It's become a classic bit of advice: Look to smaller, alternative airports--such as Long Beach instead of LAX--for deals. Now, due to the rapid growth of certain airlines (and the demise of others), a whole new set of airports should be on your radar.
The Southwest Airlines effect, in which a low-fare carrier enters or expands service at an airport and other airlines drop fares to keep pace, is on full display in Richmond, Va. (airport code: RIC). After AirTran began flying there from Atlanta in 2005, average fares dropped 42 percent. Fares will likely remain low, as JetBlue started flying to Richmond in March. And when Southwest Airlines and WestJet inaugurated service at Fort Myers, Fla., a low-fare hub of sorts was created--JetBlue, AirTran, Frontier, and USA 3000 already fly there.
In February, after more than a year in bankruptcy, ATA dropped several routes out of its hub in Indianapolis (IND); AirTran swooped in, and by midsummer the airline will offer eight nonstops from Indy (up from two) to LAX, San Francisco, and a handful of Florida airports. The failure of Independence Air opened gate space at several East Coast cities. JetBlue got Portland, Maine (PWM), and AirTran took the gate at Westchester County Airport (HPN) in White Plains, N.Y.
For decades, there was an uneasy peace between American Airlines, operating a hub at Dallas-Fort Worth, and Southwest, whose home airport is Dallas-Love Field. Recently, Southwest has pushed lawmakers to allow it to fly longer routes out of Love--to compete more directly with American--prompting American to go on the offensive. American announced more than a dozen flights out of Love, after not bothering to serve it at all for five years. "We're not here to make a profit," an American rep said at the time. "We're going after Southwest customers."
Keep an eye on big airports, too. At Denver and Dallas, travelers are being wooed by low fares and other perks. When Southwest began service to Denver, Frontier and United, which both use Denver as a hub, offered double the frequent-flier mileage. United even tossed in discounts at Hyatt hotels.