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Alternate Airports Drive A Little & Save Money and Time

Last year, while planning a family trip to Las Vegas, I was hoping to find a decent airfare from my home airport, Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, for cost-conscious consumers, Pittsburgh is a hub for US Airways and fares tend to be much higher on routes where there is no competition. Las Vegas happened to be one of those routes, and the round-trip fare was $498 (plus tax)—a lot more than I hoped to spend. Discouraged but determined to find the best deal, I searched fares from the next closest airport, Cleveland. Because Cleveland has discount carriers like Southwest and America West, the fare was more than half off at $198 (plus tax). There was no question the $260 savings per ticket made the hour-and-half drive well worthwhile.

Budget and Time Considerations

Driving a short distance (under two hours) to a nearby airport may mean cheaper tickets and even a more direct flight. Alternate airports have grown in popularity over the years because of the high demand for discount airlines such as Southwest, AirTran, America West, and jetBlue. The very presence of these airlines often means cheaper fares.

“Fares tend to be much cheaper at alternative airports,” says Lucille Hirleman, CTC, owner of Berkshire Travel in Newfoundland, New Jersey. “Alternate airports are a great alternative for my clients who are flexible enough to drive a few hours. Sometimes the savings are so significant it justifies spending money on a hotel room near the airport.”

Another thing to consider is air travel delays, which are on the rise. Some of the country’s biggest airports are straining under the load of increased passenger traffic, as well as coping with unusual weather systems and other problems. The congestion problem is becoming critical in the U.S, and alternate airports are becoming a refuge from the chaos.

If you are planning a trip, ask your travel agent if there is an alternate airport you can use. If you’re buying airline tickets online, check the list of airports before booking, or you can use Travelocity’s enhanced best fare finder option that seeks out lower fares even at alternate airports.

Alternate Airports

Often, major cities can support more than one airport, and by including smaller airports in the mix, there are more options and even less-expensive flights. The following is a list of alternative airports for nine of the largest travel markets in the U.S.:


Logan Airport, having reached capacity, is often a commuting nightmare because of tunnel traffic and ongoing construction in the area. On top of that, fares aren’t always competitive with the area’s main alternative airports, Manchester and Providence.

  • Manchester Airport, located 40 miles north of Boston, offers a new terminal, plentiful parking, and lower fares—mainly because Southwest and MetroJet are competing for business. In addition, the airport is host to eight other major carriers.

  • T.F. Green Airport in Providence is only 45 minutes away from downtown Boston. Like Manchester, Southwest and MetroJet compete head-to-head for passengers, which offers travelers cheap fares around the country. However, although the terminal is new, ongoing construction often adds more time onto your airport commute. You can check the airport’s website for construction updates.

  • Hanscom Field, a small regional airport in Bedford, Massachusetts, is only 20 miles northwest of Boston. The airport is serviced by new upstart airline Shuttle America, which offers discount fares to Buffalo, Greensboro, NC, Hartford, New York City (LaGuardia), and Trenton, NJ

O’Hare is the nation’s busiest airport and is prone to delays on a daily basis. Two area airports offer another path to the friendly skies.

  • Midway, Chicago’s secondary airport, offers some great fares with low fare airlines like AirTran, American Trans Air (ATA), America West, Frontier, MetroJet, National, Southwest, and Vanguard. Continued terminal enhancements along with new parking garages make this terminal an attractive alternative to O’Hare.

  • Gary/Chicago Airport is located on the South shore of Lake Michigan in Gary, Indiana, a mere 30 miles south of Chicago. Regular jet service around the country is available on Pan Am and Casino Express Airlines.

Love Field, once Dallas’ main airport, was supposed to just go away when the behemoth Dallas/Fort Worth Airport (DFW) opened in 1974. However, the small and conveniently located airport just wouldn’t die, mainly because it became the home base for Southwest Airlines, America’s premier discount airline. In addition to Southwest, the airport hosts four other airlines: American, Delta Connection (ASA), and Continental Express. Because of an outdated rule called the Wright Amendment, which was enacted to guarantee success for Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, airlines carrying more than 56 passengers out of Love Field are limited to certain regional destinations in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi. Even with such rules, the airport has thrived as the cheaper and more convenient alternative to DFW.


While Houston Intercontinental is the city’s largest airport with worldwide access, the smaller Hobby Airport offers service to 85 domestic cities on airlines such as Southwest, American, Continental, Northwest, AirTran, and Delta.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles offers a buffet of choices for travelers who don’t want to deal with the hassle of LAX, Los Angeles’ main airport. There are four airports within a 50-mile radius of the city that offer plenty of low fare options.

  • Burbank/Glendale/Pasadena Airport is the closest airport to downtown Los Angeles. Travelers can easily get to the airport using Metrolink or Amtrak. Airlines serving the airport include Alaska, American, America West, Southwest, and United.

  • Long Beach Airport is located between Los Angeles and Orange County and offers service on America West and American.

  • Ontario International Airport, located 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, boasts a brand new terminal with extensive amenities. Airlines serving the airport include Alaska, America West, American, Continental, Delta, jetBlue (starting in June), Northwest, Southwest, TWA, and United.

  • John Wayne Airport is located in Orange County, 34 miles south of Los Angeles, and offers modern facilities and plentiful parking. Airlines serving the airport include Alaska, America West, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, TWA, United, and US Airways.

While Miami International Airport is undoubtedly the biggest hub for connecting flights to South America and the Caribbean, travelers to South Florida may want to try the more easily accessible Ft. Lauderdale or Palm Beach airports.

  • Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, only 45 minutes from Miami, is an easy highway commute and offers plenty of parking. The airport provides service on most major airlines as well as low cost carriers including AirTran, America West, American Trans Air (ATA), jetBlue, MetroJet, Spirit, and Southwest.

  • Palm Beach International Airport is located 71 miles north of Miami, and like Ft. Lauderdale, offers easy access and discount fares. The airport is served by most major airlines as well as low cost carriers including jetBlue, Midway, MetroJet, Spirit, and Southwest.
New York City/Newark/Long Island

New York is the biggest travel market in the world and offers three major
airports: Newark, JFK, and LaGuardia. However, travelers may want to consider three other alternative airports if not for price, but for the better on-time performance and commuting convenience.

  • Westchester County Airport in White Plains is only 20 miles north of New York City. The airport has a new terminal with an extensive parking garage. For those not driving, it is only a 40-minute train ride from New York City and a 10-minute cab ride from the train station. Fares tend to be slightly higher, but on-time statistics are better at this airport than the big three.

  • Stewart International Airport in Newburgh may seem far from the city, but it is actually an easy 55-mile drive. There’s definitely less stress than a traffic-logged cab drive to Newark or LaGuardia. Stewart offers a new terminal and plentiful parking. It is served by six airlines offering connecting service to many national and international destinations.

  • Long Island Islip MacArthur Airport is 50 miles from New York City and is the best option in the area for heavily discounted fares—again due to Southwest Airlines presence. An hour’s drive from the city, the terminal offers plenty of parking. Furthermore, it is only a 25-minute train ride from Manhattan on the Long Island Rail Road. Shuttle service leaves regularly from the train station to the terminal.
San Francisco

Plagued by bad weather and inconvenient runway placement, San Francisco International Airport is one of the worst in the country for delays. It’s so bad that Southwest Airlines is pulling out of the airport (effective March 5, 2001). With Southwest leaving, fares are sure to rise. In addition, the construction of the new terminal is making the commute to the airport miserable. Thankfully, travelers can avoid the chaos by using nearby airports in Oakland or San Jose.

  • Oakland International Airport, located directly across the bay, is just a short commute over the Bay Bridge. Train alternative BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) offers a quick no-traffic commute with its convenient airport station. Thirteen airlines serve the airport, including discount carriers America West, jetBlue, and Southwest. The terminal is undergoing a major expansion to offer more modern facilities and additional parking.

  • San Jose International Airport is 30 miles southwest of San Francisco and is served by most major airlines. In addition to being a short drive from San Francisco, the airport has access to the BART network.
Washington, D.C.

The Washington area boasts three large airports: Dulles, National, and Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI). None of the aforementioned airports qualifies as a small, alternative airport. Nonetheless, BWI offers more cheap fares than Dulles or National. This is mainly due to two discount airlines going head-to-head: Southwest and US Airways’ MetroJet. Ground transportation makes it very easy to circulate to the various airports.

Road Trip To Runway Savings

Using an out-of-the-way airport could be just your ticket to cheap flights. Remember, an hour in the car is better than a few hours on the runway. On the flip side, understand that many alternate airports are now becoming as busy as the airports they are replacing. Don’t assume that those airports offer the best options or deals. Often times you’ll find better deals at the airport everyone thinks is overcrowded and overpriced.

Deals are out there. The key is to remain flexible. Attaining a deal means being open to new possibilities like flying into Palm Beach when you want to go to Miami or using San Jose when San Francisco is your final destination. Is it out of the way? Yes. Is it less expensive? More often than not, yes.

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