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How Alternate Airports Can Help Traveling Families

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My family just recently booked flights to attend a family wedding this summer in Burlington, Vermont.  As you might guess, Burlington has a pretty small airport and most flights into it are quite expensive, especially for our family traveling all the way from California.  I monitored flights for months in hope of seeing a price drop, but they regularly hovered at $700-$800 per ticket.  Boston is the next closest major US airport, but tickets from SFO to BOS are often pretty pricey and flying there would have meant a 3 1/2 hour drive with both kids.  Not fun.

Beautiful Burlington, VT.

Beautiful Burlington, VT.

As we had recently applied for passports for both children, we next decided to look into an alternate airport… in Canada! Believe it or not, Montreal is only about an hour and  half from Burlington, and no one in our family has been there before.  We thought it would be great to add a couple of days onto the trip to see the city and still attend the wedding in Vermont.

Burlington to Montreal.  See?  They're pretty close!

Burlington to Montreal. See? They’re pretty close!

But the benefits didn’t end there.  To make things even better, there are some nonstop options from our home airport at SFO to Montreal.  Non-stops almost always make things easier when traveling with kids.  After some searching, we were able to snag three first class award tickets on United at the “saver” rate, flying Air Canada nonstop on the trip to Montreal, and connecting in LAX on the way home.  This routing saved us a ton of cash and got us a much more comfortable flight, even when you consider that we will have to carry my son as a lap infant one more time.  And I’m always happy to avoid United and fly Air Canada instead.

Better than United.

Better than United.

This just goes to show you to remember to be flexible and examine ALL your airport options (yes, even in Canada!) when you are traveling with your little ones.  When you are traveling as a family needing three, four, or more tickets, it is even more important to find cheaper fare options, as even a small price differential can add up.

But price is not the only reason to look into alternate airports for your travels.  Traveling with kids involves a lot of logistics, and anything you can do to simplify those logistics is worth your while.

Here are some things to consider when looking at alternate airports and traveling with kids:

  • Can you book a nonstop flight with a short drive on one end rather than connecting flights?  Connecting flights can be dangerous as you can sometimes find yourself stranded overnight with a cranky little one (like was the case for me in Dallas last Christmas).
  • Can you book flight times to the alternate airport that are better for your children’s schedules?  I, for one, like to try to time flights around toddler nap times to improve my chances of getting a break.
  • Can you utilize a smaller and easier airport where TSA lines are shorter and logistics are easier?  For my family, this is why we often choose to fly out of OAK instead of SFO.  We can park and walk to the terminal and the TSA family line is always empty — meaning we get straight through.  You can’t put a dollar value on that!
  • By using an alternate airport, can you save on extra costs like parking or rental cars?  Again, my family often saves money by leaving from OAK where parking is cheaper than SFO.  Similarly, we often fly into Hartford instead of JFK when we travel to visit family in Connecticut, as rental cars are usually $100-$200 cheaper for a long weekend in BDL.  Even when BDL flight prices are $50 more, we usually come out ahead when we buy two or more tickets.
  • Can you open up your options to take advantage of award tickets into alternate airports?  For us, it meant the difference between United’s cramped Economy section and Air Canada’s First Class!

Has an alternate airport rescued your family travels?  Share your experiences in the comments.

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It's so funny because we were looking at going to Montreal and it was cheaper for us to fly into Burlington and drive to Montreal from Atlanta!