One of the best ways to get the lowest fares is to know where low-cost and niche airlines fly. These carriers allow you to create your own system of airfare options. They can even help when you are traveling to some cities without low-cost or niche service by providing a low-cost alternative airport option. Low-cost carriers offer point-to-point pricing and simplified fare structures. Major airlines usually match low-cost carrier fares. As a result, prices go down, sometimes by as much as 75% during promotional and intensely competitive start-up periods. This happens even in cases where just one low-cost airline serves a market. When Southwest Airlines originally entered Baltimore, fares went down and traffic went up. Now Baltimore is a vital low-cost airport. Florida used to be a high-ticket destination. Now with the presence of Southwest, AirTran, JetBlue, Delta Express, and MetroJet, Florida can be one of the lowest-priced destinations in the United States.

The General Accounting Office tracked the percentage of decrease in airfares created by the entry of a strong low-cost carrier into particular markets. Some examples: Albuquerque, N.M., 32.4%; El Paso, Texas, 31.5%; Harlingen, Texas, 20.1%, Houston (Hobby), 28.3%; Kansas City, Mo., 25.1%; Las Vegas, 32.2%; Midland, Texas, 31.1%; Phoenix, 32.4%; Reno, Nev., 21.1%; San Diego, 24.1%; Seattle, 27.1%; and Tucson, Ariz., 22.7%.

Many low-cost and niche airlines offer great one-way prices. They don't penalize you for not purchasing a roundtrip. This is a big plus for travelers who prefer not to stay over a Saturday night. You can even get good last-minute fares because their walk-up rates are far lower than the fares major airlines charge when advance purchase requirements are not met. Low-cost and niche airlines also tend to allocate a higher percentage of seats to their lowest prices than do their major carrier competitors.

Some low-cost and niche airlines base their fares on advance purchase and peak and off-peak times, varying by airline. Others use inventory-controlled pricing: a certain number of seats are sold at the lowest price, then the fare goes up to the next increment. Inventory-controlled fares are not usually affected by advance purchase requirements, but your chance of getting the lowest fare improves when you can book in advance.

First-class travel on low-cost carriers can be a definite bargain on those carriers that offer it. AirTran and ProAir offer premium-class travel for as little as $25 more per direction. Dallas Love Field-based Legend Airlines and Milwaukee-based Midwest Express offer business class-style travel at coach prices.

Low-cost carriers are also available for international travel. For travel to Europe, options include CityBird, Icelandair, LTU, and Spanair. Within Europe, Ryanair has been offering almost unbelievably low fares in its bid to become Europe's dominant low-cost airline. Other options include British Airways' Go, Virgin Express, and Debonair.

Low-cost and niche airlines tend to be dynamic, adding new routes frequently. For example, Vanguard gains attention and does some good for the communities it serves by periodically offering a free roundtrip ticket for a case of food donated to a local food bank. Southwest, the low-cost carrier that is also a major airline (in terms of number of passengers served), was the prime force behind the double frequent-flyer credit for online booking.

Here is a listing of select niche airlines. Each listing of cities served begins with the type of aircraft flown. Hub cities are listed in italics.

AirTran Airways 800-247-8726 or
717s, 737s and DC9s; Akron/Canton, Atlanta, Bloomington (IL), Boston, Buffalo, Chicago Midway, Dallas/Fort Worth, Dayton, Flint, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Fort Walton Beach, Greensboro (NC), Gulfport/Biloxi, Houston Hobby, Jacksonville, Knoxville, Memphis, Miami, Moline, Myrtle Beach, Newark, New Orleans, Newport News/Williamsburg, New York LaGuardia, Orlando, Philadelphia, Raleigh/Durham, Savannah, Tampa, and Washington Dulles.
America West 800-235-9292
737s, 757s, A320s and B19s; Acapulco, Albuquerque, Anchorage, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boise, Boston, Burbank, Carlsbad/Oceanside (CA), Chicago Midway & O'Hare, Cleveland, Colorado Springs, Columbus (OH), Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Detroit, El Paso, Eugene, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Hartford, Houston Intercontinental, Indianapolis, Ixtapa, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Los Cabos, Manzanillo, Mazatlan, Mexico City, Miami, Midland/Odessa, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Newark, New Orleans, New York JFK & LaGuardia, Oakland, Omaha, Ontario (CA), Orange County, Orlando, Palm Springs, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland (OR), Puerto Vallarta, Reno, Sacramento, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose (CA), San Luis Obispo, Seattle, Spokane, Tampa, Tucson, Vancouver, Washington Dulles & National, West Palm Beach, and Wichita.
American Trans Air 800-225-2995
1011s, 727s, 737s, and 757s; Cancun, Chicago Midway, Dallas/Fort Worth, Dayton, Des Moines, Denver, Dublin (Ireland), Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Grand Rapids, Honolulu, Indianapolis, Lansing, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Madison, Maui, Milwaukee, New York JFK & LaGuardia, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, St. Petersburg/Clearwater, San Francisco, San Juan, Sarasota, and Shannon (Ireland).
Cape Air 800-352-0714
C402s; Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Hyannis, Key West, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Naples (FL), New Bedford, Norfolk, Providence, Provincetown, St. Croix, St. Thomas, San Juan, and Tortola.
CityBird 888-248-9247
MD11s; Brussels, Miami, Orlando, and European connections.
Corporate Express 800-555-6565 J32s; Atlanta and Nashville
Delta Express 800-325-5205
737s; Albany, Allentown, Boston, Columbus (OH), Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Hartford, Indianapolis, Islip, Kansas City, Louisville, Nashville, New York JFK, Newark, Orlando, Providence, Raleigh/Durham, Syracuse, Tampa, Washington Dulles, and West Palm Beach.
Frontier 800-432-1359
737s; Albuquerque, Atlanta, Baltimore, Bloomington (IL), Boston, Chicago Midway, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, El Paso, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York LaGuardia, Omaha, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland (OR), Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Gulfstream 800-525-0280
T9s; Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Freeport, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Key West, Marsh Harbour, Miami, Nassau, North Eleuthera, Orlando, Paradise Island (Bahamas), St. Croix, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, San Juan, Tallahassee, Tampa, Treasure Cay, and West Palm Beach.
JetBlue Airways 800-538-2583
Buffalo, Fort Lauderdale, New York JFK, and Tampa.
Mesa Air Group 800-637-2247
B1900s and J50s; Albuquerque, Alamogorda, Carlsbad (NM), Clovis, Colorado Springs, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Farmington, Hobbs, Las Cruces, Roswell, and Silver City (NM).
MetroJet 888-638-7653
737s; Albany, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago Midway, Cleveland, Columbus, Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Jacksonville, Manchester (NH), Milwaukee, Miami, New Orleans, Orlando, Providence, Raleigh/Durham, St. Louis, Syracuse, Tampa, Washington Dulles, and West Palm Beach; coming May 7 -- New York LaGuardia.
Midway 800-446-4392
Airbus, F100s, and J9s; Atlanta, Boston, Charleston, Columbia (SC), Columbus (OH), Fort Lauderdale, Greenville/Spartanburg, Hartford, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Memphis, Myrtle Beach, Newark, New Bern (NC), Newburgh, New Orleans, New York LaGuardia, Norfolk, Orlando, Philadelphia, Raleigh/Durham, Rochester (NY), Tampa, Washington National, West Palm Beach, and Wilmington
National Airlines 888-757-5387
757-200; Chicago Midway, Dallas/Fort Worth, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York JFK, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.
Pan Am 800-359-7262
727s; Gary/Chicago, Pittsburgh, Portsmouth (NH), and Orlando Sanford; coming May 1 -- Bangor.
ProAir 800-939-9551
737s; Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington, Chicago Midway, Detroit, Indianapolis, Newark, New York LaGuardia, Orlando, and Seattle.
Shuttle America 888-999-3273
D8-300s; Albany, Boston, Buffalo, Hartford/Springfield, Islip, Trenton, and Wilmington.
Southwest Airlines 800-435-9792
737s; Albuquerque, Amarillo, Austin, Baltimore, Birmingham, Boise, Burbank, Chicago Midway, Cleveland, Columbus, Corpus Christi, Dallas Love Field, Detroit Metro, El Paso, Fort Lauderdale, Harlingen, Hartford, Houston Hobby & Intercontinental, Indianapolis, Islip/Long Island, Jackson (MS), Jacksonville (FL), Kansas City, Las Vegas, Little Rock, Los Angeles, Louisville, Lubbock, Manchester (NH), Midland/Odessa, Nashville, New Orleans, Oakland, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Ontario (CA), Orange County, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland (OR), Providence, Raleigh/Durham, Reno, Sacramento, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose (CA), Seattle, Spokane, Tampa, Tucson, and Tulsa; coming May 7 -- Albany.
Spirit 800-772-7117
DC9s; Atlantic City, Cleveland, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Islip, Los Angeles, Melbourne (FL), Myrtle Beach, Newark, New York LaGuardia, Orlando, Tampa, and West Palm Beach.
Sun Country 800-752-1218
727s and DC10s; Aruba, Boston, Cancun, Costa Rica, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Harlingen, Houston, Las Vegas, Laughlin, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Montego Bay, New York JFK, Orlando, Phoenix, St. Petersburg, Puerto Vallarta, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Sarasota, Seattle, and Washington Dulles; coming May 22 -- Austin, Cabo San Lucas, Cozumel, and Ixtapa.
Vanguard 800-826-4827
737s; Atlanta, Buffalo, Chicago Midway, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Kansas City, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Myrtle Beach, and Pittsburgh., is designed to save travelers time and money. The one-stop travel resource site tracks the latest specials, posting hundreds of deals every day. It covers domestic and international airfares, frequent flyer bonuses, business travel, vacation packages, cruise travel, lodging, car rentals, rail travel, and more. Most deals are available to the general public. Specially negotiated discounts exclusive to members offer savings of as much as 70%.

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