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Molly McArdle
October 07, 2017

The odds of finding a cheap flight to New York City are frequently in travelers' favor: The Big Apple is the world’s busiest city airport system in number of flights and the second busiest in number of passengers. That makes for stiff competition between airlines.

But if you really want to save big, here are some ways to up your chances.

Budget Airlines

All seven of the low-cost carriers in the United States fly into at least one of the New York City area’s three airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), in Queens; LaGuardia Airport (LGA), also in Queens; and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), across the Hudson River from Manhattan in Newark, New Jersey.

Budget airlines are a great place to find cheap flights to New York City. Here are the low-cost carriers that serve each of NYC’s three airports:

  • JFK: JetBlue, Sun Country Airlines, Virgin America
  • LaGuardia: Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Virgin America
  • Newark: Allegiant Air, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Virgin America

The trick to getting a good deal on a budget airline, however, is knowing how you'll be traveling and what fees you might incur. For example, if you'll have luggage to check, the fees on a budget airline might make the final price comparable to a major carrier. Or if you'll absolutely need a window or aisle seat, you'll want to look for an airfare that includes seat selection.

Where to Find a Good Deal

As soon as you have a general idea of your travel dates, get started with travel search engines like Google Flights, Kayak, Momondo, and Skyscanner.

Keep in mind that some airlines, like Southwest, do not appear in conventional search engine results. You’ll have to go directly to the Southwest website to compare flights — although that's less necessary for New York City searches, as the airline has limited service to the city.

Airfares do not vary greatly between websites, whether found through a search engine or on an airline's own website. Finding a good deal is more about knowing *what* to look for than *where* to look.

If you are flexible about which of New York City’s three airports you’d like to fly into — each has their pros and cons — you’re in an even better position to find a good deal. For example, in Google Flights, you can set the destination for “New York City (all airports).” Just be sure you note which one you're flying in to and out of: LaGuardia is the closest to midtown Manhattan, but the public transit options ($2.75 per person) are not great (unless transfering buses with luggage is your idea of fun) so a taxi or car service ($30-$45) is your best option. JFK is an hour and a half-ish from the city on public transit (at $7.75 per person, be prepared to carry your luggage up stairs and across some distance), and a $60-$80 taxi or car service ride which can be more depending on traffic. Newark is a $90+ ride, so the AirTrain and then NJ Transit (to Penn Station NOT Newark Penn Station) is often the best option (at $13 per person).

Now that we've covered the transportation costs from each airport, we can get into airfare differences by airport. A quick search for flights for a long a weekend in November from Los Angeles shows the cheapest flights from Newark, for $251 round-trip, nonstop. Round-trip fares to JFK nonstop start at $271, and round-trip fares to LaGuardia with one stop (there are no nonstops from LAX to LGA) start at $268. Depending on how you plan to get into the city, those price differences could either save you money or not really make a difference.

When to Buy

The cheapest time to visit the city is between January and March if you are willing to bundle up against the cold.

As for when to buy, that varies. By starting an airfare search as early as possible, you can up your chances of finding a deal. Most major flight search engines now include the option to add alerts so you can get an email about price changes. Some services are designed entirely around them: Airfare forecasting app Hopper will tell you if current airfares are good, or if you should wait to buy — and then it'll send you an alert.

Generally, flight prices will be relatively stagnant from five months up to two months before travel dates, then rise and fall depending on demand (rising for popular travel dates, falling for unpopular dates) from a couple months until two weeks before. At that point, it's most likely that prices will increase. But general airfare trends will never get you as good a deal as some research and custom alerts.

Bonus tip: Sign up for emails from JetBlue, which has a hub in New York City and frequently sends out flash sales.

Travel + Leisure staff contributed to this story.

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