How I Saved by Checking Nearby Airports — Reader Success Story
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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader John, who found a great deal on an award flight to Europe. Here's what he had to say:
I live in Atlanta, so Delta is usually my best option for travel to anywhere on the planet. I have accumulated a balance of over 300,000 SkyMiles through credit card spending, a 60,000-mile welcome bonus on the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, and from being a decades-long member and traveling loyally on Delta since the 1970s. I'm also an avid reader of this site, and I scan the web regularly for deals to get the best value for my SkyMiles.
I recently got the travel bug, so I scanned my bucket list of good destinations for a one week trip as a single traveler, and Barcelona popped up. Then I read a recent article on TPG about affordable fares to BCN from JFK and other airports. I found attractive fares (under $600) from JFK in September on Google Flights and the Delta website, including a connection from ATL to JFK for 16,000 miles. I double checked the value by researching the same itinerary as an award and got a price of 64,000 miles.
Then I thought, "Why fly to New York when Delta has non-stop service to Barcelona from Atlanta?" Fares for an ATL-BCN-ATL itinerary were floating around $1,200 or 130,000 miles for similar dates, but then I saw the “Check nearby airports” option for airports within 100 miles of ATL. Lo and behold, the price dropped dramatically. Round-trip awards from Chattanooga, Huntsville and Columbus, GA were 40,000 SkyMiles or less. Those itineraries mostly routed back through Atlanta to subsequently ride in the same seat Delta was pricing at the much higher rate.
In the end I booked a CSG-ATL-BCN-ATL-CSG itinerary for 39,000 miles. The paid fare for the same ticket from CSG was over $2,000, which is a redemption value of 5 cents per mile! Realistically, though, I calculate my value as 3 cents per mile based on the cost of flying from ATL.
Checking nearby airports is essential for travelers based in smaller cities, but it can also be a useful strategy even if you live in a major metropolitan area. Apart from Southwest, the largest domestic carriers all have an advanced search option to include alternate airports on both ends of your itinerary. Google Flights makes this especially easy, as you can either enter different airport codes manually or use the Explore Map function to search entire continents at once.
You can also use these searches (or a service like Skiplagged) to reveal discounts available through hidden city ticketing, but make sure you understand the risks involved in ditching part of your itinerary. Naturally, pulling from a wider base of fares gives you more opportunities to find a good price. You'll have to decide whether that price justifies the extra time and expense of getting to a distant airport; in John's case it clearly did.
I don't value SkyMiles highly, but I have to admit Delta's recent flurry of award sales has been impressive. In the last month alone, we've seen round-trip economy fares to Australia from 50,000 miles, Europe from 24,000 miles and Mexico from 12,000 miles, all of which are steals. John's award wasn't quite as cheap, but 39,000 miles round-trip to Europe on Delta metal is still a great deal. Unfortunately, Delta's premium award pricing remains generally astronomical; while the old "SkyPesos" epithet no longer fits, I'd still prefer a published award chart with predictable pricing.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank John for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to email@example.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes, or to contribute to our new award redemption series. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!