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The Best U.S. Flight Deals for 2021—and When to Book

By Michelle Baran

Jul 23, 2021

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Round-trip airfare deals to Los Angeles are averaging $121, making now a really good time to (re)discover L.A.

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Round-trip airfare deals to Los Angeles are averaging $121, making now a really good time to (re)discover L.A.

There’s no shame in deciding on a trip because you scored a good airfare deal. (We do it all the time.) These 10 domestic destinations are your best bets for cheap flights this year.

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There are travel dreams, and there are deal-fueled travel dreams. While there are plenty of places that are worth saving and splurging for, we’re also not above planning a trip entirely around a sweet airfare offer.

Which is why we were pretty excited when airfare deal tracking service Scott’s Cheap Flights sent us a list of the U.S. cities experiencing the most flight deals this year. For those who haven’t yet decided exactly how and where to use their remaining paid time off for 2021, may this list offer some ideas. These destinations are particularly deal-friendly due to the amount of airlift and competition—the more airlines flying there, the more likely you are to find deals.

Separately, travel booking site Hopper also sent us a list of U.S. destinations with the cheapest airfares this year based on its search and booking data. Although the two sites differ in how they get their data and how they calculate their rankings, it is useful to compare both. For instance, of Hopper’s 100 most searched destinations this summer, many that have the lowest average round-trip airfares are in Florida (6 of the top 10).

“When we ran an analysis in May on which states had received the most new routes from carriers during the pandemic, Florida topped the charts with 59 new routes to leisure destinations among five of the carriers we analyzed,” Hopper reported. That huge increase in flight capacity helps explain why Florida shows up several times on both lists.

The best time to book travel for good deals

In order to find the best prices “a good rule of thumb is to book airfare no later than three weeks in advance of your intended departure date no matter the destination,” according to Hopper. Hopper’s data shows that airfares tend to spike in the two weeks leading up to departure, rising 25 percent two weeks out and an additional 30 percent in the final week.

For Labor Day travel, Hopper recommends booking no later than August 15, and for early fall travel soon after that.

Scott’s Cheap Flights says deal-hunting travelers should book even earlier. For domestic flights, Scott’s recommends searching one to three months before flying. For peak travel periods such as holidays, three to six months out is when you should start looking and booking.

The reverse is true for city hotel stays, according to Hopper. The site suggests looking for last-minute deals when booking hotels in bigger cities. “We see nightly hotel prices in big cities fall 13 percent on average in the final two weeks leading up to check-in,” notes Hopper.

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While that may work for cities, it’s not going to work for domestic vacation hot spots (beaches, mountain towns, and national park locales, for instance), which are seeing a surge in demand this year as many travelers still forgo international travel amid the pandemic. “If you’re headed to a smaller vacation destination, we recommend booking your lodging at least a month in advance,” advises Hopper.

The U.S. cities with the best flight deals

This list is based on the report that Scott’s Cheap Flights sent us—it begins with the city with the highest number of airfare deals throughout 2021, and with deals that represent a solid reduction from the standard airfare. So when we call out the average airfare deal, that is different than the average standard airfare. And the averages are across all flights to the destination from throughout the United States.

1. Los Angeles 

The average round-trip airfare deal to Los Angeles this year is around $121,  and the massive Southern California hub has direct flights to and from more than 100 destinations throughout the nation. L.A. also happens to be one of our absolute favorite U.S. cities, with no shortage of great food, a vibrant arts scene, beaches, and new hotels galore. Whether you’re staying in the city to explore coastal towns like Santa Monica, Venice, or Malibu, or the revitalized downtown, or using L.A. as a springboard to visit Joshua Tree, Santa Barbara, or Orange County, you can’t go wrong with a trip to L.A.

2. Honolulu

Oʻahu is cheaper to get to than you might think.

Who doesn’t want to go to Hawai‘i this year? Despite a big rise in demand for travel to the Hawaiian islands in 2021, there are still great flight deals to Honolulu with fares averaging $360 round trip. That’s probably in part due to a big surge in flights to Hawai‘i, too, as airlines rushed to add flights to the destination in response to the high demand. You can fly to Honolulu on the island of Oʻahu from dozens of U.S. cities with Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, Southwest, and United. There are also plenty of great deals to be found for Hawai‘i’s other islands, notes Scott’s Cheap Flights. If you’re worried about the crowds, book a bit further out into fall, when the summer rush cools down.

3. Las Vegas

You can celebrate just about anything on the Strip.

We’ve had Las Vegas on our mind ever since we first heard about the Singapore-style hawker center that debuted in Vegas this summer as part of the new Resorts World Las Vegas—a 24,000-square-foot space featuring hand-pulled noodles, claypot dishes, Hong Kong–style dumplings, and South Indian roti flatbread. And of course, there’s the trademark glitz and glamour, too. If you miss the Strip, airfare deals to Vegas are averaging around $128 this year.

4. San Diego

There is no wrong time to book a trip to San Diego, California.

If it’s sand, surf, and ridiculously perfect weather you seek, head to San Diego in sunny Southern California. Airfare deals are averaging around $144, and there are ample reasons to visit San Diego this year, including the San Diego Zoo’s new Komodo dragon and hummingbird habitats and the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, a new year-round outdoor concert venue with views of downtown and the bay; it begins hosting live shows on August 6. Or aim for quieter Carlsbad for great food and family fun (Legoland, anyone?). There’s direct service to San Diego from 67 airports throughout the U.S.

5. Fort Lauderdale

If the canals of Venice are out of reach this year, head to the canals of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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Florida’s “Venice of America” offers plenty of beaches, a burgeoning art scene, and international cuisine that make it well worth a trip. Scott’s Cheap Flights has spotted deals to Fort Lauderdale as low as $58 round trip and averaging around $149 round trip. Southwest and JetBlue are among the airlines that fly to Fort Lauderdale, which has service to and from some 80 airports throughout the country. Travel booking site Hopper also reported that Fort Lauderdale is the U.S. destination with the cheapest airfares this summer, with an average round-trip airfare of $184.

6. Denver

Embrace the dining and drinking scene in Denver.

Whether you want to go to Denver as a jumping-off point to explore the Rocky Mountains and nearby national forests or simply to explore a city that has become a hub for creative arts and craft brews, with airfare deals averaging $111 round trip, neither is the wrong option. Every major U.S. airline flies to Denver, and there is direct service from 189 U.S. destinations.

7. Phoenix

Fly to Phoenix for access to stunning desert scenery.

It’s a dry heat, right? The desert’s prime shoulder season is fast approaching, making now a good time to look for flight deals to this Arizona hub, where there’s a bounty of restaurants to explore and beautiful scenery to hike. Stay in Phoenix or set out from the city on an epic road trip to the Grand Canyon. Flight deals average $111, with more than 100 direct flights from around the U.S.

8. Chicago

Now is the time to get in views of Chicago’s impressive skyline.

Go for the architecture, stay for the food (which is about way more than just stuffed pizza and char-dogs, OK? Not that there is anything wrong with pizza and Polish sausages). Chicago is always a good idea, especially during late summer and early fall when the weather is at its best. You can find airfare deals as low as $57 round trip and averaging around $100, with domestic flights to Chicago typically ranging from $250 to $300.

9. Miami

Nightlife? Check. Beaches? Check. Great food? Check. Miami has so much to offer.

Now is a fine time to plan for a late fall or early winter escape to Florida’s vibrant Miami, where the culture and cuisine are as much a draw as the palm tree–lined beaches. Miami ranks third on Hopper’s list of cheapest domestic destinations, too, following Orlando (see below). Hopper’s data showed round-trip airfare to Miami averaging $216, while Scott’s Cheap Flights saw airfare deals to Miami averaging $121 round trip (with some Miami flight deals as low as $58 round trip). 

10. Orlando

Sometimes you just need a good theme park–fueled getaway.

If you’ve missed unadulterated theme park thrills, head down to Orlando to get your fix. Airfare deals to the Florida home of Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, among other parks, are $138 on average this year. Hopper ranked Orlando as the second cheapest domestic destination this year, with average airfares of $211. The booking site also ranked Orlando as the top destination for affordable domestic travel overall when looking at airfares combined with hotel rates.

In addition to the above, a few honorable mentions go to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; and Minneapolis–St. Paul, Minnesota, which all ranked in Hopper’s top 10 for cheapest U.S. flights.

Ready, set, book.

>> Next: 7 U.S. Cities to Visit This Summer

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