The high cost to fly out of Fresno has sent travelers to other California cities for cheaper airfare for years.
But when you add up the price of gas, renting a car or parking your own on top of plane tickets and the dreaded jet-lagged drive home, how much are you really saving?
Let the numbers help you decide.
If I can save at least $100 on each plane ticket for my family of five when traveling back to upstate New York, the nearly 200-mile drive one way to San Francisco International Airport is worth it. Connecting flights on trips originating from larger airports also tend to be more family-friendly – at least a one-hour layover instead of the 30-minute sprint to your next gate.
The downside? Drop off and pick up in a big city with three kids, luggage and a stroller. But I deal with it to reap $500 in savings.
Fresno resident Rick Riddick doesn’t mind driving to Los Angeles International Airport for a nonstop flight home to northern Mississippi through Memphis International Airport. He scored a $147 round trip ticket this Thanksgiving and will fly out again for $330 at Christmas time. “It was a quarter of the cost (from Fresno) to fly nonstop,” Riddick said.
He pays about $9 a day for covered parking in the QuikPark Los Angeles Airport, then walks across the street to the terminal. If Riddick doesn’t drive, he rides Amtrak for about $60 round trip. It’s a train ride from Fresno to Bakersfield, where you catch a bus to Union Station in LA. There, you hop on a LAX FlyAway bus for around $9 to the airport.
“It’s stress-free. I don’t have to worry about traffic or parking,” Riddick said.
But for other Fresno travelers, the runaround is a bigger headache than the savings. An informal Facebook poll revealed people don’t want to drive through Los Angeles traffic, don’t want to pay for long-term parking and don’t want to drive home tired after a long flight.
This Thanksgiving, nearly 30 million people are expected to fly nationwide and almost 50 million are expected to hit the airports over Christmas, according to Airlines for America, an airline trade organization. If you’re traveling for the holidays, here are some ways you can trim your travel costs:
Best airfare deals
Be patient and compare prices when shopping for plane tickets. Travelers should start shopping as early as three months but at least one month ahead of departure, according to FareCompare.com, an online ticket comparison website. Prices rise by $4 a day leading up to Thanksgiving, the website said.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are the cheapest days to fly. Fridays and Sundays are the most expensive. Look for off-peak hours to fly: at dawn, around meal times and overnight.
Buy tickets on Tuesday afternoons. Airfare sales are released early Tuesdays and by mid-afternoon competitors are matching the price, FareCompare said. Sign up for airfare alerts.
Riddick uses Kayak.com to buy tickets. You can enter several dates and it shows you the best dates to fly, he said. His advice? “Just be flexible. It’s not even about advanced purchase anymore. It’s about flexibility. Inventory will be greater in advance, but the more flexible you are, the more you save.”
Drive your car or rent
The average price for a gallon of gas in California on Thursday, Nov. 16 was $3.24, according to GasBuddy.com, a fuel-price tracking website. At that price, it would cost you about $18 to drive a small car to SFO, or $21 to LAX.
The daily rate to rent an economy-sized car on Friday, picking up in Fresno and dropping off in San Francisco was about $71 through Enterprise and $63 on Expedia.com. The cost is cheaper to LAX – around $55 to rent through either website.Shop around.
Or you can travel on Amtrak, sleep and surf the web, for about $65 round trip.
The decision to drive your own car or rent one might depend on parking. Off-site parking lots are your best bet to save unless you have a friend or relative in town willing to give you curb space for a few days.
There are almost a dozen off-airport parking lots near SFO starting around $10 a day compared to the airport’s $25 long-term lot, according to Airport Parking Guides, a blog operated by SpotHero, a parking reservation app.
The off-site parking areas have free shuttles to and from the airport. Some will help you with your luggage. You can even plan ahead, compare prices and reserve and pay for a spot through the SpotHero or apps for individual lots.
In Los Angeles and at the San Jose International Airport, off-site parking starts around $9 a day compared to on-site parking fees of $30 and $22, respectively.
Visit airportparkingguides.com for more parking information at major U.S. airports.
Park, Stay and Fly packages
If you have a day or two to spare and some extra change for a room, then book a hotel with Park, Stay and Fly packages. Sleep in a participating hotel for a night and you can park your car there and take a free shuttle to and from the airport.
But pay attention to the maximum number of days you’re allowed to park. Some hotels allow seven days, others give you 21.
Visit parksleepfly.com for participating hotels.