Bargains emerge with flights from MSP alternates

A week or so ago, Delta Airlines announced that it will begin non-stop service to Atlanta and Detroit out of Rochester, thanks to the federal program that pays airlines to provide service to smaller communities using “hidden airlines,” the small airlines whose planes are painted to look like a major carrier.

As I wrote earlier this month, the beginning of service to Chicago from St. Cloud provides travelers with some opportunities to save some cash if they’re willing to drive to St. Cloud, and they’re judicious in trying to beat the airlines at their own fare game.

Delta has now posted fare and schedule information for the new service out of Rochester and while there are some opportunities for some saving, it doesn’t seem to be as big a boon for the budget shopper.

And, as usual, the logic behind the fares is not at all clear.

First, let’s check the fares to Atlanta, using a Monday to Friday stay, starting a day after the service begins on September 14.

A Rochester non-stop, leaving at 2:21 p.m. will cost $588 round-trip. It’s no bargain at all. A flight at roughly the same time out of Minneapolis St. Paul will cost $407. And if you fly earlier in the day out of MSP, it’s $311. Unlike St. Cloud, Rochester doesn’t offer free parking, so you can’t save much money. You have to really want convenience (or someone else is paying for your ticket) to pay almost twice as much to fly out Rochester.

So it stands to reason that the flight to Detroit wouldn’t be much to write home about either. But it is. Rochester travelers will save almost $160 (round-trip) over their Minneapolis St. Paul colleagues. The 10:15 from Rochester can be had for $523. The same route out of Minneapolis is $686.

Longer distances — with stops — might save you a few dollars out of Rochester, but not many. A flight to New York with a stop in Detroit is $588; it’s $634 for a non-stop from Minneapolis St. Paul.

But there are bargains. Flying to Washington DC is much more affordable for flights originating in Rochester. A morning flight with a stop in Detroit is only $389. It’s $760 out of MSP with a stop in Detroit, $584 non-stop.

Even for MSP, travelers, it sometimes makes sense financially to drive to Rochester, get on a plane back to Minneapolis, and then fly off somewhere else. Boston provides an example. From Rochester, a flight to Boston by way of MSP is $433. The same flight from MSP — the same flight — will cost you $559. You’ll have to decide whether the extra time and effort is worth saving $126. Or you can just get on Southwest and go for $290.

There are no bargains to be had flying to cities in the west. An afternoon flight to Los Angeles out of Rochester connects in Minneapolis, and the difference in price isn’t close to the money saved by getting in the car and driving to MSP.