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Our Guide to Flying on the Cheap to Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, and More

Low-Cost International Route Map
by , SmarterTravel Staff

As low-cost airlines expand their reach to more and more destinations outside the United States, you may be surprised to learn how many places you can go, often for much less than in the past. From across the border to across the Atlantic, these airlines keep adding routes, giving you more options at lower prices. So get ready to grab your passport and expand your horizons by jetting to the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, Canada, and even Australia.

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Low-cost airlines are usually newer companies such as AirTran, JetBlue, and WestJet that have smaller networks than the larger "legacy lines." They generally fly point-to-point instead of into a hub, and often fly into alternative airports. While legacy airlines such as Continental, Delta, and United have struggled in recent years, the new business model offered by many low-cost carriers appears to be working, as they have been expanding to new destinations, often with convenient nonstop or direct flights. In fact, since the end of 2009, these "smaller airlines" have added nearly twenty routes in the Caribbean and Latin American regions alone, as you can see in the map above (also available for download).

So without further ado, read on to find out more about the many exciting destinations that are being served by low-cost airlines.

The Caribbean

The Caribbean is one of the fastest-growing destinations for low-cost carrier expansion, and in 2010, AirTran will be adding three new routes to Montego Bay, while JetBlue will begin two routes to Montego Bay and two to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. And there are rumors that even more routes to Jamaica may be announced this year by other airlines.

Spirit, Sun Country, and USA3000 also offer direct routes to a variety of island destinations. Aruba, Nassau, Montego Bay, and Freeport, are just a few of the options available on these airlines from U.S. cities in the Midwest, East Coast, and South (with connections to the West Coast).

At the end of 2009, JetBlue began service to Barbados and Saint Lucia, two islands that have never been served by low-cost airlines. These sunny destinations have traditionally been thought of as relatively more expensive and less accessible than other islands, but with the addition of these routes, that's not the case anymore.

These routes not only provide travelers with more options for flights to the Caribbean, but they also instigate competition with legacy carriers (and each other), keeping prices low.

I compared prices on flights to several destinations on low-cost and major airlines:

Route Airline Stops Price
Pittsburgh-Punta Cana USA3000 0 $614
Pittsburgh-Punta Cana United 2 $873
Boston-Montego Bay JetBlue 0 $517
Boston-Montego Bay American 1 $371
Atlanta-Aruba AirTran 0 $537
Atlanta-Aruba Continental 1 $657

Fares were found on the respective airlines' websites and include taxes and fees. Pittsburgh to Punta Cana fares based on travel from September 6 through 13. Boston to Montego Bay fares based on travel from September 4 through 11. Atlanta to Aruba fares based on travel from May 15 through 22.

The low-cost carriers bested the legacy lines' fares on two out of three routes, but it's important to note that flying non-stop may be worth the extra money.

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