Remember the days when you could fly to Los Angeles for not much more than $200 round trip? Nowadays, a ticket to the West Coast can cost as much as you used to pay for a flight across the Atlantic Ocean. And if you actually want to fly across the pond, expect to shell out one and a half to two times as much as you would have several years ago.
This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to score a cheap flight, though. Those $200 fares still exist — even if only sporadically, and even if they only take you to some fairly quirky places.
“The airlines will have these somewhat irrational sales,” said George Hobica, founder of the airfare deals site Airfarewatchdog.com. “No one knows why they lower the prices.” Recently, for instance, the deal-hunters at Airfarewatchdog spotted a $179 round-trip fare from BWI Marshall to Denver and San Diego. We came across some hard-to-resist fares for less than $200 to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles from Reagan National. No, they didn’t last long.
There’s also the art of the weekend fare, booked a week or two in advance and mostly requiring a Saturday departure and a Monday or Tuesday return. But even those tickets have gone up in price, Hobica said. And the restrictions and last-minute nature make them less than ideal for lots of travelers.
Still, there are plenty of destinations you can fly to from Washington without breaking the bank and without pressure-driven, spur-of-the-moment bookings. A number of resources on the Web can help steer you to the best prices out of a given airport. We like Airfarewatchdog’s departure city search, Travelzoo’s best fares list, Kayak Explore and FareCompare’s deal finder.
For the past few months, we’ve kept tabs on airfares from the three Washington-area airports and pulled together a list of destinations where you can consistently fly for less than $200. Most are in the eastern half of the country. A few may not seem like obvious vacation spots. But who ever said that being frugal didn’t require an open mind?
Albany, N.Y. Use the New York state capital as a jumping-off point for exploring the scenic Hudson River Valley, the beauty of which inspired its own school of painting.
Boston. Competition by carriers such as Southwest and JetBlue keeps fares to Beantown well below $200. Take in Revolutionary War history, or head to Cape Cod.
Buffalo. A surprising destination for architecture buffs. Also a great gateway to southern Ontario.
Charleston, S.C. Its recent addition to the Southwest network has made this charmer a relatively cheap, feasible weekend destination.
Charlotte. NASCAR meets the New South in an unconventional convention city.
Cleveland. A cultural gem in the Rust Belt frequently featured in United’s weekend fare specials. The West Side Market celebrates its centennial this year.
Dayton, Ohio. It’s only appropriate to fly into the “birthplace of aviation.” Plane junkies won’t want to miss the National Museum of the United States Air Force and the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The interstate adjacent to the airport will lead you straight to the Everglades.
Fort Myers, Fla. Search for seashells by the seashore on Sanibel Island.
Grand Rapids, Mich. Check out a thriving downtown art scene before exploring the natural splendor of the Lake Michigan coast.
Greenville, S.C. This vibrant, sophisticated Southern city may remind you of Charlottesville but with a gorgeous riverfront park.
Hartford, Conn. Fans of 19th-century American literature should visit the Connecticut capital to tour the homes of Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Islip, N.Y. Fall would be a lovely, less crowded time to check out the Hamptons.
Miami. Baseball fans will want to catch a game at the new Marlins ballpark.
Milwaukee. Often overshadowed by its larger neighbor, Chicago, this lakefront city has a worldly appeal of its own.
New York. You don’t need us to give you a reason to go to the Big Apple, right?
Orlando. Break up your time with The Mouse by taking an adult detour to Winter Park.
Pittsburgh. Ride the inclines. Stop and smell the roses at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Eat your way through the Strip District.
Portland, Maine. Heck, we’d pay more than $200 just to not have to drive all the way up Interstate 95.
Raleigh, N.C. Channel your inner student and visit the college towns that make up the Research Triangle (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill).
Tampa. There are plenty of museums, sports and other attractions to see at this waterfront Florida city not named Miami.
Toronto. Porter Airlines ’ frequent sales out of Dulles make for an affordable trip across the northern border.