When planning a trip, one of the biggest factors to consider is the cost of airfare. Flying can often be the most expensive part of a vacation, so finding cheap flights is key to staying within your travel budget. The good news is that airfare prices can vary widely depending on your destination, meaning some states tend to have much cheaper flight options than others.
What influences the cost of flights?
There are a few key factors that impact the cost of airfare to different destinations:
- Airport size – Large international airports tend to have more competition and flight options, which brings down prices. Small regional airports usually have fewer flights and less competition.
- Number of direct flights – Popular destinations with lots of daily direct flights tend to have cheaper airfare. Less in-demand destinations with few direct options are more expensive.
- Distance – In general, the further you’re flying, the more you’ll pay. Cross-country and international flights are typically pricier than short hops.
- Airline competition – Routes with multiple airlines competing for passengers tend to offer lower fares.
- Travel demand – High season versus low season travel to a given destination also impacts costs.
Keeping these factors in mind, some states clearly stand out as offering the most budget-friendly airfare options.
The cheapest states to fly to
After comparing average flight costs across the country, these states consistently offer the least expensive airfare:
Here’s an overview of why flights to these budget-friendly states tend to be so affordable.
Florida has long been a cheap flight destination, thanks in large part to the plethora of big airports and low-cost carriers bringing competition. Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and Fort Lauderdale each offer dozens of flights a day on carriers like JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit Airlines. The combination of plentiful flights and airline competition makes airfare to Florida extremely reasonable. Even last-minute flights can be had for under $300 round-trip from many East Coast cities.
Las Vegas is the main draw bringing cheap flights to Nevada. As one of the top tourist destinations in the U.S., Las Vegas is served by nearly every major airline. The sheer volume of flights makes airfare very reasonable, even when booking only a month or so in advance. Southwest Airlines has a particularly large presence at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, accounting for nearly half of all flights. Their budget-friendly fares and free checked bags policy help drive down average ticket costs. In addition to Las Vegas, Reno also enjoys competitive airfare thanks to routes operated by Southwest and Allegiant Air.
As a major Southeast hub, Atlanta is home to the busiest airport in the world. This makes flights to Georgia extremely convenient and affordable. Delta, Southwest, and low-cost Spirit Airlines all have a huge presence at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. With numerous nonstop routes across the U.S. and ample airline competition, getting to Georgia on the cheap is not a problem. One-way fares under $100 are common from East Coast cities and you can often score round-trips for around $200-250.
Phoenix and Tucson provide Arizona with plenty of cheap airfare options. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is a hub for American Airlines and Southwest, giving travelers lots of budget-friendly ways to get to the state. Allegiant Air also flies into smaller airports like Mesa, Flagstaff, and Laughlin/Bullhead City. Flights under $300 round-trip can be found year-round from many western cities, while the eastern U.S. can often book for under $400 round-trip thanks to fierce competition.
As a major western hub, Denver provides inexpensive fares to Colorado and surrounding Rocky Mountain states. The Mile High City has the largest airport in the region, with a busy Southwest Airlines presence battling United Airlines for passengers. This drives down airfare prices across the board. Even last-minute trips to Colorado can cost less than $300 round-trip from either coast. For the budget-minded traveler, flying here is a great alternative to pricey Utah and Wyoming.
Other budget flight options
Beyond the top five, a few other states also offer affordable airfare worth considering:
- Texas – Major hubs in Dallas and Houston plus Southwest’s strong presence makes flying here a solid low-cost option in the South.
- Illinois – Chicago flight deals abound thanks to O’Hare being a hub for both United and American.
- California – You’ll find relatively cheap flights into LA, San Diego and Oakland, although intra-state fares can climb higher.
- Washington – Seattle and Spokane airports have benefited from growth in Alaska and Delta routes.
- Oregon – Allegiant and budget carriers help keep Portland airfares competitive on the West Coast.
Tips for finding the cheapest flights
To maximize your chances of getting the lowest possible airfare, keep these tips in mind:
- Book early – Prices typically climb the closer you get to departure, so plan ahead and book as far in advance as possible.
- Be flexible on dates – Shifting your travel dates by a day or two can sometimes yield big savings. Weekends are almost always the priciest.
- Fly midweek – Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are generally the least expensive travel days.
- Check alternate airports – Nearby airports often have different prices, so search options like Long Beach for LA or OAK for San Francisco.
- Use low-cost carriers – Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant and Southwest tend to offer the cheapest basic fares.
- Utilize flight deal alerts – Sign up for fare drop notifications from sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights.
- Avoid excess baggage fees – Pack light and use only a carry-on bag to avoid fees, which can sometimes double the ticket cost.
Booking domestic flights is often easiest, but don’t rule out cheap international options as well. Sometimes you can score amazing overseas deals, especially when flying from major U.S. hubs. Be sure to compare the cost of flying abroad versus domestic to maximize your travel budget.
The cheapest time of year to fly
In addition to destination, timing your trip strategically for off-peak seasons can save you a bundle on airfare:
- Fall – September through early December (excluding Thanksgiving) is generally the cheapest time to fly all year.
- Winter – The holiday rush ends in January and flight prices drop through March (outside of Presidents Day weekend).
- Late spring – May offers smaller crowds and lower prices before summer rush.
- Late summer – Airfare dips again in late August once school is back in session.
No matter when you decide to fly, booking your airfare early and shopping around for deals will help secure the lowest fare. Being flexible in your travel plans can also unlock big savings opportunities. Focus on flying midweek when prices are lowest, pack light to avoid baggage fees, and use flight deal alerts tools to pounce when bargains emerge.
Factors that increase flight costs
While some dates and destinations offer cheap airfare, there are certain factors that will drive up the price:
- Holidays – Airfare around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s is much more expensive.
- School breaks – Prices jump during summer vacation, spring break, etc.
- Big events – Major conferences, festivals, and sporting events fill planes.
- Peak summer – Late June through August is the priciest stretch for air travel.
- Business travel days – Monday morning and Friday evening flights are popular and cost more.
You’ll generally save the most money by avoiding booking flights during these peak air travel periods. Being flexible with your dates and flying midweek is key to scoring budget-friendly fares.
Short hops vs. long flights
As a rule of thumb, shorter flights are much cheaper than longer flights in terms of cost per mile. It’s almost always less expensive to take a connection or drive part of the way than fly clear across the country or overseas on a single ticket.
Some examples of average costs for US flights:
- New York to Miami (1090 miles) – $150-$300 round-trip
- Los Angeles to Seattle (958 miles) – $150-$250 round-trip
- Chicago to Atlanta (715 miles) – $100-$250 round-trip
- Dallas to Denver (745 miles) – $100-$200 round-trip
Now compare those to some longer transcontinental routes:
- New York to Los Angeles (2475 miles) – $250-$400+ round-trip
- Chicago to San Francisco (1841 miles) – $250-$350+ round-trip
- Washington DC to Anchorage (4100 miles) – $500-$800+ round-trip
You can see how the per-mile cost goes up significantly on lengthy nonstop itineraries. This is why it’s often cheaper to do two separate shorter flights with a layover in between rather than pay a premium for the nonstop transcontinental flight.
Cost comparison by destination
To give a better idea of how airfare costs stack up, here’s a price sampling of round-trip flights from New York City during September 2023:
|Los Angeles, CA||$248||$412||$582|
|San Francisco, CA||$278||$345||$498|
|Salt Lake City, UT||$154||$412||$512|
This gives you an idea of price ranges for both short and long flights to popular domestic destinations. During peak summer travel you will generally see costs 15-20% higher across the board.
International flight cost examples
Overseas flights from the U.S. can provide amazing value or massive sticker shock, depending on the destination. Here are some ballpark costs for round-trip flights from the New York area:
- London – $500-$800
- Paris – $650-$900
- Reykjavik – $400-$700
- Dublin – $600-$800
- Rome – $650-$950
- Barcelona – $650-$950
- Amsterdam – $500-$750
- Berlin – $600-$800
- Prague – $600-$800
In general Europe provides good flight value from the East Coast. Flying west to Asia costs more:
- Tokyo – $800-$1200
- Seoul – $900-$1400
- Singapore – $1100-$1800
- Bangkok – $1000-$1600
When comparing global regions, South America airfare is very reasonable from the U.S.:
- Lima, Peru – $500-$800
- Rio de Janeiro – $700-$1100
- Santiago, Chile – $650-$1000
- Cartagena, Colombia – $475-$775
Taking advantage of a good international flight deal can make overseas travel surprisingly affordable. Being flexible on your timing and watching for fare sales is key to scoring the best price.
Factors driving international prices
Why do international flights vary so much in price? Here are some of the key factors:
- Distance – Longer flights naturally cost more. Europe is closer than Asia so fares are cheaper.
- Competition – More airline routes to a destination typically means lower prices.
- Number of flights – Frequency helps lower costs. Prices climb when there are fewer flight options.
- Seasonal demand – Peak summer and holidays are most expensive.
- Currency rates – Favorable exchange rates in your destination can reduce effective trip costs.
Being flexible on timing and routing is key to finding affordable international flights. Avoiding direct long-haul routes and being open to layovers can also help drop costs. Signing up for airfare deal alerts and booking early are both critical to scoring the lowest fares.
While airfare varies considerably, focusing on a few key strategies can help keep your flights as affordable as possible:
- Book early – Prices go up closer to departure so plan ahead.
- Travel midweek – Cheapest rates are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
- Visit budget airline hubs – Florida, Nevada, Georgia, Colorado.
- Fly off-peak seasons – Best deals are in fall, winter, early summer.
- Use low-cost carriers – Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant, Southwest.
- Split up long trips – Multiple legs are often cheaper than nonstop.
- Watch for sales – Sign up for deal alerts and jump on limited-time discounts.
Remember airfare costs vary wildly based on demand. Being a savvy shopper by utilizing the tips above will help you consistently lock in the best possible flight prices. This ensures you can explore all the cheapest states and destinations without blowing your vacation budget.