There may be no such thing as a good deal on an airline ticket in an age of skyrocketing fuel prices and cancelled flights. And many aspiring discount carriers, including ATA and Skybus, have recently folded under the economic pressure. But there are still a handful of low cost carriers, or LCCs, that can help slash your family’s travel budget without compromising your vacation destination.
Jet Blue, for instance, continues to brand itself as one of the few U.S.-based discount carriers with domestic, Caribbean, and Mexican routes. And with one-way booking options, passengers can look for a deal on a return flight with a different LCC. Airtran also offers consistently lower fares than most commercial carriers and boasts one-way options, allowing flexibility to mix and match with Jet Blue’s fares.
If you’re planning a large family reunion or group trip, Southwest Airlines (the pioneer LCC in the United States) offers discounts for 10 or more travelers on the same itinerary, and a free ticket for every 40 people traveling together. They also offer year-round savings, including $59 one-way tickets and online promotions.
New to the LCC market is Virgin America, with one-way booking options and discount fares on both the east and west coasts. Other players you may have overlooked include America West, Frontier Airlines, Ted, and the popular Spirit Airlines, which recently offered an online special of $18 each way to the Bahamas.
Keep in mind that many LCCs do not allow online travel agencies such as Expedia, Travelocity or CheapTickets.com to offer their fares. Do your research online and off — online by going directly to the LCC sites, and offline by checking with friends, travel agents, business travelers and your Sunday newspaper travel section about discount carriers. You may stumble across an airline you’ve never heard of, such as Sun County Airlines, with routes to Mexico, Alaska, Texas, Florida, and beyond.
If you can’t come up with a good deal on a LCC, take a closer look at the airline’s code share partners. Gulfstream International Air teams up with Continental to offer flights from Florida to the Bahamas. However, there are no regulations that code share partners have to offer the same ticket price as each other. So instead of purchasing from Continental, book directly — and uncover extra savings.
And don’t forget about traveling by rail. Amtrak frequently offers free companion tickets; children, student and senior discounts; and rock bottom prices on some of its featured routes, including New York to Montreal.
SUSAN FINCH is an associate editor at FamilyTravelForum.com and the teen travel site, TravelBigo.com, where family travel deals are regularly featured.