Top 5 Airports that Aren’t the Bargain They Once Were

Lots of news stories still tout the idea that alternate airports (especially those served by Southwest) are always cheaper than their big airport counterparts.  This isn’t true on 2 levels:  Southwest flies to lots of primary airports nowadays, and those secondary airports (for various reasons) aren’t necessarily the great deal they once were.

Today I bring the Top 5 Airports that Aren’t the Bargain They Once Were:

1) Chicago Midway.  Midway used to be a lowfare paradise, with Southwest and ATA fighting it out, bringing low fares to a great swath of business and leisure cities.  Plus, Midway was a much more pleasant experience than the behemoth at O’Hare.  Midwest is still relatively inexpensive, but the airport has grown considerably, taking away the small-town feel.  Plus, as Chicagoans are learning, Milwaukee is Chicago’s new lowfare airport, with AirTran, Midwest and, soon, Southwest dropping fares to levels about 30% below national average.

2) Providence.  For years, Providence was touting as the much lower fare alternative to high-priced and traffic-addled Boston Logan.  Not anymore.  JetBlue has a huge presence at Boston, while Southwest and Virgin America have helped bring fares down.  Plus, it’s just a quick hop into the city.  Why drag your butt all the way to Providence when Boston offers similar fares without the 75 minute drive?

3) Fort Lauderdale.  Sure, there are still low fares to FLL from just about everywhere.  And I’m not going to pretend that Miami is any sort of prize.  But more and more, Miami offers similar fares to those found at FLL.  And if you’ve ever been to FLL during the holiday season, the experience is uniquely miserable.

4) Oakland.  Once a much better alternative to the high fares and lack of public transportation at SFO, Oakland has seen a 30% decline in passengers, as Southwest has pulled back flights, ATA has disappeared, and Aloha has gone out of business.  Meanwhile at SFO, there’s train connections into the city, Southwest is growing, and Virgin America offers low fares along the Pacific coast and back east.

5) Baltimore.  I can’t argue with JetBlue’s $9 fares from Boston to BWI.  But Southwest now flies to Dulles, Spirit is at Reagan, AirTran is at Dulles and Reagan, while JetBlue & Virgin America fly to Dulles.  For many, that 45-60 minute drive out to Baltimore is no longer worth it when low fares are available in their backyard.


  1. The flip side of this is…what if you live in a place like Providence? Or worse yet, a further-flung secondary airport that’s lost much or even all of its regularly scheduled service in the last year or two, as airlines instead decide to lose money by undercutting each other in the top markets?
    The increased low-cost competition benefits people in places like Boston and NYC at least in the short run. But putting more flights through the top East Coast airports creates delays that ripple through the entire system. And if your ultimate destination or origin point is not one of these major cities, this is a bad thing.

  2. True, but flights have been reduced so much (capacity is down, what, 20% or so?) that I think the airlines are able to shift to major cities because traffic is down so much.

  3. Why just PVD? Couldn’t MHT be lumped in there, too?

    But yeah, PVD has lost some of its advantage.FL and B6 have helped drive fares down, and now that it’s easier to get into Boston now that the Big Dig is completed BOS looks more attractive.

    That being said, there are still some areas of MA where PVD and BOS will still compete.

    But here at PVD thing seem to be getting better in terms of cuts. US has been bringing more mainline back, DL is finally giving us mainline again, and we weren’t hurt in the latest WN schedule.

    B6 or FL would be a nice addition. My current pipe dream is VX…LAX is one of our biggest unserved markets. If they put one flight a day there no one would bother them.

  4. Dan – you’re right about MHT. But MHT only really attracted WN – I never thought of it as a full service airport the way PVD is/was.

    I wouldn’t hold your breath for Virgin America to show up at Providence any time soon. As you’re more aware than I am, the days of secondary airports appear to be over for now. Once they chose MIA over FLL, it was game over for PVD (as if it were ever in the plans…)

  5. Yeah, I’m not optimistic, but I can hope, right? :)

    Maybe I’m misreading your comment…but VX chose FLL over MIA.

  6. My bad – I forgot that VX announced FLL. They had been talking about MIA for a while. You can deduct 3 points from my score.