Alternate Airports are a Key to Low-Cost Airfares in America

Flying to Birmingham rather than Atlanta, Providence rather than Boston, Orange County rather than Los Angeles, and then renting a car for the intermediate distance, you can save hundreds of dollars

To some American cities--especially hubs dominated by a single airline--airfares are unusually high. To other American cities, airfares are traditionally low. Yet only 50 to 150 miles often separates the expensive from the cheap. By flying to the less costly city, and then driving to the costlier one, travelers can save hundreds andhundreds of dollars in airfares. An example?

Consider the recent plight of a young man named Joey. His high school baseball team in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, had won the state championship and was to play in the national tournament in Atlanta in ten days. Mom, Dad, and Mary wanted to go with him, but with less than a 14-day advance purchase, the lowest-priced Wednesday-Monday Sioux Falls-Atlanta round trip at the time of writing was $639.50 per person/$2,558 per family.

Solution: If Joey's family were willing to drive a little, they could save a lot. Birmingham, Alabama, is only 148 freeway miles west of Atlanta, yet airlines flying to Birmingham from Sioux Falls charge a round-trip price of only $379 per person/$1,516 per family. By flying to and from Birmingham, the family could save $1,042.

If someone gave you $1,042, would you drive 148 miles?

Joey's family had another option, that of driving to an alternate city before they flew. Minneapolis-St. Paul is 240 miles northeast of Sioux Falls, with a round-trip price to Atlanta of only $169 per person/$676 per family. By flying from and to Minneapolis-St. Paul, they'd save $1,900.

If someone gave you $1,900, would you drive 240 miles?

Where you live and how much you can save generally determines how far you are willing to drive. I grew up in rural South Dakota and drove 60 miles to a movie and 300 miles to a major city, so driving 240 miles to save $1,900 would be no problem. To some travelers, however, 240 miles is too far to drive, regardless of what they will save. Whatever your preference, at least you have a choice when you are aware of alternate cities.

I have been saving money this way for years and have compiled a "Top 30" listing of the nation's most popular (and therefore most costly to reach) cities, coupled with nearby alternate cities enjoying much lower airfares. All that's needed is an inexpensive car rental taking you from the lower-cost city to the pricey one. Listings includes distance and direction.

Atlanta, GA (ATL)Chattanooga, TN (CHA), 115 mi. NW
Greenville/Spartanburg, SC (GSP) 145 mi. NE
Birmingham, AL (BHM) 148 mi. W
Montgomery, AL (MGM), 160 mi. S

Boston, MA (BOS)Providence, RI (PVD), 50 mi. SW
Manchester, NH (MHT), 54 mi. N

Charlotte, NC (CLT)
Columbia, SC (CAE), 91 mi. S
Greenville/Spartanburg, SC (GSO), 96 mi. SW
Southern Pines, NC (SOP), 105 mi. E
Florence, SC (FLO), 106 mi. SE
Fayetteville, NC (FAY), 139 mi. E

Chicago, IL-O'Hare (ORD)Chicago, IL-Midway (MDW), 22 mi. SE
Milwaukee, WI (MKE), 82 mi. N
Bloomington/Normal, IL (BMI), 139 mi. SW
Champaign/Urbana, IL (CMI), 157 mi. S

Cincinnati, OH (CVG)
Dayton, OH (DAY), 44 mi. N
Lexington, KY (LEX), 91 mi. S
Louisville, KY (SDF), 106 mi. SW

Cleveland, OH (CLE)
Canton/Akron, OH (CAK), 58 mi. S
Youngstown, OH (YNG), 76 mi. SE

Columbus, OH (CMH)
Dayton, OH (DAY), 70 mi. SW
Cincinnati, OH (CVG), 111 mi. SW
Canton/Akron, OH (CAK), 129 mi. NE

Denver, CO (DEN)
Colorado Springs, CO (COS), 70 mi. S

Detroit, MI (DTW)
Toledo, OH (TOL), 62 mi. S
Flint, MI (FNY), 64 mi. NW
Lansing, MI (LAN), 88 mi. NW

Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL)
Miami, FL (MIA), 27 mi. S
West Palm Beach, FL (PBI), 43 mi. N
Fort Myers, FL (FMY/RSW), 138 mi. NW
Orlando, FL (MCO), 206 mi. NW

Los Angeles, CA (LAX)
urbank, CA (BUR), 10 mi. N
Long Beach, CA (LGB), 25 mi. S
Orange County, CA (SNA), 34 mi. SE
Ontario, CA (ONT), 38 mi. NE
Santa Barbara, CA (SBA), 96 mi. NW
Palm Springs, CA (PSP), 109 mi. SE
Bakersfield, CA (BFL), 110 mi. N
San Diego, CA (SAN), 124 mi. SE

Louisville, KY (SDF)
Lexington, KY (LEX), 79 mi. E
Cincinnati, OH (CVG), 106 mi. NE
Indianapolis, IN (IND), 112 mi. N
Dayton, OH (DAY), 149 mi. NE

Miami, FL (MIA)
Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL), 27 mi. N
West Palm Beach, FL (PBI), 66 mi. N
Fort Myers, Fl (FMY), 152 mi. NW
Orlando, FL (MCO), 229 mi. NW

Milwaukee, WI (MKE)
Madison, WI (MSN), 77 mi. W
Chicago, IL-O'Hare (ORD), 82 mi. S
Chicago, IL-Midway (MDW), 96 mi. S
Green Bay, WI (GRB), 117 mi. N

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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