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Cheaper to fly: Orlando or Tampa? | News

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Cheaper to fly: Orlando or Tampa?
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Tampa, Florida -- Have you ever pulled into Tampa's airport and thought, "I wonder if I could have saved a ton of money if I just kept driving?"

"What if I flew out of Orlando, where they have about twice as many people coming and going each day?"

I found the flights and ran the numbers to see whether it's worth the drive to save you some dough.

I looked at flying away to three cities.

  • Our nearby hub: Atlanta
  • After Atlanta, the most frequent target for Tampa flyers on a typical weekday: Baltimore
  • And the location of the Buccaneers' longest road trips the past two years: the San Francisco Bay Area

For each destination, we'll look at two departures. What's likely your reigning champion for many folks, Tampa International Airport. And the challenger, Orlando International Airport.

I hunted for the best deals.

I used seven general travel search sites: Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, FareCompare, Kayak, ITA Software by Google, and Bing Travel.

Two special discount sites also got a search: Hotwire and Priceline --although I did not use Priceline's name-your-own-price option.

To settle close calls, I checked specific airlines' sites, too.

I figured out the best time to shop.

I shopped on a Wednesday, because FareCompare.com reports the best airline discounts usually start on Tuesdays and vanish on Thursdays.

The best time to buy for travel inside the US is typically 42 days out -- about six weeks before you fly. That stat comes from the Airlines Reporting Corporation.

So shopping in mid-October, I looked at roundtrips leaving Friday, November 30th and coming home Monday, December 3rd. Time of day didn't matter.

All right, flying to Atlanta, what did I find?

Leaving from Tampa, Delta and AirTran tied at $298. From Orlando, the same airlines tied, but at $180 less -- they wanted $118. That's serious savings from Orlando.

All right, I can hear you through your computer screen! You're saying, "Okay, that's great. But it costs me money to get to those airports."

I hear you. So for each destination, I'll give you two numbers: one that's just the ticket price and another that adds in travel costs.

Busch Gardens sits almost exactly at the center of Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties, so we measured the driving distance to each airport from Busch Gardens.

We figured 15 miles a gallon and gas costing $3.50 a gallon. We also added in three nights of economy parking at each airport.

With the new numbers, flying from Orlando is still much cheaper for this particular trip to Atlanta. Tampa: $329, Orlando: $168 -- that's $161 of savings in Orlando.

Now to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

AirTran offered the best price from Tampa: $171. From Orlando, it was also AirTran, but not for less -- they wanted more: $196. That's $25 more to go through Orlando.

Add in travel costs, and you end up with $202 from Tampa and $242 from Orlando. So, taking this trip from Orlando would mean losing money -- costing $40 more than Tampa for this Baltimore flight.

Finally, to San Francisco International.

United offers a $301 ticket from Tampa. Orlando is cheaper again, flying on AirTran for $270.

But here's where the drive to the airport comes in. Gas and parking for Tampa puts the price at $332. The same for Orlando is $320.

It's competitive, but you'd have to decide for yourself whether that $12 savings in Orlando is worth an hour on I-4.

So what did we learn? It is not a waste of your time to search for prices from both Tampa and Orlando for each flight you take.

Here are three more fast flight tips I found.

- Kayak.com and some other travel sites let you set up free fare alerts. If a destination drops to a price you like, they'll email you.

- Bing Travel has a fare predictor. It uses past trends to tell you whether a price is likely to go up or come down if you wait to buy it.

- And be sure to check flights at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. Their flights are usually less than a hundred bucks, but they don't go to major cities.

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