Flying out of US airports near the Canadian border is one of the many tips to find cheaper flights that’s relatively well known — literally millions of Canadians do it every year. Sometimes it’s cheaper, but sometimes it’s not (like ANY travel tip, it depends and it varies of course). But there are also other benefits to using this particular trick too!
First, let me invite you to our next free webinar on general travel tips, where we’ll share the 7 best pro tricks that you can use to travel for less and to be a better traveler than 99% of people — we’ll talk planning, booking, flights, lodging, and so so much more!
As travel experts — and cheap flights experts especially — we obviously know that being flexible is one of the main ways to save money (spoiler alert for the webinar; it’s really not rocket science).
Sometimes, that means looking at US airports to fly out of if you live close enough to the border (some of the 30+ tips on cheap flights alone we’ll share in our webinar are a bit more creative though).
Let’s dive into the 5 reasons many Canadians often fly out of US airports near the border, 3 tips to do it, and the list of 19 airports.
5 reasons why flying out of US airports near the border could be better
I’ve certainly done it: I’ve flown out of US airports 20+ times in the last 15 years myself. I’m certainly not saying you should always do it (I’ve flown out of Canada directly way more often), I’m saying you should always consider all options.
Traveling for less and planning the best trips is really not that complicated: do lots of research and compare, compare, compare! Once, I saved literally over $1,000 on a specific flight by driving to a US airport. That’s a lot of money.
Here are a few potential benefits of flying out of US airports near the border — feel free to tell us if there are more we forgot to list if you’re a seasoned fan of this tip yourself.
1. Cheaper flights
US airports near the border often have lower airfares that can save you hundreds of dollars.
It’s obviously the most common reason to fly out of US airports near the border. Even the only reason for many Canadian travelers. Flights can be really cheaper (as is the parking and gas too).
It’s especially true when traveling as a family or group:
- Every extra dollar you save on flights is multiplied by the number of travelers in your party
- Every extra dollar you spend to get to the US airport is divided by the number of travelers in your party
So saving $200 on a flight might not seem worth it, but that’s $200 per person so for a group of 4, that’s $800 total you just saved. And while spending an extra $100 for gas or parking might seem to cut into that $200 saved, that’s just $100 total ($25 per person).
(Always do the total math on all things travel… so that you don’t miss out on a $900 welcome bonus just because there’s a $120 fee, for example — you’re still making a net profit of ≈ $780!!!)
There are 3 main reasons why flights are often cheaper at US airports near the border:
- Fewer taxes
- More competition
- More ultra low-cost carriers (ULCCs)
Fewer taxes: There are few things most Canadians seem to enjoy more than being taxed into oblivion. Taxes on a domestic flight at any US airport are a flat US$5.77 (no matter the airfare or airport). Taxes on a domestic flight from Toronto start at $42 (445% more if you’re counting) plus a percentage of the actual airfare on top of that too, of course. Each Canadian airport has different levels of taxes/fees unlike the standardized tax rate at all US airports, but most major Canadian airports are in that ballpark.
More competition: Canada only has 2 major domestic national airlines (Air Canada and WestJet). The US has 6 (United, American, Delta, Southwest, jetBlue, and Alaska) thanks to a much larger population. Competition is key and having more major airlines certainly drives prices down in the US.
More ultra low-cost carriers (ULCCs): Ultra low-cost carriers are the single most important force driving airfares down in the global aviation industry. Canada’s finally now getting a lot more ULCCs than we used to (don’t miss our upcoming list of all ULCC routes) but ULCCs in the US do still offer quite a bit more routes to places people actually want to go to for leisure, like Florida or Vegas (no offense to fliers who love all the domestic routes our Canadian ULCCs offer).
2. Easier airport experience
US airports near the border are often smaller and easier to navigate.
This doesn’t apply to all US airports near the border of course, but most of them are smaller, secondary airports where it’s quieter, and everything is much easier.
For example, Toronto (YYZ) is very crowded and welcomed 50 million passengers in 2019. Niagara Falls (IAG) is much smaller, with less than 1 million. In Buffalo (BUF), it’s less than 5 million.
Going through the security checkpoint is usually much faster (or as fast if you have NEXUS). The whole experience feels less rushed. The airport atmosphere is just a lot more relaxed, and there are a lot fewer passengers everywhere.
However, this is not such a good reason for savvy travelers:
- If you have free airport lounge access (as almost everyone should), lounges are great and very relaxing — and smaller airports often don’t have them
- If you have a NEXUS membership (as everyone should, and most people should get it for free too), going through security takes about 5 minutes tops
Now that I have those benefits, airport lounge access especially, I do tend to use the small US airports near the border a lot less than I used to.
Also, flying domestically in the US means a slightly easier boarding process, but it’s very minor, and I’ll stop here and tease that as a separate post coming very soon.
When you return too, you often are sitting in your car literally 3 minutes after getting off the plane (assuming you do what pro fliers do and are on #teamcarryon as you should — we’ll have a guide to help you soon).
3. Smoother customs experience
US airports near the border allow you to go through customs by land instead.
If you fly to the US from Canada, you’ll obviously have to go through US customs in an airport, either:
- At the Canadian airport if you depart from a major airport with US preclearance customs facilities, meaning you need to arrive much earlier
- At the US airport otherwise, meaning you waste time after landing and get to your destination later
In both those cases, flying from Canada to the US means an extra line to wait in to go through US customs. Then, when returning, you’ll have to wait in line to go through Canadian customs at the airport instead of heading straight home.
(Unless, of course, you’re a savvy traveler that has a NEXUS membership and never waits in line at US or Canadian customs!)
Most people tend to find going through customs by land a lot simpler and smoother.
4. Easier drive to the airport
US airports near the border allow you to bypass busy, congested urban highways.
Again, this one doesn’t apply to all US airports. But this one also doesn’t apply to all Canadians either, it depends on where exactly you live.
But the smaller, secondary airports are usually easy to access, and far from any traffic. It’s especially the case if you don’t live in a city center.
You get to US airports by staying on rural highways with no congestion all along, where you can drive the speed limit or even higher (instead of driving slowly and being bumper-to-bumper and having to account for potential delays in getting to your city’s airport because of unpredictable traffic in urban areas).
I can only speak to Montréal (YUL) as that’s my home airport, but for anyone who doesn’t live very close to the airport, getting there is a complete nightmare (every time I go to Toronto it looks pretty horrible too, to be fair).
That’s what I mean by “depending on where you live”, but for a lot of travelers who aren’t particularly close to their airport, getting on the highway and heading towards the US is a much more pleasant experience than getting to their home airport.
5. More generous change policies
US airports near the border allow you to get plane tickets with free changes.
That means that their standard economy fares don’t have change fees at all, and that fare class is generally much cheaper than the equivalent fare class you need to book to get free changes on a Canadian airline.
We’ll have a post about airplane tickets basics very soon in the leadup to our new free webinar, but in short, this saves you hundreds of dollars in change fees if you need to change your flight plans for any reason.
The thing is, for many US airlines the no-change-fee policy doesn’t necessarily apply to all flights (like those departing from Canada), but it does apply to US domestic flights, hence the benefit of leaving from a US airport. Always read the change policy for your specific flight and fare class if you care about this. We’ll have a detailed post comparing them all soon.
3 tips on flying out of US airports near the border
I’ll have a more detailed post with just tips about this to keep this one a little shorter.
But I will at least share a few very basic tips briefly since good planning is the key to traveling for less:
- Do the total math on extra costs and extra savings
- Save on parking and gas
- Give yourself a buffer
Do the total math
This is the most important tip obviously.
As I mentioned, do the total math and check if the net savings are worth it by including all the variables in your calculations.
Gas, parking, tolls, and a hotel room if required or desired. Then, compare that to the total price of flying out of you home airport in Canada, including getting to and from the airport as well. If you want to be as precise as possible, consider that gas is a little cheaper in the US.
In terms of plane ticket prices, make sure you compare apples to apples, as you should obviously always do when researching flights.
If you want to travel for the lowest price and don’t need any extras, you don’t need to do anything special but if not, double-check the extras as different airlines have different things included in their fares. And how much these extras cost on one airline can be very different than on another.
Other things have a more subjective value, but make sure to take into account how you personally value the non-price benefits of leaving from a US airport (the other 4 reasons listed above) in your particular situation, as every traveler is different.
You might also enjoy the added benefit of stopping for some grocery or general shopping in the US with the convenience of a car on your way back or enjoy roadtrips, which can sway the balance too.
Save on parking and gas
In terms of airport parking, always consider Park Sleep Fly to sometimes get a free hotel night for the same price as your parking alone (or just a bit more). Airport Parking Reservations is another tool we use, as mentioned in our post about airport parking.
As for gas, it’s obviously not specific to flying out of US airports specifically, but apart from shopping around for lower gas prices, the easiest way to lower the cost of your gas in Canada is to get ≈ 7.5% back as valuable Amex/Aeroplan points (or 5% as simpler less valuable cash back) with the American Express Cobalt Card thanks to the gift card trick. The Scotiabank Gold American Express Card is even better for cash back with 6% at Sobeys and affiliated grocery stores (and 5% at other grocery stores), but can’t provide outsized value or unlimited value like Aeroplan points.
Give yourself a buffer
While you might avoid traffic by flying out of a US airport, the longer the drive, the more of a buffer you should give yourself to avoid missing your flight.
In case something slows you down, for example, the land border crossing (although we’ll have a tip to at least check the estimated wait time). Obviously, if you have a NEXUS membership it’s usually very quick, but unlike in airports (where NEXUS lanes are offered in almost every location), NEXUS lanes by land are only at certain major crossings.
Here’s our tip. When my girlfriend and I would leave from a US airport, especially a sad one with no airport lounge, we’d just leave way early and stop for some shopping very close to the airport to fill up the time we have left based on how long it took to get there. And/or go and eat at a restaurant near the airport.
List of US airports near the Canadian border
As a reminder, here’s a list of US airports relatively close to each major Canadian city to take advantage of these benefits.
You can click on the links to see the cheapest destinations from that specific airport for your dates, but don’t miss our full guide with more details for each Canadian city soon.
- Niagara Falls (IAG) – 1 hour 40 minutes
- Buffalo (BUF) – 2 hours 10 minutes
- Rochester (ROC) – 3 hours
- Syracuse (SYR) – 4 hours
- Detroit (DTW) – 4 hours 15 minutes
- Plattsburgh (PBG) – 1 hour 5 minutes
- Burlington (BTV) – 1 hour 45 minutes
- Albany (ALB) – 3 hours 30 minutes
- Manchester (MHT) – 4 hours 10 minutes
- Portsmouth (PSM) – 4 hours 45 minutes
- Boston (BOS) – 4 hours 55 minutes
- Ogdensburg (OGS) – 1 hour 5 minutes
- Massena (MSS) – 1 hour 30 minutes
- Plattsburgh (PBG) – 2 hours 55 minutes
- Burlington (BTV) – 3 hours 40 minutes
- Syracuse (SYR) – 3 hours
- Bellingham (BLI) – 1 hour 10 minutes
- Everett (PAE) – 2 hours 15 minutes
- Seattle (SEA) – 2 hours 55 minutes
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There are many reasons why you should consider flying from a US airport near the border, and it is not just a matter of saving money (although that can often be a major benefit, of course). And you can apply those few extra tips to plan your trips departing from the US efficiently.
What would you like to know about US airports near the border? Tell us in the comments below.
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Featured image: Bridge to a border crossing (photo credit: Wojtek Witkowski)