The expense of a regional airport as home base

The challenge of a regional airport as home base

The challenge of a regional airport as home base is most flights cost more for a ticket to fly from Monterey compared to San Jose SJC,  San Francisco SFO or Oakland OAK. These other airports mean driving 75 to 115 miles one way to the airport and airport parking fees. Those expenses have to be weighed against higher ticket prices to fly from Monterey MRY airport.

These travel considerations are decisions I have made on a ticket by ticket basis for the past 20 years. In most instances the cost to fly from Eureka or Monterey was prohibitively more expensive than driving to San Francisco SFO and paying to park my car. I have paid thousands of dollars over the years to park my car near San Francisco and San Jose airports to save even more thousands of dollars in extra airline ticket prices.

In this piece I look at a couple of destinations in Asia with comparable ticket prices from Monterey MRY to the ticket price from San Francisco SFO, San Jose SJC or Los Angeles LAX.

Over the past two decades I regularly drove 100 to 300 miles to reach a major international airport for flights due to the high ticket prices to fly from my local regional airport. There are times when an international route from a regional airport matches or beats the ticket price from the major international hub airports. These are the tickets that make us cheer when your home airport is in a regional airport.

How far will you drive to save a few hundred dollars?

Driving 300 miles to catch a flight out of San Francisco SFO is something I did dozens of times over 11 years when I lived in Eureka, California on the northwest coast of California. There were no avios points then as an option for short-distance low cost frequent flyer awards. Even if there were the Avios option 15 years ago, those points would have taken me to Portland PDX on Alaska and that would not necessarily have been any advantage for ticket prices.

My home base airport is Monterey MRY these days, about 105 miles south of San Francisco Airport. I can walk out of my house, drive to the Monterey airport, park for free on the street, walk down the hill five minutes to the airport and be checked in for my flight, all in 20 minutes door to security checkpoint at Monterey Regional Airport. Or I plan to leave four hours before my flight and drive to San Francisco Airport, park my car at Burlingame Airport Parking beside the Hilton SFO Bayfront and shuttle to the SFO terminals.

The raw deal though is ticket prices are generally far higher when flying out of Monterey compared to flying out of San Jose or San Francisco airports. Also, frequent flyer awards have far lower availability from Monterey to other places for the United Express and American Eagle flights feeder flights to LAX and SFO.

When regional airport ticket prices match or beat San Francisco SFO

Over the past 14 years I have been living in Monterey, California there have been times when the ticket price to fly from Monterey was actually lower than flying from Bay Area airports or Los Angeles LAX. This tends to happen mostly with flights to Asia. I found a couple of Asian airport destinations this weekend where the price to fly from Monterey is comparable to SFO and LAX.

Here are some examples I see today on Google flights for international flights from Monterey that are comparably priced to San Francisco SFO.

United Airlines ticket Monterey to Hong Kong

$647 United Airlines Nov 2-16, 2015

MRY-HKG $647 United Nov 15

Before United went to revenue miles earning this year, adding a MRY-SFO segment was a 30 minute flight for an additional 500 EQM and 1,000 redeemable miles. That benefit is not a factor these days.

This flight earns 2,768 redeemable flight miles in United Mileage Plus with the $553.60 base fare.

San Francisco SFO- Hong Kong HKG is $574 flying Korean Air. The difference in ticket price at $73 is negligible to the $647 Monterey price, since it would cost more to drive and pay for parking ($60 week) or take a shuttle from Monterey to SFO ($90 round trip).

American Airlines ticket – Monterey to Jakarta, Indonesia CGK

$692 JAL – Alaska Airlines November 2-16, 2015

Monterey – San Diego (Alaska) –Tokyo NRT (JAL) – Jakarta CGK (JAL)


Japan Airlines N and Q economy booking class earn 30% flight miles in American AAdvantage. Flight distance SAN-NRT-CGK-NRT-SAN = 18,354 miles and 30% miles earned = 5,506 miles for JAL flight segments.

Alaska Airlines G and K economy class earn 100% flight miles in American AAdvantage for another 750 miles. This Alaska-JAL ticket purchased on earns 6,256 redeemable miles in AAdvantage.

$696 San Jose SJC-CGK Jakarta, Indonesia on JAL and American is the lowest priced flight from San Jose. Monterey departures are lower priced and more convenient. Flying out of SFO for $696 with American and JAL requires a change of airport in Tokyo. Most flights out of SFO are in the low $800s.

There are challenges of having a regional airport like Monterey MRY as home base. Most of the time I don’t even check MRY fares, but occasionally there is a jewel of an airfare to be found, even from a regional airport.

My flight to Orlando, Florida this week is one of those low fare jewels when I found Alaska Airlines MRY-SAN-MCO at a price comparable to flying from California to Florida out of the San Francisco Bay Area airports.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined in 2008.

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  1. Sometimes I’ll fly out of LAX vice SAN because it is significantly cheaper. I usually just rent a car to get to LAX and rent one to get back to SAN vice paying parking. I do that in SAN too if my trip is more than 8 days which is the break even point for me with two car rentals.

  2. If you’re flying the whole family it very quickly tips the scales in favor of driving to the major/cheaper airport. I want to support my regional airport, but it just doesn’t make sense a lot of the time.

  3. I commute to Santa Cruz a few times a year to my home office there and would prefer to fly into and out of MRY because smaller airports like that are just so painless on security, etc. Flying from the Midwest it’s rare to find a cheaper ticket into Monterey though. I usually end up going through SJC and driving “over the hill” to Santa Cruz instead. SJC is OK as it’s not much time savings over driving from MRY. I just wish SJC had a better lounge situation for AA. Usually not much savings over SFO or OAK in my experiences.

  4. You are lucky to be able to call Monterey CA home. What a beautiful place. One of the best if not the best TSA experiences of my life was walking into the terminal at MRY and having no line, having the TSA agent say hello and actually strike up a short pleasant conversation. I was through the scanner and on my way in 30 seconds. It was great!

  5. I live 4 miles from my regional airport, and 210 miles from the nearest hub. Close-in domestic RTs from home are often $400+ more than RTs from the hub. I usually find, though, that starting out of the hub, and adding the one-way leg home is only a few bucks more than the RT from the hub. Taking a $48/4-hour one-way shuttle bus can save $200 and often adds remarkably little to the total travel time.

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