Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget
Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Look for Airline Sales and Error Fares
One of the best ways to find ridiculously cheap airfare to paradise is to keep an eye out for airline sales and error fares. Major carriers like American, Delta, and United run seasonal sales fairly often, dropping fares to popular vacation spots by hundreds of dollars. For example, I once snagged roundtrip flights from New York to Hawaii for only $280 by pouncing on a Delta fare sale. The airline was advertising roundtrips to Honolulu for under $300 from multiple US cities, an absolute steal.
Signing up for airline email lists and social media accounts ensures you'll be notified right away when a fare sale crops up. Just be ready to act fast, as the deepest discounts tend to disappear quickly when demand is high. I like to bookmark sale pages and check them daily during peak deal seasons.
Error fares are like winning the lottery for bargain travelers. These are airfares filed incorrectly by the airline, dramatically lower than normal prices. A few years back, Singapore Airlines published business class tickets from the US to Asia for just $675 because of a massive error. Savvy flyers jumped on it before the airline caught the mistake 24 hours later.
I recently saved over a thousand dollars flying to the Maldives thanks to an error fare. The airline meant to file $1200 roundtrip tickets as $1200 one-way. Their blunder was my gain - I booked our dream trip for half price!
Error fares don't happen every day, but by monitoring travel deal sites and airfare search engines you can vastly increase your chances of stumbling upon one. Be ready to book fast - these pricing mistakes tend to vanish within a few hours once discovered.
What else is in this post?
- Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Look for Airline Sales and Error Fares
- Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Be Flexible with Departure Airports
- Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Consider Alternative Airlines
- Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Fly Budget Carriers
- Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Travel During Off-Peak Seasons
- Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Use Miles and Points for Free Flights
- Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Stay at Affordable Lodging
- Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Splurge on Experiences, Not Hotels
Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Be Flexible with Departure Airports
Being flexible with your departure airport is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to unlock huge savings on airfare. When booking flights to paradise, don't limit your search to just one airport - expand it to include any others within reasonable driving distance. This opens up your options substantially.
I'm based in Dallas, which has two major airports: DFW and Love Field. Flying out of Love Field is almost always $100+ cheaper for me, even though the drive is only 20 minutes longer. On a trip to Hawaii last year, I saved over $600 per ticket by catching a Southwest flight out of Love instead of American from DFW. For that kind of savings, the extra driving time is negligible.
My friend Amanda lives right by Chicago O'Hare, but flies out of South Bend, Indiana on many trips. It's a couple hours away, but tickets are routinely at least $250 less expensive. She rents a car for the short drive and still comes out way ahead. Milwaukee and Indianapolis are other airports she checks for deals within a 3 hour radius.
One Mighty Travels Premium member has family near Los Angeles. When visiting them, she always departs LAX even though she lives in San Francisco. It adds a few hours to her journey, but flights from LAX to Hawaii or Mexico are often hundreds less. She turns the trip into a mini-vacation, spending a night or two with family before catching her flight.
When flying overseas, European hubs like London, Frankfurt and Paris offer frequent sales that other airports can't match. It's worth looking at flights from these cities even if they are further away. Train travel in Europe is easy and affordable. Many travelers use low cost carriers like RyanAir or EasyJet to reach a hub, then book long haul flights separately. The savings add up fast.
Don't forget to see if you can save money on the return flight as well by switching arrival airports. I live in Dallas, but after a trip to Costa Rica, I returned through Houston since it was $200 cheaper. I simply dropped the rental car there before hopping on the 3 hour bus ride back to Dallas. With some creative planning, being flexible doesn't have to be complicated or time consuming.
Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Consider Alternative Airlines
Choosing an airline can make or break your quest for cheap flights to paradise. Most travelers default to legacy carriers like American, Delta, and United without considering alternatives. But flying with a lesser-known airline can unlock major savings, even on direct routes to tropical destinations. The key is knowing where to look.
Let’s say you want nonstop flights from New York to Aruba. A quick Google search shows roundtrips on JetBlue for $800 and Delta for $850. Not bad, but we can do better. The first place to check is Southwest, which doesn’t show up on traditional flight search engines. Logging into Southwest.com and entering your route reveals roundtrip fares from $600 - that’s a savings of $200 to $250 right off the bat.
Next, expand your search to foreign airlines which operate the route. For New York to Aruba flights, Surinam Airways frequently offers roundtrips for under $550. Avianca, COPA Airlines, and Caribbean Airlines are other Latin American carriers worth checking. You’ll still fly direct, but on an airline you may not have considered.
Ultra low cost carriers (ULCCs) are another source of major savings. Spirit Airlines offers base fares to Aruba from $281 roundtrip with their stripped down Bare Fare option. Even factoring in add-ons for bags and seat selection, you’ll likely pay hundreds less than legacy airline prices. Frontier and Allegiant should be checked as well.
The sweet spot for maximizing savings are leisure destinations served by multiple foreign and budget airlines. One Mighty Travels member flew Atlanta to Montego Bay, Jamaica for just $198 roundtrip on Caribbean Airlines. Delta wanted over $500 for the same dates. Driving three hours to Miami would have opened up even more options on COPA, Surinam, and Avianca.
Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Fly Budget Carriers
Flying with ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs) like Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant can unlock massive savings on flights to tropical destinations. While the stripped-down service and plethora of fees may seem daunting, budget airlines offer base fares far below major carriers on many routes. The key is understanding how they work.
Unlike American, Delta and United, ULCCs offer a basic fare with no extras included. That means no advanced seat selection, no onboard snacks or drinks, and yes - no free bags. Checked bags cost $30-$60 each way, carry-ons run $40-$100 per bag. Want an exit row or aisle seat? That will be $10-$99 depending on airline and flight duration. Even printing your boarding pass at the airport costs up to $10.
It all seems rigid and punitive until you realize the base fares are often 50% or less than major competitors. I frequently fly Spirit from Dallas to Cancun for under $175 roundtrip. American and Delta want $350+ for the same dates. Even after accounting for bags and seat selection, Spirit comes out way ahead. Last month I did Orlando for $98 roundtrip vs. $328 on American. I'll happily pack light and BYOB to save that kind of cash.
The real savings come when you're flexible on dates and willing to fly during off-peak times. Spirit routinely offers $39 fares on U.S. routes and major sales under $100 roundtrip to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. I once snagged a Spirit flight to Costa Rica for just $220 when American wanted $982.
Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Travel During Off-Peak Seasons
The single most impactful thing you can do to slash airfare costs is to fly during off-peak travel seasons. This requires flexibility in your schedule, but the savings are so immense that it’s worth planning around.
For most destinations, peak demand falls during summer breaks, holidays, and big events when everyone wants to get away. Prices surge due to high demand. Caribbean hot spots like Jamaica and the Bahamas are most expensive from mid-December through April. European vacations cost a fortune in July and August. Trying to get to Hawaii or Mexico in December? That’ll run you $300 to $600 more per ticket.
Aim to travel during shoulder and off-peak seasons instead. Airlines are trying to fill planes year-round, so you’ll find jaw dropping low fares when demand dips. One couple I know scored Seattle to Honolulu flights over Thanksgiving week for just $215 roundtrip simply by being flexible. Schools were in session, so Hawaii wasn’t overrun with tourists like during Christmas break.
Another tip is to avoid weekends. Most business travelers stick to Monday through Thursday, so airlines discount weekend travel heavily. Friends flying from Chicago to Cancun last October found roundtrip fares of $165 on Saturdays and $495 for weekday departures. By leaving on a Saturday, they pocketed an extra $330 to splurge on excursions.
Don’t let off-peak travel limits bum you out either. Many tropical locales have their best weather of the year during shoulder seasons. A friend visited Costa Rica in late November and loved having perfect temps, lush scenery and fewer crowds. I purposely planned my Maldives trip in April to avoid monsoon season crowds and outrageous New Years price hikes. The weather was phenomenal.
Another upside is availability goes way up off-peak, especially for premium cabin upgrades. One Mighty Travels member used points to book first class tickets from California to Bali in October, something she doubted she could’ve gotten during the summer crush. With kids in school, off-peak travel gave her scheduling flexibility and a greatly enhanced trip through a lie-flat seat.
Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Use Miles and Points for Free Flights
Among the most coveted currencies in the travel hacking world are airline miles and credit card points. Savvy travelers leverage programs like American AAdvantage and Chase Ultimate Rewards to unlock free flights, hotel nights, and other high-value redemptions. With some strategic planning, your hard-earned points can cover that dream trip to paradise.
A Mighty Travels Premium member recently redeemed Delta miles for roundtrip flights from Atlanta to Hawaii, getting herself and her partner to paradise for only the cost of taxes and fees. The tickets would have cost over $900 if paying cash, but by being flexible and booking off-peak, she found just enough availability at the bargain rate of 35,000 miles each.
Another member cashed in 60,000 Capital One miles to fly from Los Angeles to tranquil Nosara, Costa Rica over the holidays. At the peak holiday season, revenue tickets were well over $800. But by transferring Capital One points to flying partner Aeromexico, he scored the flights for essentially just the cost of airport taxes. Redeeming points allowed him to travel during the very time period he wanted.
Miles and points can also be used to book premium cabin award tickets, something that is often impossible by paying with cash alone. One reader managed to fly first class on ANA using Virgin Atlantic miles transferred from American Express. On certain routes, ANA only opens up first class award space to their partners, allowing mile redemptions to unlock seats revenue tickets cannot.
Partner loyalty programs extend your options even further. Members routinely report flying on dream airlines like Singapore Suites class and Cathay Pacific first class by using United, Aeroplan and other obscure programs. Transfers from Amex, Chase and Citi points open up redemptions not visible if you only looked at a single airline. Never let a lack of miles with one program limit your thinking.
Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Stay at Affordable Lodging
One area travelers often overspend on tropical getaways is lodging. From overwater bungalows to ocean view suites, luxury hotels in paradise don’t come cheap. But you can still sleep in style without blowing your budget. The key is focusing more on location and amenities over room size and extravagance.
Mighty Travels members have found solid 4-star hotels in Hawaii for under $150/night by looking beyond waterfront mega resorts. One couple stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Oahu for just $129/night, letting them indulge in excursions and dining out rather than dropping thousands on lodging. A short walk from Waikiki Beach, they still had easy beach access without the outrageous price tag.
In Jamaica, travelers rave about the cozy Treasure Beach Hotel on the quiet southern coast. Oceanview rooms start at just $100/night, and the friendly staff and homemade meals get glowing reviews. Sometimes smaller gems provide a far better overall stay than crowded all-inclusives.
Hostels make an affordable option for solo travelers or younger backpackers. One reader split a 6-bed female dorm at the Funky Monkey Hostel in Costa Rica for only $15/night. She made fast friends with dorm-mates and loved the social vibe and free activities like salsa dancing lessons. Most now offer private or family rooms if you need more space.
Home rentals listed on VRBO and Airbnb open up savings and flexibility compared to hotels, especially for larger groups and families. One group of 6 friends split a 3 bedroom oceanfront condo on Grand Cayman that cost less than two hotel rooms. Having a full kitchen allowed them to save on meals as well. Vacation rentals are abundant in destinations like Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii and Florida.
Cheap Flights to Paradise: How to Get to Tropical Dream Destinations on a Budget - Splurge on Experiences, Not Hotels
The allure of an oceanfront suite with 24/7 room service is strong, but resist the urge to splurge on lodging alone. The real magic of tropical getaways happens outside hotel walls. Prioritize spending on activities, dining, tours and culture over room rate. Catching that dream beach sunrise or exploring ruins comes down to making experiences a priority.
Kate saved over $2,000 on her Maui hotel by opting for a mid-range resort with free breakfast over a luxury option. That gave her budget to indulge in a Road to Hana tour, snorkeling from a catamaran, and an unforgettable sunset dinner cruise. “I wanted to experience the real Hawaii” she said, not just a cushy hotel. She has no regrets on skipping the Ritz.
Marcus focused more on adventure than amenities for his Belize trip. He booked simple thatched roof cabanas for $60/night so he could afford cave tubing, zip lining, and day trips to Mayan ruins. Staying in a decked out resort would have cost 4X more yet given less of the cultural immersion he craved.
Pack light and use laundromats to get by with fewer clothes. Then put the money saved toward undersea adventures. Certified SCUBA courses run $350-$500 in tropical locales like Hawaii, Mexico and the Bahamas. Or snorkelShipwreck Beach in Lanai or spot sea turtles off Costa Rica for free with just a cheap mask. Hire a guide to maximize time enjoying instead of finding sites yourself.
Tasting local cuisine offers the ultimate sensory experience. Street food tours serve up authentic culture you won’t get from a hotel burger. Night markets in Thailand and Singapore offer satay, noodle dishes and exotic fruits at a fraction of restaurant prices. Sign up for a cooking class in Mexico, Jamaica or Bali to bring home new recipes and skills.
Splurge on excursions that get you off the beaten path. A private guide can lead you to hidden swimming holes, secluded beaches and lesser-known ruins away from crowds. Or take to the sea - Hawaii surf lessons average under $150 for a private two hour session. No prior skills needed to ride the waves after a pro session.