If it’s your first time visiting a foreign city, you may want to pay close attention to where that flight is actually landing, especially if your flight is on one of the budget airlines. If you’re not on one of the big international carriers, there’s a good chance you’re not landing at the main airport, even if you booked to that city.
In some world capitals, even the main airport is a long hike from the center, especially Narita for Tokyo and Seoul’s shiny airport, which is more than an hour away by bus or train, in Inchon.
The big problem though is when your flight to, say, Paris isn’t going to the Paris airport. Budget airlines have fueled a need for another place to land.
Budget Airline Airports in Europe and Asia
Flying to London? That Jet2, RyanAir, or EasyJet flight to London will probably actually land 42 miles away from central London at Stansted. The train to Liverpool Street station takes “from 47 minutes” and will cost you 19 pounds for a basic ticket—about $25. More in business or first class. If you book ahead though, it can be as low as £9.45–which may still be more than your RyanAir base ticket price was. This is no tiny airport though: because of RyanAir’s popularity, Stansted is now the fourth-busiest airport in England.
Or on EasyJet or WizzAir, you may fly into Luton Airport, which is 28 miles away from London. This is the fifth-largest in England, serving more than 16 million passengers annually. You need to take a shuttle bus to the train station to get a train from there (usually included in the ticket price) or you can catch a bus on EasyBus or other services for around £10 to central London.
See that map at the top of this post? A Wizz Air flight to Munich in Germany is actually touching down in Memmingen, 63 miles away. It’ll cost you 15 euros to take the express bus to the city from Allgau Airport. That’s pretty cheap though considering it’s an hour and a half to central Munich from that airport. If you’re traveling on business, here’s what it will cost you to arrive in Munich in style with an airport pick-up:
Going to Barcelona? The budget airlines flights from RyanAir, Jet2, and Tui marked as Barcelona actually go to Girona, which is 62 miles (93 kilometers) away. The 75-minute bus ride after you get your luggage will probably cost you north of 16 euros, but you might want to stick around a while first. I’ve heard it’s a lovely place and isn’t suffering the overtourism woes of Barcelona. Check Girona and Costa Brava day tours on Viator.
In Asia, many of the budget flights land at the main international airport because it’s the only one around. That’s not the case in Bangkok, however, where you may land at Suvarnabhumi Airport if you’re on Nok Air or THAI Smile Air. That alternate airport is actually closer to the city center because it’s older. In this case, the alternate may be a plus.
Berjaya Air in Malaysia runs charter flights from Kuala Lumpur’s Subang airport instead of the main international one. Malindo Air also has some flights out of this alternate airport.
Budget Airlines and the Americas
Most of Latin America is not developed enough that alternate airports are an issue—budget airlines are just starting to get going outside of Brazil and Mexico. (See the best budget airlines in Mexico here.) The big one to watch out for though is Mexico City. Some flights from Interjet and VivaAerobus fly to Toluca instead, which is an hour outside the city on a good day without much traffic. The public transportation options are very limited too even if your Spanish is good. Spirit used to fly into here, but no more.
What you have to watch out for more often is if you are coming in on an international flight but then you have a domestic flight on a low-cost airline in the country. You may have to transfer by taxi from the international airport to the domestic one across the city to make your connection, so you need hours in between for that. You may run into this for Panama City, San Jose in Costa Rica, or Buenos Aires for starters, so pay close attention to the terminals when booking.
In the USA, Southwest has long used alternate airports after starting out with Houston Hobby and Dallas Love Field. They also use Midway in Chicago, Baltimore BWI for D.C., and Ft. Lauderdale instead of Miami. Since only a minority of U.S. airports have train transportation to the city center anyway, especially in Texas, you’re probably going to be driving or taking a taxi anyway. Ft. Lauderdale does have the Tri-Rail system though, which can connect you to Miami to the south and stops up to Palm Beach in the north.
Allegiant’s main hub in the USA is often listed as Tampa, but it’s really across the bay on the edge of Clearwater, in a different county. This is actually more convenient for Clearwater Beach, but less convenient if you’re going to Tampa proper. For St. Pete Beach it’s basically a wash either way. In Orlando, they actually fly into alternate airport Sanford, while their Seattle flights actually go into Bellingham. Allegiant Air flies into Mesa-Phoenix Gateway Airport for Phoenix, as does WestJet from Canada.
If you’re flying on JetBlue to Los Angeles, you may be going to Long Beach instead. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in this sprawling city: it depends on where you’re headed.
In Canada, budget carrier Porter Air flies into the alternate airport Billy Bishop Toronto City airport, which is actually far more convenient than the main international one on the outskirts. In this case, the alternate airport is a superior option.
Should You Choose a Budget Airline With an Alternate Airport?
Sometimes this extra hike from an alternate airport can be worth it if the budget airline fare is low enough after factoring in all the extra fees. Or if you’re on some kind of package tour where you’re all piling into a vehicle together, then no worries. If you can travel light and the extra transfer time is no biggie for you, it’s hard to pass up flight deals like this:
As always, you’ll need to run the numbers with a calculator to see if the savings add up.
How about you? Have you gotten an unwanted surprise when traveling to a foreign city? Or have you found a deal that ended up being far cheaper by landing at an alternate airport?
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