Flying Into the "Wrong" Airport to Save Hundreds of Dollars
Buying airline tickets for one is one thing. Buying airline tickets for 2, 3, 4, or 5 people is on a whole other playing field. If you are using miles it can be much harder to find that many award tickets for a family, and if you are using cash you can hit four figures of airfare costs very, very quickly, even on moderately priced domestic trips.
Of course, you didn't need me to tell you that, but since that is our current reality as a family of four, it is math we are now working with on a regular basis. As I've shared countless times, the most important trips we take are to see family members. We have grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, cousins, etc. all spread out around the country, and the only way to avoid them being just nice people we know from Facebook is to get on a plane, in a car, on a train, or something and go...or get lucky enough to have them come to us.
Traveling to Kansas may not get the adrenaline pumping, but it is one of the most important trips that we try to make at least twice a year to see my husband's parents on their home turf. Before kids, we would sometimes make a road trip out of it and just listen to music and chat through the 8-ish hour straight drive (assuming you didn't get bogged down in the Dallas area). With young kids an 8 hour straight drive would easily become a 10, 11, or 12 hour drive with lots of tears and stops. Thanks but no thanks.
So, for the last several years we have taken to the air to visit grandparents, and we are quite fond of the Houston - Wichita nonstop flight operated by United Express. Instead of 10, 11, or 12 hours in the car with stops and tears we have a very lovely 90 or so minutes in the air and then we are there. That nice and easy route was even my oldest daughter's first unaccompanied minor flight earlier this year.
Houston - Wichita rings in at just 10,000 United miles each way for an economy saver award since it is less than 700 miles in the air. That's a pretty solid deal for the flight we need, especially since cash prices are often $300+ round trip on the cheapest dates, and $500 - $800 on the more expensive dates. We have gone that route many times, but even though it is a good deal, 20,000 miles round trip x 3 or 4 seats can chip away at even a healthy mileage balance in a hurry if you make the trip a couple times a year.
Flying Into the Wrong Airport to Save Hundreds of Dollars
So, we have taken to other methods of getting where we need to be without always spending 60,000 - 80,000 United miles in the process. We are currently in Kansas enjoying the good life at Grandma's house, but to get here we didn't fly to Wichita or make the drive from Houston. Instead we flew a United nonstop flight to....Oklahoma City.
Why? Well, the math was too much in favor of this route not to. A few months back when United matched Southwest's sale prices on the route, we were able to get tickets for just $48 each way to fly from Houston to Oklahoma City. That means we were looking at $96 round trip instead of $300+ round trip or 20,000 miles round trip each to go directly to Wichita. Oklahoma City is still 150-ish miles from Wichita, but that 2+ hour drive is a lot easier than the drive all the way from Houston with the littles.
We were also able to book the trips as two one-ways at the same price meaning that I will earn $30 in United.com Club travel credits to use on future flights, dropping our real cost to $86 per person round trip since United credit is as good as cash to me. Baby S flew as a lap baby for free on this flight since she still thinks car seats are torture devices and buying her own seat would have been a waste.
Once we had gone to the airport in Houston, through security, flown to Oklahoma City, got the rental car, loaded up, and hit the freeway, I admit my heart sank when we passed a sign that said we still had 146 miles to drive before reaching Grandma's house, but when you are multiplying the cost of airfare by 3, 4, 5, etc. to move a whole family sometimes you gotta hit the right balance of convenience and affordability.
All things being equal I would obviously much rather fly straight into Wichita than Oklahoma, but if I can get all of us there for just $258 + a two hour drive instead of spending 60,000+ miles or close $1,000 in airfare, I think the winning choice is obvious...even if it isn't exciting.
I'm a huge fan of looking for those periodic major Southwest sales that the other airlines tend to match, and then booking as many trips as you can during those time periods. Even if Southwest (and the other airlines matching) don't discount the fare into your preferred airport, think a little more creatively to see if they might get you close enough. When you multiply the savings out for a family, it may more than make-up a little added drive time on the front of end of the trip.
Do you ever fly into the "wrong" airport to get your family where they need to be for less?