Airlines Are Flying to New Cities, and That Means Deals

If you’re willing to go somewhere that’s historically been harder to reach, the savings could be particularly high.
If you’re willing to go somewhere that’s historically been harder to reach, the savings could be particularly high.

Summary

Carriers are introducing new routes to places like Norfolk, Va., and Tulum, Mexico. It could be your ticket to a cheaper flight.

Taking the air route less traveled could be your ticket to a cheaper vacation this spring and summer.

Low-cost carriers are introducing new routes and reworking their maps to remain competitive. Frontier Airlines, for instance, is reconfiguring its operations so that it flies to and from Cleveland, Philadelphia and some other cities more often. Smaller U.S. cities like Evansville, Ind., and Norfolk, Va., will see new direct flights from other airlines.

Major airlines are also getting in on the act, adding flights to international locales like Tulum, Mexico, and Nice, France.

Cheaper flights and new routes are regularly announced, especially heading into spring. This year stands to be one of the most fruitful in years given nearly every U.S. airline is making changes and airlines often offer discounted rates on new routes. If you’re willing to go somewhere that’s historically been harder to reach, the savings could be particularly high.

Low-cost carriers tend to advertise some of their lowest prices tied to these launches. When Frontier announced a slate of new routes, including flights to destinations like Charlotte, N.C., and Fort Myers, Fla., it offered promotional fares as low as $19 for a few days.

Even after those promotional fares are gone, having a new carrier on the route adds competition and tends to nudge prices lower. The introduction of one of these carriers, especially a low-cost airline, to a market is initially associated with a 20% drop in flight prices, says Hayley Berg, lead economist at travel-booking company Hopper.

“There is typically an opportunity for consumers to get a lower price if they can book when a route is new," Berg says. Over time, though, prices tend to recover some.

Welcome to Pittsburgh

Domestically, these new flights represent a partial reversal of a recent trend where smaller airports lost most of their scheduled flights as airlines rethought their operations in the wake of Covid-19, says Bijan Vasigh, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Airline executives say that during the past couple of years, many airlines targeted the same markets as each other, particularly vacation destinations during the spring and summer months.

“There are a lot of people who want to fly to Orlando and Vegas, but if there’s a lot of capacity to Orlando and Vegas that may be perfectly well-addressed demand," says Brian Znotins, senior vice president of network and schedule planning at American Airlines.

Some carriers have responded by shifting their focus to smaller, secondary markets and away from bigger hubs. Frontier has opted to prioritize routes that serve what it deems “friends and family" destinations, says Chief Executive Barry Biffle.

Case in point: Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. The airline will launch the route in mid-May, and round-trip airfare is currently available for as low as $78 on some days. Previously, airfares on that route averaged around $300, Biffle says, making it a strong option for an ultra-low-cost carrier like Frontier.

“If you want to take a family of four to go see grandma, that’s $2,400," Biffle says. “You’re either going to drive or you won’t go there."

Small hubs

Upstarts like Allegiant, Avelo and Breeze tend to fly to smaller airports by virtue of the lower costs associated with those locations. Among the routes Allegiant is debuting in June are flights between Harrisburg, Pa., and Jacksonville, Fla., and flights between McAllen, Texas, and St. Petersburg, Fla. One-way fares on Allegiant’s new flights start as low as $45.

Avelo is launching four new flights out of the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in California’s wine country in early May. The flights offer introductory fares starting at $62 for a one-way ticket.

These low promotional prices can significantly reduce the cost of flying out of small hubs that have fewer flights a day. An airline providing additional service to somewhere like Chicago is less likely to move the needle on prices outside of that particular route compared with a less-frequented destination.

Some of the routes carriers are rolling out are designed as seasonal. Spirit added four new routes to Tampa between March and early April from Kansas City, Memphis, Milwaukee and Nashville.

Internationally, major carriers continue to re-establish service to overseas markets they pulled out of during Covid-19 and smaller international destinations are seeing growing demand as major foreign hubs like Paris grapple with crowds.

American is one of multiple U.S. carriers set to begin flying in March to the new airport that opened in Tulum, Mexico, in December. The airline also plans to increase service to smaller European markets, Znotins says.

Potential hiccups

When airlines establish new routes, don’t expect them to fly them multiple times a day—let alone on a daily basis. It isn’t uncommon for low-cost carriers to fly these newer routes only a few times a week.

A sparse flight schedule can create major headaches if problems arise, such as bad weather. The infrequency of these flights means that it could take days for the carrier to accommodate passengers on another flight if their original departure was canceled or significantly delayed.

In these circumstances, getting creative with alternatives can be helpful. This month, American Airlines initiated service between Miami and Ian Fleming International Airport near the popular resort destination of Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Those flights are only offered once a day, but a backup option is a short shuttle bus ride away.

“If there’s weather and that flight is delayed, we have plenty of backup options over Montego Bay to get you there," American’s Znotins says. Driving between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios may take more than 1.5 hours—but that could be better than a ruined vacation.

Write to Jacob Passy at jacob.passy@wsj.com

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
more

topics

MINT SPECIALS

Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App