Hidden Gems: How to Uncover Cheap Flights to Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations
Hidden Gems: How to Uncover Cheap Flights to Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations - Leverage Low-Cost Carriers for Access to Smaller Airports
One of the best ways to uncover cheap flights to off-the-beaten-path destinations is to take advantage of low-cost carriers that fly into smaller, regional airports. Major legacy airlines like Delta and United focus most of their routes out of large international hubs, resulting in higher fares due to less competition. Low-cost carriers like Southwest, JetBlue, and Frontier, on the other hand, operate point-to-point networks centered around secondary airports in major metro areas. This strategy allows them to offer bare bones service and cut down on operating expenses, passing the savings on to customers.
For example, if you're trying to get from Los Angeles to Reno on the cheap, you'll find MUCH lower fares flying out of Long Beach Airport on JetBlue versus a legacy airline at LAX. Long Beach is just a short ride south of downtown LA, but doesn't have nearly the traffic or congestion of the major international airport. Similarly, flying Southwest out of Chicago Midway instead of O'Hare, or Frontier out of Denver's secondary airport, can unlock major savings even when headed to the same destination.
The key is doing a broad search across ALL area airports, not just the major hubs, and checking routes on discount airlines as well as the majors. Google Flights makes this easy by allowing you to select "All airports in a destination" from the airport drop-down menu. You can then filter by airline to pinpoint which carriers offer the cheapest rates into the smaller airports.
This strategy has allowed me to find amazing deals like nonstop Frontier flights from Trenton, NJ (an hour outside Philadelphia) to Cancun for under $200 round-trip. I never would have thought to check Trenton Airport, but thanks to Frontier's service there I was able to get an absolute steal on a trip to Mexico.
Similarly, a friend used Southwest out of Chicago Midway to fly round-trip to Bozeman, MT for a ski trip out West for just $128. The same trip would have been 3-4x more expensive flying United or American out of O'Hare. By taking advantage of Southwest's large presence at the secondary airport, he unlocked a dirt cheap fare to an adventurous winter destination.
What else is in this post?
- Hidden Gems: How to Uncover Cheap Flights to Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations - Leverage Low-Cost Carriers for Access to Smaller Airports
- Hidden Gems: How to Uncover Cheap Flights to Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations - Search for Alternative Routes with Layovers in Less Popular Hubs
- Hidden Gems: How to Uncover Cheap Flights to Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations - Use Flexible Dates and Times to Snag Last Minute Deals
- Hidden Gems: How to Uncover Cheap Flights to Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations - Consider Nearby Airports to Unlock Cheaper Fares
- Hidden Gems: How to Uncover Cheap Flights to Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations - Explore Discounted Packages and Bundle Deals
- Hidden Gems: How to Uncover Cheap Flights to Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations - Go Where Others Don't for the Best Bang for Your Buck
Hidden Gems: How to Uncover Cheap Flights to Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations - Search for Alternative Routes with Layovers in Less Popular Hubs
Many travelers are conditioned to search primarily for nonstop flights when booking airfare. After all, who wants to spend longer in transit if you don’t have to? However, opening your search to one-stop routings through smaller hubs can unlock substantial savings, even if it means a brief layover.
I regularly search on Google Flights not just nonstop options, but also "up to 1 stop" when looking for the cheapest deals. While legacy carriers like United, Delta and American have nonstop flights from most major cities, their smaller regional affiliates and partners often operate connecting flights through less trafficked airports at lower fares.
For example, a recent search from Boston to San Diego surfaced a nonstop on Delta for $492 round-trip. However, expanding to one-stop routings revealed an option on Delta Connection via Salt Lake City for just $320 round-trip--$172 less! The layover was under 2 hours, and the total trip time only about an hour longer than the nonstop. For that kind of savings, the brief stop was well worth it.
I’ve also discovered great deals routing through secondary hubs like Nashville on Southwest, Cincinnati on Delta, and Cleveland on United. These cities have the hub infrastructure to enable connections, but far less traffic than megahubs like Chicago, Atlanta, Houston or Dallas. Flying through them adds minimal trip time but can unlock substantial discounts.
When evaluating layover options, under 2 hours is ideal. This gives you enough time to switch planes without too much waiting. I also look at the connection airport’s facilities. Modern terminals with ample dining, shopping and lounge access can make even longer layovers pleasant. Try to avoid connections in older airports where you’re more likely to be bored or delayed.
Hidden Gems: How to Uncover Cheap Flights to Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations - Use Flexible Dates and Times to Snag Last Minute Deals
Being open to flexible travel dates and odd departure times is one of the easiest ways I regularly unlock super cheap last minute airfare deals. While everyone loves the idea of planning a trip months in advance, real world schedule changes and obligations often force us to look for trips closer to the travel dates. Thankfully, if you’re willing to be a bit flexible, airlines are much more likely to offer their last unsold seats at big discounts as departure nears.
I’m always monitoring flights even if I don’t have a trip planned, because great last minute deals pop up all the time. For example, late last year I came across $350 roundtrip nonstop fares from Los Angeles to Hawaii on Delta and American. For a normally $600+ route, finding roundtrips under $400 is exceptional. The key was that the deals were for travel over a 3 week period, meaning you just had to be flexible on exact dates.
Being open to departing on less popular days can also unlock savings. Most leisure travelers prefer to leave on Fridays and return on Sundays. So naturally fares are elevated on weekends. However, if your schedule allows, flying midweek usually saves a bundle. I recently flew from Nashville to Cancun nonstop on Southwest for just $168 roundtrip by catching a Tuesday outbound and Saturday return. Leaving on a Tuesday, when most travelers were stuck at work, was the key to slashing the fare almost in half.
Finally, redeye and other off hour flights are often a bargain for night owls. I’m a morning person and don’t mind early flights, especially if it saves money. Recently JetBlue offered $108 roundtrips from New York to Aruba on redeye flights. Most travelers avoid overnight flights. But as long as you arrive well rested and fresh, you can actually maximize vacation time by flying while you sleep. Redeyes and early AM flights are usually the last to sell out, so airlines discount them heavily.
Hidden Gems: How to Uncover Cheap Flights to Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations - Consider Nearby Airports to Unlock Cheaper Fares
When booking flights, most travelers default to searching only their local major airport. But expanding your airport options to include smaller regional fields can unlock substantial savings on airfare. I've saved hundreds of dollars by exploring flights out of nearby secondary airports that often have lower fares due to less demand.
For example, I live in Austin, which is serviced by Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. But when a recent search for Austin to Los Angeles flights turned up $350+ roundtrips out of AUS, I broadened the search to nearby San Antonio Airport, just an hour and a half drive for me. Suddenly fares dropped to $275 roundtrip, saving me $75. The extra short drive was well worth it!
Similarly, New Yorkers can save big by looking at New Jersey's Newark Airport in addition to JFK and LaGuardia. Newark often has cheaper flights given its large international route network. Even after calculating tolls, parking and transportation, the savings often justify starting your trip across the river.
In Los Angeles, coastal Orange County's John Wayne Airport frequently offers lower fares than congested LAX. The additional drive can be worthwhile if you save $100+. Alternative airports like Burbank and Long Beach can also offer periodic deals that make the longer commute pay off.
The savings from secondary airports come from supply and demand factors. Major airports service far more routes from larger airlines who pay higher fees. This results in consumers paying more. Smaller airports cater more to low cost carriers like Southwest and JetBlue with lower operating expenses. And with less traffic, fares stay cheaper.
To maximize your odds of savings when flying out of major cities, be sure to check all airports within a 1-2 hour drive radius. Google Flights makes this easy by allowing you to select "All Airports" for your origin and destination. Don't limit yourself to just the main airports.
Also look closely at which low cost airlines serve smaller fields. Southwest and JetBlue can drive major bargains out of alternate airports they dominate like Chicago-Midway, Dallas Love Field, Baltimore-BWI, and Boston-Providence. Check their service maps for airports near your local major hub.
While the extra drive time to access cheaper secondary airports may seem inconvenient, the hundreds of dollars in savings is worth the trade-off. And airports with good transit connections can minimize hassles. For example, Chicago's Midway Airport has Chicago Transit Authority "L" trains that provide easy access from downtown.
Hidden Gems: How to Uncover Cheap Flights to Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations - Explore Discounted Packages and Bundle Deals
While booking flights and hotels separately can sometimes secure the absolute lowest fares, travelers shouldn’t overlook discounted vacation packages and bundled deals. Packages offered directly by airlines and hotels - or via online travel sites like Expedia and Priceline - can unlock substantial savings compared to piecing together a trip on your own.
I always search packages when looking for off-the-beaten-path destinations, as the deals can be incredible if you have flexible dates. For example, United offered a recent sale via Vacations by United with roundtrip flights to Ireland combined with four nights hotel for just $599 per person. Considering roundtrip flights to Dublin normally run $800+ alone during peak season, this allowed us to take a dream trip for an absolute steal.
Alternatively, boutique hotels in exotic locales will often combine discounted room rates with free breakfast, airport transfers, spa credits, resort fees and other perks when booking directly instead of “unbundled.” I saved nearly $100 per night on a stay at a cliffside eco lodge in Costa Rica by purchasing their adventure package over booking a standard room. The bundle included daily yoga classes, jungle tours, surf lessons and other activities which would have cost a fortune separately.
While the major online travel agencies like Expedia and Priceline push unbundled bookings heavily, always search their package sections for sales on bundled flight and hotel deals. I recently scored a package with roundtrip flights on American Airlines from Chicago to Dublin along with four nights hotel for just $758 total. The exact same flights and hotel booked separately would have cost over $1000.
When considering bundles and packages, the key is knowing what you want in advance. Having set destinations, travel dates and preferred hotels or airlines in mind allows you to jump on discounted pre-assembled packages when they arise. Being flexible opens up opportunities. But you’ll maximize savings if you can act decisively on bundles for destinations already on your wish list.
Avoid simply searching for “vacation packages” or packages to everywhere. The results will overwhelm. Instead, sign up for deal alerts from carriers like United Vacations or Delta Vacations to specific regions on your must-see list. Check package sections of brand.com hotel sites regularly. Leverage Google Flights’ “Explore Destinations” feature to uncover affordable bundled options to bucket-list locales. Act fast when sales pop up for your target locations.
Hidden Gems: How to Uncover Cheap Flights to Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations - Go Where Others Don't for the Best Bang for Your Buck
The well-worn tourist trails of Europe, beaches of Hawaii, and all-inclusives of Mexico and the Caribbean are wildly popular for good reason - they deliver amazing experiences! But precisely because of their popularity, flights to these destinations come at a premium. Savvy travelers willing to blaze their own path off-the-beaten track can uncover hidden gem locales for a fraction of the price.
I’m amazed at some of the little known destinations I’ve discovered just by searching Google Flights’ Explore tool for the cheapest countries to fly to from my home airport. Places I’d never even heard of before! A recent search popped up great fares from New York to Albania, a mountainous country on the Adriatic Sea. Further research revealed beautiful Ottoman towns, ancient ruins, incredible beaches and sexy luxury resorts at a fraction of the cost of overtouristed Croatia just across the sea.
Other travelers have uncovered amazing finds setting Google Flights’ map to their home city and panning around the globe for the cheapest nationwide flight deals regardless of destination. One Chicago-based couple landed on a great fare to Senegal in West Africa. Expecting famine and misery, they instead discovered charming French colonial towns, incredible cuisine, vibrant culture, rugged natural beauty and some of the world’s best and most undiscovered beaches.
History buffs have used Google’s Explore tool to pinpoint cheap flights to lesser known pockets of the former Soviet Union ripe for exploration like Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. These countries offer amazing historic architecture and culture at a fraction of the cost of major European cities overrun with tourists. Savvy travelers avoid the crowds and save big by going where others don’t.
Nature lovers have uncovered direct flights on budget carriers like Norwegian Air from the U.S. Northeast to the stunning Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal. These volcanically formed islands feature lush green peaks, stunning coastal vistas, world class whale watching, and great local cuisine. Yet they see just a fraction of the tourists that pack the mainland European hot spots.