The 10 Most Expensive Short Flights (And The Cheaper Alternatives)

When looking for cheap flights, you may have noticed that the cost per mile is often higher for short-haul flights (those under three hours long) than for longer flights. Why is that?

There are a variety of factors influencing cost per mile, including fuel, airport taxes and the amount of competition on a given route. For example, if you are in a hurry to get from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, you can book cheap tickets for around $118. But in January, when Southwest drops that route, US Airways will be the only game in town with nonstop flights for that route, and fares will go up to $698.

Las Vegas to Reno is another example where lack of competition has led to higher fares. Southwest offers a roundtrip price of $203, yet it is only $119 to fly Southwest from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, even though the mileage is almost the same.

Sometimes you are better off flying to a nearby airport, and sometimes it makes sense to drive rather than fly.

Expensive Short-Route Flights
Below are several shorter flights that are expensive, whether due to lack of competition, landing fees, airport taxes or other factors, as well as alternatives for travelers.

Route Flight Distance Price Range Cheaper Alternative
Pittsburgh to Philadelphia (PIT-PHL) 258 miles $552-$1361 Take Delta with a Detroit layover, or drive.
Houston to Oklahoma City (HOU-OKC) 413 miles $161-$775 Check prices from Austin or San Antonio.
Newark to Pittsburgh (EWR-PIT) 307 miles $249-$533 Try JetBlue from JFK.
Dallas to Birmingham (DFW-BHM) 582 miles $311-$755 Flights with connections are usually cheaper.
Minneapolis to Milwaukee (MSP-MKE) 299 miles $261-$631 You can save some by flying to Chicago, but renting a car may cancel savings. Consider driving.
Washington, DC to Cincinnati (DCA-CVG) 400 miles $262-$559 Flights with connections are usually cheaper.
Spokane to Seattle (GEG-SEA) 229 miles $199-$571 Expect these prices to rise when Southwest cancels its nonstop service here. Consider driving instead.
Las Vegas to Reno (LAS-RNO) 345 miles $224-$640 Delta and United fly this route with connections, but prices are not significantly lower. Consider driving.
Albany to Buffalo (ALB-BUF) 261 miles $350-$478 Flights with connections or driving are decent alternatives.
Cincinnati to Cleveland (CVG-CLE) 217 miles $353-$1503 Driving may be the best alternative.

When airlines drop routes, travelers will have to work a bit harder to find the best prices on airline tickets. Signing up for FareCompare airline alerts is the best way to make sure you do not miss out on great fares.


Published: December 28, 2011