to the Dominican. Thats $260+ per ticket savings. If you consider there are around 50 people going on this trip, thats a total savings of about $13,000 for out entire group. DEFINITELY worth the 6-7 hour drive to Chicago.

  2. pow says:

    for me:
    the best is the miami area cos the train will take you through to some extent- if you live closer to the east coastal area/ beaches, you are all good using the train system. there’s a free shuttle you take from right outside departure takes you to train and the ride is only 6-8 dollars. I have found this is a no brainer- south florida traffic is no joke.. plus i fly to fortlauderdale cos thats where southwest and jetblue fly to..
    Tampa-st.petersburg is ok of a drive.
    NewYork-Albany,Islip… totally not worth it besides the fact that the train system can be quite treacherous (eg Islip is in Long Island which is right by Queens but i had to take the train into Manhattan to get back into Queens)… its cheap enough to just fly into LGA/JFK (flying to Newark should have been there too but its also a tad much) Worst of all dont make anyone go pick you up from these places with all that NewYork traffic.
    Austin- San Antonio is kind of a ridiculous 70min drive to have someone pick you up.
    DC-B’more decent drive.

    • Teawithsheep says:

      It all depends on your frame of reference, though. I’ve met a number of people who regularly do the Aunstin-San Antonio commute for the airport. My grandma has a two hour drive to get to *any* airport, so it doesn’t seem like a long drive to her. People who live in spread out areas often don’t have a problem with a long drive if it’s pretty much normal for living in that area anyway.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It is generally more expensive to fly into/out of Colorado Springs than Denver. Far less hassle, but more money.

  4. Teawithsheep says:

    This is definitely a good tip- My husband and I got a great deal from Dayton to Rome ($800 round trip per ticket- a STEAL), and it was at least $200-$400 more expensive to fly from Cincinnati. Since my parents live in Dayton, we’ll also save on parking!

    My deal-seeking dad is a commercial pilot, and these are some of the tricks he uses to save money on travel:

    -Don’t just trust expedia or a deal site to give you the best rate- always cross-check with the carrier’s site and then pick the best deal. Some carriers don’t sell their tickets through deal sites, and others won’t sell their cheapest seats through deal sites. It’s worth it to double-check before buying, unless you’re familiar enough with the carrier to know you are getting the best price you can.

    -Avoid travel on Fridays and Sundays- these are the most expensive days because they are the heaviest travel days. If you must travel on one of these days, avoiding peak times can help. For example, a much later flight on Sunday (the flight people who work Monday morning *don’t* want to be on) can sometimes save money.

    -Most of the time, rates get more expensive as you get closer to the flight date. For my family, buying three months in advance is buying late. (For Southwest, the rates usually begin increasing 4 weeks before the flight and then jump dramatically 2 weeks before.)

    -If you’re flying internationally, it *may* be worth it to drive or fly more than 100 miles to an airport that is a larger hub. This works particularly well if you can also use that as an opportunity to visit family (making it a dual-purpose vacation). For instance, you can easily find cheap tickets from Boston or New York to Ireland (in the range of about $200-$350 round trip). If it did not take a significant amount of time out of my vacation, it would be well worth it for my husband and I to pay about $75 each way on Southwest to get from Ohio to the coast, as we are not likely to find flights under $500 within 100 miles of home.

    I’m sure many of you already know these tips, but I’d thought I’d share for those who don’t.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I just booked tickets last week. I WANTED Milwaukee to Dallas – best $330.00. I BOOKED Chicago to Dallas – $93. Multiplied by 3 tickets my total was $280 – less than the cost of 1 ticket from Milwaukee. Checking alternate airports really does pay off! BTW I totally agree with going to offsite parking lots. In Milwaukee go to Fast Part & Relax. They are absolutely the best part of every trip & I fly 2-3 times/month. Even better, you save more than 50% vs. the airport’s parking.

  6. David Monroe says:

    I know here in Los Angeles the alternative smaller airports like Burbank are usually more expensive than LAX. At least for flights we use.

  7. Wendy says:

    I live an hour away from Milwaukee and we generally find flights cheaper from Chicago then Milwaukee, but the almost 2 hour drive, traffic and the hassle at O’ Hare is such a pain we generally fly out of Milwaukee even though it costs more.

  8. Maggie Sabol says:

    I am a mother of 2 teenage girls, 12 and 14, hoping to send them from Pittsburgh to Boston from November 22 through November 28th. As a couponer, I don;t want to pay $300 each for a round trip! Anyone have any ideas or sites to help me find cheaper airfare?! It is greatly appreciated! (:

    • If you are going with them you’ll want to use any of the Chinese bus companies running from Philly to Boston (via New york). Prices might have gone up since last year but it was 20$ (round trip) PHilly-NY, and 30$ NY-Boston (round trip). You swap buses in NY and it’s super easy (you walk less then a block). They are convenient and leave on the hour. Does take 6-7 hours but 50$ round trip…

      I’m not familiar with ways of transport from Pittsburgh to Philly.

  9. Jennifer Cipparone says:

    It’s generally cheaper to fly through SFO, however in this area convenience trumps $$. I would much rather pay $20 more than deal with all the traffic.

  10. A. S. says:

    As far as parking goes, around PHX, use the off-site secured parking lots (BlueSky is one, and they have coupons!). They take you from your parking space, drop you off at your terminal, pick you up, and even help you with your luggage back at your parking space. Super quick, very convenient, and cheaper than the airport’s cheapest rates to park in the middle of nowhere and wait for a tram. I think the coupon alone from their site saved us 16.00-21.00 on our last vacation!

  11. kareng says:

    I believe Mercer County Airport in NJ and Lehigh Valley International Airport could also be alternatives to Philly Airport

  12. geekily says:

    It’s much cheaper to fly out of Midway in Chicago than it is to fly out of Ohare in Chicago, if you’re willing to drive a little out of the way. Totally worth it.