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Hacking Minor Airports & Smaller Cities (Advanced Travel Hacking Guide)


Hacking minor airports and smaller cities is an advanced travel hacking technique or strategy, often with cheaper flights than flying to major airports.

Updated: 2019-04-21.

Let’s face it, those of us who are fortunate enough to live in or near a major international city are usually also fortunate enough to have numerous options to fly to other destinations.

Especially when airlines all over the world are consolidating into mega-airlines and as service to minor airports becomes less available and more expensive, it is prudent to figure out as many cheap tricks as possible to supplement this backward trend.

Minor airports are such because they are not served as much as the major ones. Going from a minor airport to another minor airport will be quite expensive (cost per mile), compared with going from a major airport to another major airport.

However, flying from major airports to minor ones, or vice versa, can be tricky; the good thing is, though, that if enough time is spent working the search, hundreds of dollars can be saved. Within one country or region (contiguous U.S. or western Europe), going from a major airport to a minor airport might not have many cost-reducing alternatives, but what if we are going from one region to a completely different one, say to another continent?

For this travel hacking lesson, let’s assume that we are starting out at a major airport, because when going from one continent to another, 99.9% of the time, the prices would be drastically cheaper.

The travel hacking technique I would like to explain is this:

When flying from one major airport to a minor airport quite a distance away, often times it is cheaper to find the nearest major city in the destination’s region and fly there.

Now, I am not talking about the basic rule of searching all nearby airports; rather, the airport in the region could be a thousand miles away from the intended minor airport destination, but we will cross that bridge soon.

In the following example scenario, I want to fly from my hometown of New York City to Juba, South Sudan. I’ve had a bit of a crush on Juba, the current capital of South Sudan, ever since South Sudan became the newest country on July 9, 2011; I constantly look up flights to get there, to experience the wonders which I assume to accompany the building of a brand new nation.

In this example, I’ll leave NYC on Sept. 1, 2012, and return on Sept. 8. I will not be flexible in my dates for this scenario, similar to a scientific control group when testing the hypothesis.

NYC (JFK/EWR/LGA) Sept. 1, 2012 to JUB Sept. 8, 2012

So, the cheapest flights I found at the time of this writing was on Airfare.com, via Kayak.com:

Hacking Minor Airports example 1

That set of flights has me departing NYC at 6am and arriving in Juba at 12:15pm the next day; then I leave Juba on Sept. 8th at 5:15pm, arriving home the next day at 1:40pm. Two connections each way, for a total of six segments – $1723 (USD).

Hacking Minor Airports example 2

Now, let’s hack this fare.

It’s great to know a little bit of geography, such as the surrounding countries and cities, but Google Maps always works for me. On Google Maps, I saw that the nearest major airport or city to Juba was Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and much, much more of a major airport city.

So, let’s first see how much it would cost to get me from New York City to Nairobi. The cheapest flight I found as of the time of this writing was via KLM:

Hacking Minor Airports example 3

On this one, I would leave NYC (EWR) at 6:10pm to arrive in Nairobi at 8:15 pm the next day. On the return flight, I depart Nairobi at 8:15am and arrive at 7:55 pm on the same day to New York. One connection each way, four segments total – $1110.50 (USD).

Now, if we can find a fare from Nairobi to Juba for under $613 (the difference), around the same dates, then I would consider this a success.

And, here it is:

Hacking Minor Airports example 4

So, with Five Forty Aviation, they have two daily flights each way from Juba to Nairobi, and currently the fare is $428.39, no matter which day.

Total Savings: $195!

Not bad, eh?

Keep in mind that this exact itinerary would have you spend a night in Nairobi on each end of the Juba trip, so this could turn many people off. Perhaps it is a bit of a hassle, but you could also look at it like I do: you are adding another city to your trip to Africa for almost $200 cheaper than if you only visited the one!

This example may not yield positive results each time, so it is always recommended that you search first from your departure city to the intended destination before playing around with the other airports and cities; you need to establish a baseline with which to compare subsequent searches with.

Try it out next time, and I hope that it works for you! For more techniques and advanced strategy, check out our travel hacking section. And, if there’s a phrase here you don’t understand, visit the travel glossary to look it up. Thanks for reading!

Written by
Christian Eilers
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