Reprinted from Condé Nast Traveler – by Cynthia Drescher December 8, 2017
Flights from small airports are typically more expensive—but there are a few reasons you may want to stay local.
Flying from hometown airports doesn’t always mean paying high prices for airfare.
It’s finally time to book that trip, but you’re torn between a flight from your small, hometown airport and a lower-priced option out of a large airport 65 miles away. The obvious answer may be to save money and prepare for a drive to the major hub, but there are reasons to consider that often overlooked, smaller airport.
Every passenger counts
Think of small airports like independent bookstores. Choosing to patronize them over larger, potentially cheaper options is a vote for their continued existence and, hopefully, expansion. Every passenger is a value taken into consideration when airlines make service decisions, whether that’s adding new cities, increasing the number of flights to current destinations, or simply upgrading the type and size of aircraft serving the airport.
In August, the tiny but mighty Toledo Express Airport in Ohio, located a one-hour, construction-riddled drive from Detroit Metro International Airport, inaugurated a new American Airlines route to Charlotte, North Carolina. From Charlotte, Toledo’s fliers may now connect to more than 650 daily departures to over 150 destinations in 24 countries. This achievement for the small airport—which normally sees fewer than 200,000 passengers annually—was made possible thanks to passenger feedback asking for additional routes and help from a U.S. Department of Transportation grant to promote small airports. More routes mean more flights, which means more available seats to sell. And more seats to sell equals more options at lower fares.
Lighter transport—and less stress
Central Illinois Regional Airport (BMI) may not have a sexy name or long-haul flights, but this airport in Bloomington, Illinois, a two-hour drive from both Chicago’s Midway and O’Hare International airports, provides one major perk both of those do not: free parking. There is no fine print, as even the long-term parking lots are complimentary to travelers departing BMI, providing a savings of $17 per day (the parking rate at O’Hare). Free airport parking is hardly a Central Illinois-only incentive: Several other smaller airports that do not charge include Flagstaff, Arizona; Valdosta, Georgia; Pellston, Michigan; and Santa Maria, California.
Flying from a small airport brings about more than just potential financial benefits. If you live closer to a small airport (and aren’t, say, driving from a larger city to a smaller one), emotional relief is to be found from less transit or driving stress, greater potential for rest both before and after travel, and fewer fellow fliers in general, standing between you and your plane. And you can be sure that if a blizzard cancels your flight, you won’t be standing for hours behind 300 others waiting to get rebooked.
Low-cost airline options
Budget airlines are budget in more than just name and the airfares they advertise. In order to offer such affordable flights, airlines branded as “low-cost,” like Spirit Airlines, Allegiant, Frontier, and Sun Country, look to save on the business side as well, by serving airports that charge them lower fees.
A prime example is Orlando, where the city’s “other” airport of Orlando-Sanford, located in the northern suburbs and a 40-minute drive from Orlando International Airport, is a base for Allegiant Airlines. Flying from one of Allegiant’s destinations to Orlando-Sanford (SFB), versus on a major airline to Orlando International (MCO), typically means cheaper airfares, but also potential extra fees for checked baggage and snacks. A similar situation is found with Trenton Mercer Airport (TTN), in New Jersey. Although located only one hour from both Philadelphia and Newark airports, low-cost airline Frontier chooses to offer flights from it to several destinations. For residents near Trenton, it’s a less stressful and lower-priced option to the two other major airports within driving range.
Small airports aren’t just for savings on domestic travel. As outlined in the New York Times it’s also worth taking a second look at small airports for international travel, thanks to the rise of long-haul, low-cost carriers like Norwegian Air, which flies to Europe from Stewart International, about 60 miles north of New York City in the Hudson Valley city of Newburgh, New York; T.F. Green in Providence, Rhode Island; and Bradley International in Hartford, Connecticut. (In the case of budget airlines, if you’re commuting from the city, it may still actually be cheaper to fly from a smaller airport than it is a larger one—and we’re including transportation costs in the equation.)
Just remember: If fares like Norwegian’s $65 one-ways to Europe sound good enough to lure you into giving a smaller airport a go, do a little advance research on any extra fees you may encounter. Bring snacks, too, as low-cost airlines charge for food and smaller airports won’t have Chili’s To Go in their terminals.