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Find a Cheap Flight, Then Go Elsewhere

snag the cheap flight then go beyond Lisbon in Portugal

Is there another way to get where you’re going other than the most obvious route? Can you find a cheap flight to somewhere nearby instead?

Often the answer is yes, and it can save you a small fortune if you’re a bit flexible.

It’s a given that if you want to go to Antigua, you must first fly to Guatemala City. For the Grand Canyon, you will probably fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix first. The only way you’re getting to the Galapagos Islands is through Quito or Guayaquil. So why do people forget to think beyond the gateway when looking at flight prices for other destinations? Why not just snag the cheap flight and go?

Yucatan PeninsulaWhen talking with other travelers, especially the kind who take short vacations instead of long journeys, I often run into a curious mind block. They think of a destination as being where the airport is, and can’t get their head around the fact that you can easily travel elsewhere—without being on an organized tour.

I’ll say something like, “You can get a cheap flight to Cancun and then just take a bus to Merida and beyond.”

“Whaaaatt?! How would I do that?!” is a typical reply, like I’ve just told them they have to navigate a giant obstacle course filled with alligators.

I’ve heard people say they haven’t been to Place X because the flights there are expensive, yet they could fly to the city two hours away in another country for hundreds of dollars less and cross over. They just can’t fathom how to connect the dots.

Overland Transit Information Is in Your Pocket

I found this attitude odd in the days when all that info was available in guidebooks, but I find it even stranger now when a properly worded search query can turn up instructions after a few clicks. Sure, you may have to take a taxi to a bus station, or make your way to the shuttle window in the airport, but it’s akin to level 3 of Candy Crush, not solving a calculus equation.

Savvy long-term travelers know to always “look for the second right answer” as Roger Van Oech said in his creativity books. Just because you grab a cheap flight on Kayak to busy San Jose del Cabo airport doesn’t mean you have to spend your vacation in expensive Los Cabos. You can take a bus or Interjet shuttle at 4:00 and be having a sundowner in La Paz a few hours later. The next morning you can be swimming with whale sharks or be on an excursion like this:

adventure baja sur

Finding a cheap flight to Cancun doesn’t mean you have to spend more than an hour in Cancun. Take the airport shuttle to the bus station downtown and you can be off on your own to somewhere amazing. And the prices in that somewhere else will be a better deal too. Heck, there’s even a short flight between Cancun and Merida if you want to get there in less than an hour. 

If you’re fortunate enough to live in Europe, you’ve got some crazy cheap air options to choose from. I pulled up a month from now on Google flights and here are just a few of the one-way options, in U.S. dollars.

Milan ($17)
Athens ($52)
Bari ($38)
Budapest ($39)
Malta ($25)
Barcelona ($17)
Kiev ($35)
Sofia ($13)

I’m practically salivating looking at that. Yeah, some are on budget airlines so you’ll have to pack light and cough up some fees, but you could justify a spontaneous getaway at those prices.Why would you not go?

Use Google Flights or Skyscanner to open up your options and see the big picture for a region instead of just searching A to B. Then visit the individual airline sites that are not on those, such as RyanAir in Europe and Allegiant, Southwest, and Spirit in the USA.

If you don’t overpack, you can also tap into these cheap European flights to get where you want to go in Europe on vacation. If you just search your home airport to your ultimate destination, it might be more than $1,000. But if you use the map view in Google Flights or Skyscanner to search everywhere from your home airport, you’ll inevitably find some deals. Then take a train or a local budget airline for the last leg–or just take your time and explore more places.

This can work in the USA too. Maybe you were planning on going to Miami for a sun and fun getaway? Don’t forget to search flights to Fort Lauderdale. You can take a local train from there to Miami.

find a cheap flight with alternate airports

In places where there’s not a train connection, just rent a car. The cost is usually reasonable in the USA and in popular tourist regions you can even do a one-way rental. The companies are pretty much commodity ones anyway, so you can even use Hotwire to take what’s available and get a better deal. I saved $350 recently by doing this in Montana.

Find a Cheap Flight to an Alternate Airport

The way to really open up your options is to look beyond your ultimate destination. Just because you want to spend some time in Lisbon doesn’t mean you have to fly into Lisbon. Fly to the Algarve first, then go exploring the country, including the capital. Or the Alentejo wine and castles region.

find a cheap flight to another airport

So what if you don’t want to go to Bucharest, Athens, or Casablanca? Find the cheap flight and then you can easily go overland to a dozen fantastic places. It’s not much of a drive from Athens to get to a place like this:

beyond Athens

Take a bus, grab a train ticket, or just rent a car and hit the countryside. If you see a $424 round trip from Toronto to Lima like I saw recently, grab it! Head to Paracas, or Trujillo, or Arequipa. If you see a $299 round-trip to Bogota from Miama, like I saw last week, take that and just add a local flight or bus ride to where you really want to go in Colombia.

At worst you have to spend a night in that arrival city because your flight arrives late or it’s already too much time in transit. So what? Get a cheap hotel deal, see the local sights, and then take off a day later to your ultimate destination.

Use the sites I mentioned earlier for a good map search, or just check prices on Kayak to get a baseline cost for where you want to go. Occasionally you’ll find it’s not worth the extra time and effort to go to an alternate airport. The cheap flight is not cheap enough to make up for what your time is worth. In that case, just pay up and go.

Other times, however, you can literally cut your flight cost by more than half—and probably have a more interesting trip in the process. Find a cheap flight, then branch out from there.

Where have you ended up after booking a cheap flight to an alternate airport instead?

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Thursday 31st of October 2019

We’re just back from a 4 week trip which I planned from scratch with this mentality. Flying from Australia anywhere is expensive, so when I found o/w flights from Oz to Vienna for $260 (half the usual price), I used that as my starting point. Used the same thought process to stay in Westbahnhoff 7min from the centre and halve my accommodation costs. We travelled overland to Bratislava then Budapest, then I looked for cheap onwards flights. Albania was $3.50 (yep), but I paid extra for seats as travelling with kid. Overland to Montenegro then Podgorica to London was around $25. Thrilled to have saved so much, and as a bonus went to some places which were on the list, but maybe not in my top 5. We’re off again in 2020 and I’m planning this the same way. London to Barcelona for $13? Sold! We will zigzag through Spain, Portugal and Morocco, carry on only (wish us luck in winter), but we will see far more, for far less, than if I planned to go from A to B to C. Brilliant!


Tuesday 29th of October 2019

A great option for a cheap flight. It is possible to save an expense this way.


Friday 25th of October 2019

Great article. Thanks for sharing.

Have a great day.


Thursday 17th of October 2019

The only problem with flying into Cancún is flying into Cancún. The airport there makes JFK look attractive. For travelers headed to Mérida, biting the bullet and spending the extra bucks to fly direct into MID avoids the morass and s**tshow that is CUN.

On another note: my wife and I have discovered that flying Emirates into Milan is a joy. Cheap airfare from JFK, biz class treatment in economy and easy connections via air/train to just about anywhere in the old country.

Tim Leffel

Thursday 17th of October 2019

How long ago were you there? I've been in and out a couple times in the past year and can assure you it's 10X nicer than JFK now. If you didn't have to run the gauntlet of touts to leave the place, I'd say it's better than most in the USA. After all, there's a bar outside for when you're waiting for your pickup!


Thursday 17th of October 2019

Excellent advice. I can attest that the bus from Cancun to Merida was quite pleasant.

By the way, in "you can literally cut your flight cost by more than half", I think you meant *figuratively* cut, not literally.

Tim Leffel

Thursday 17th of October 2019

Because the word refers to "cost," it's literally.