Alternate Airports to Some Big US Hubs

by Jessica

October 9th, 2009

airportlineOne of the things you’ll read over and over again when you’re looking for the best ways to find travel bargains is that being flexible is key. For the most part, that means being willing (and able) to move your trip by a day or two in either direction from your chosen travel date, or taking an early flight instead of one that lets you sleep in. But even beyond that, being flexible with the airports you fly in and out of can help you expand your ability to find travel deals, too.

Keep in mind that the big hub airport in your area may be the one that most often has the best deals, simply because it’s got the most traffic coming in and going out and therefore airlines are more likely to have empty seats they want to sell cheap. But sometimes the smaller secondary or even tertiary airports in a region will have deals the big hubs won’t – if a discount carrier only flies to the smaller airport and not the bigger one, or if the smaller airport charges the airlines lower fees to operate there, for instance. So even if you end up flying in and out of the bigger hubs most of the time, it never hurts to check the alternate airports nearby.

Another important thing to consider is what exactly “nearby” means. How far are the alternate airports from where you’re going? In some cases, it might actually be closer to your destination, since so many big hubs are quite a distance from the main city they serve. But if the smaller airport doesn’t have good public transportation options, then you might be stuck with a costly taxi ride or need to rent a car, so you’ll need to make sure the money you’re saving on your plane ticket isn’t eaten up in other ways.

This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but here are some of the alternate airports in the United States that you might consider for your next trip.

Alternative Airports to Some Major US Hubs


The biggest airport serving Chicago is O’Hare International, which is just under 20 miles from downtown. It’s well-connected to the city via public transit. Alternates are:

  • Midway International Airport – Midway could be considered another “main” airport for Chicago, it’s so frequently used. It’s 8 miles from downtown and also well-connected via public transit, and budget airlines like Southwest and AirTran use Midway.
  • General Mitchell International Airport – Mitchell Field is actually more than 85 miles away from Chicago in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but because it’s connected to Chicago by Amtrak it’s actually a decent alternate to O’Hare and Midway. The train trip is about 90 minutes one way.
  • Chicago Rockford International Airport – Rockford’s airport is about the same distance from Chicago as Milwaukee’s airport, but from Rockford you’re really limited as far as public transit. Unless you’re flying Allegiant Air, which uses Rockford, you’re better off looking at Mitchell Field as an alternate.


Boston’s main airport is the always-busy Logan International, an airport that regularly gets bad reviews from travelers. Logan’s very close to downtown, and you can get into the city easily on public transit. Alternates are:

  • Manchester-Boston Regional Airport – Manchester’s airport is in New Hampshire and nearly 60 miles from downtown Boston, but there’s a free shuttle into Boston that leaves the airport every couple hours that’ll get you into the city in about an hour.
  • TF Green Airport – TF Green is 6 miles from Providence (yes, that’s in Rhode Island), and is also about 60 miles into downtown Boston. Public transit isn’t as good, but you can get a shuttle into Providence and then a commuter train into Boston.

Los Angeles

L.A.’s busy Los Angeles International Airport is only about 16 miles from the city center, but public transportation into the city leaves something to be desired (as does, to be fair, public transportation in L.A. altogether). Alternates are:

  • Burbank Airport – It’s actually easier to get into downtown LA from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank than it is from LAX, and Burbank’s airport boasts decent public transit options, too. This is the best airport if you’re headed to Hollywood, Universal Studios, Dodger Stadium, Disney, Warner Bros., Pasadena, or Glendale.
  • Ontario Airport – This airport is more than 35 miles from downtown LA, it lacks good public transportation options and is probably too far to take a taxi. So using the Ontario airport for a trip into central LA might not be the best way to go, but if you’re headed more toward the Ontario/San Bernardino County direction then it’s worth looking at.
  • Orange County Airport – The Santa Ana airport, also called John Wayne Airport, is your best LA-area airport for trips to Disneyland, as it’s less than 15 miles from the theme park. It’s not necessarily a great choice for trips into downtown LA, however.
  • Long Beach Airport – Long Beach’s airport is 15 miles from downtown LA and doesn’t have good public transportation options, but since it’s not too far from the city you can get hotel shuttles or take a taxi. This is the LA airport jetBlue uses, and it’s handy if you’re headed to one of the beach towns outside LA.

New York

New York has three major airports which serve the city, and one of them isn’t even in the same state. You can pick from JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark airports, all of which are big hubs with lots of destination options, but your choices don’t end there. Alternates are:

  • Long Island MacArthur Airport – This airport is about 50 miles from Manhattan, so it’s probably too far for a taxi ride, and public transit isn’t as good as it is from the big three NYC-area airports. Still, Long Island is the NY airport that Southwest uses, so it’s worth looking at for budget flights.
  • Westchester County Airport – This airport is about 30 miles from Manhattan, but 3 miles from White Plains. It’s not ideal for trips into NYC, not least because public transit options aren’t good, but both AirTran and jetBlue fly into Westchester County so you might find some decent deals.

San Francisco

San Francisco’s big airport, San Francisco International Airport, may be well-connected to the city via the BART trains, but it’s also plagued by frequent flight delays due to the city’s persistent fog. Alternates are:

  • Oakland International Airport – Oakland’s airport is only 4 miles from Oakland, but it’s also connected to San Francisco by BART. This airport has seen a steady increase in popularity (and therefore in crowds), so it may not save you loads of time, but Southwest has frequent flights in and out of Oakland so it could still save you money.
  • San Jose International Airport – San Jose’s airport is further from San Francisco than Oakland’s airport, but it’s well-served by Southwest and offers convenient access to three major highways (which is great news if you’re driving). Public transit options from the airport are being expanded, too.


Miami International Airport sees plenty of traffic, partly because it’s one of the principal US gateways from Latin America, and partly because – let’s face it – it’s Miami. Alternates are:

  • Fort Lauderdale International Airport – The Fort Lauderdale airport is just over 20 miles from Miami, and it’s pretty well-connected to Miami by county buses and commuter trains. It’s also the biggest Spirit Airlines hub, so could be a good option for cheap tickets.
  • West Palm Beach Airport – The West Palm Beach airport is a bit further from Miami, at roughly 1.5 hours from the city, but there’s a commuter train that’ll take you straight into Miami from the airport for cheap.

photo by Ingorrr

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User Comments
  1. comment top image

    I used to have a comprehensive list of seconday airports but now I can’t find it and it doesn’t seem to be online.