Living in a small town or cities that are not major airline hubs can have its drawbacks when it comes to travel. More often than not, connection times are not ideal, and airfares tend to be quite expensive.
But, there are ways in which you can enjoy the small town lifestyle, and still save on airfare – paying similar to big hub cities or even less, sometimes. It just requires a bit of creativity and some careful planning.
Split the domestic and international legs
If you’re flying internationally, do not book flights from your small town or non-airline hub city to anywhere outside the US in a single booking. Typically, when you fly from a small town, you’ll take a domestic flight to a major hub city in the US, where you’ll catch your flight to your international destination.
Typically, when airlines group domestic and international legs, they tend to price the domestic leg at a premium. This could cost you more than if you bought those same two flights separately. Let’s use, for example, a flight from Knoxville, Tennessee to Barcelona, Spain. Knoxville’s airport is relatively small, and their flight selection is quite limited, but you have options to fly to a few major cities in the US like Miami, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, and so on.
When I checked the price for a one way, single booking from Knoxville to Barcelona, some of the cheapest flights I found were around $1,635, with Brussels Airlines (and codeshare partners), having two layovers in Washington and Brussels. On the other hand, when I checked the price from Knoxville to any domestic city, and then a separate flight from such city to Barcelona, I found a much cheaper option totaling only $625. In this case, I would have bought a one way from Knoxville to Fort Lauderdale, and then a separate one way from Fort Lauderdale to Stockholm. The difference is over $1000!
Keep in mind that should you need to cancel your trip, you’ll be responsible for two cancellations, not just one. Also, should your first flight get delayed or get canceled, you’ll also be responsible for figuring out how to manage or change the second leg. In this case, it is highly recommended to get travel insurance with trip cancellation.
Lastly, pay close attention to your layover times and time/day differences if you’re changing time zones. Give yourself enough time at the layover airport to pick up your checked bags, go through immigration (if needed), and check in again to your subsequent flight.
Consider combining some overland travel
If you have a major airline hub airport close enough or just a few hours away, consider driving or taking the bus or train there to benefit from even cheaper flights. Major airline hubs often offer cheaper flights because demand and competition are bigger in these cities. Let’s use the Knoxville sample again. You could, instead of flying from Knoxville, take the bus or drive to either Charlotte, North Carolina or Atlanta, Georgia – both almost four hours away.
A flight from Atlanta to Boston, and then a separate flight from Boston to Barcelona comes out to $369. Even cheaper than flying from Knoxville. Of course, you'll need to take into consideration the expense incurred on the bus ticket, the gas price, should you drive, and the airport parking cost – should you leave your car there.
Consider a layover in a major hub
It is hard to understand how airlines price their flights because sometimes it doesn’t make sense. I’ve had experiences where I’ve wanted to fly from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Miami, Florida, and a direct flight was much more expensive than buying a flight with a layover in Atlanta on the way to Miami.
These flights are easy to find as all airlines and flight aggregators show them automatically. Make sure that you check the box that shows flights with one or two layovers.
Set your destinations as a layover and miss your last leg
This trick only works if you’re flying with carry-on bags, your booking is only one-way, and you’re just missing the last leg of the booking. For example, if you wish to fly from San Juan to Atlanta, in this case, it’s possible the direct flight might be more expensive than booking a flight from San Juan to New York with a layover in Atlanta.
A great site where you can check these types of layovers is the Google-ITA Matrix. In it, you’ll select “one-way” and hit “advanced controls” to search for a one-way flight. Input your departure city; then, where it says “Routing codes,” put your intended destination city. On the destination, put any city in the US. Then, hit the "nearby" link next to the destination space, and put “within 2000 miles” and check the “select all” box.
The search engine will find all flight combinations across the US where a layover is your intended destination. In this case, once you reach your layover/destination, just miss your connecting flight.
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