Smaller Arizona airports to offer cheaper airfare during the holidays

The entrance to Tucson International Airport. Photo courtesy of Tasha Acosta
The entrance to Tucson International Airport. Photo courtesy of Tasha Acosta

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is bracing for as many as 30,000 additional travelers per day during the busy holiday travel season starting on Dec. 18, but travelers might find it’s cheaper to fly out of smaller airports around the state.

For example, on Dec. 18, a one-way ticket out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport with service to LaGuardia Airport in New York, with a stop in Denver will cost around $600.

The same one-way flight out of Tucson will cost around $580 and flying out of Yuma is even less, from $380 to $440.

Yuma Airport provides US Airways Express flights that typically fly into Phoenix, where passengers to switch to a larger aircraft.

When you factor in the cost of gas to drive to Phoenix and airport parking fees, local airports can oftentimes be cheaper than Phoenix.

Dan Tuttle, a senior at the University of Arizona who is studying material science and engineering, paid $461 for a non-stop Alaska Airlines flight from Tucson to Seattle out of Tucson on Dec. 18.

“It’s cheaper by $150 to fly out of Phoenix, but that is negated when you have to drive there and back, and pay for parking,” Tuttle said.

Tori Campbell, corporate communications intern at Southwest Airlines, said, “With the holidays being the busiest travel time of the year, we typically schedule more flights in cities that have historically had more demand. If a city has had high demand in previous years, we will use those numbers to predict the number and frequency of flights this year when creating the schedule.”

David Hatfield, senior director of marketing for the Tucson Airport Authority, said Tucson International Airport experienced its busiest travel day on Dec. 1, with 67 flights departing out of Tucson.

“Until the last two weeks of December it’s a slow month,” Hatfield said. “Travel for the holidays is more spread out.”

With the exception of two days, Tucson International Airport has 59 flights scheduled each day from Dec. 18 through Dec. 26.

“If you’re willing to travel on lower demand days, you’re more likely to find a lower fare than on high-demand days,” Campbell said.

“Fares vary depending on demand, travel dates, and the origination and destination cities,” he said. “With so many factors playing into the fare, there isn’t an airport or city that always has lower fares.”

There are some exceptions to the rule. Tucsonan Zach Affrin, a history major at United States Military Academy in West Point, is flying US Airways into Phoenix and driving home to Tucson for the holidays. He said he paid $500 for his flight. It would have cost him $800 for that same flight into Tucson.

Malcolm Fuller is a reporter with Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. You can contact him at

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