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A hop, skip and a flight
Story by Mark Sedenquist and
Photography by Mark Sedenquist (Mountain Sheep at Glacier National Park); Megan Edwards (Grand Union Hotel); others courtesy of National Park Service
Amid rising travel costs, one unsung airline offers a surprising array of quick, affordable trips from Las Vegas to — well, where do you want to go?
October is the single best time of year for hitting the highway in the United States, and Las Vegas is a world-class road trip hub. Not only can road warriors drive to a wide array of great destinations, they can multiply their possibilities almost endlessly by catching a flight on Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air. While the rising costs of air travel have reduced the appeal of “fly-and-drive” road trips in recent years, Allegiant manages to offer a diverse lineup of tantalizing destinations at “good old days” prices. Allegiant currently flies non-stop from McCarran International Airport to 46 cities in the United States. Most flights land in smaller airports, many near resort areas and national parks. Destinations are as nearby as Fresno, Calif., where Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks beckon. On the other side of the continent, Plattsburgh, N.Y., is the perfect starting point for a road trip to the Adirondack Mountains, Lake Champlain and Montreal.
In addition to offering the convenience of non-stop flights to second-tier airports, Allegiant Air’s fares are among the lowest in the nation. Allegiant accomplishes this with two main strategies: a limited number of flights to each destination each week and no frills. Amenities such as food, baggage and even carry-on luggage all cost extra.
Most routes are served on Sundays and Thursdays, which makes Allegiant an attractive option for long weekend getaways. Rates vary from day to day and also depend on where you’re going and how far in advance you buy your ticket but, generally, a round trip from Las Vegas to many Allegiant destinations runs less than $160 per person. This compares rather magnificently to the $600 a traditional airline is likely to charge for a corresponding but non-direct flight. Add in the fact that car rental rates and gasoline prices are usually lower in October than in the summer months, and a “fly-and-drive” road trip starts looking enticingly affordable. Be advised: Allegiant flights won’t pop up in a search on one of the biggie travel aggregator sites — you’ve got to book directly at allegiantair.com. The following destinations are just a sampling of the unique possibilities available to Southern Nevadans.
Stop ’n’ sip: Catch a flight to Santa Maria, just south of San Luis Obispo, to begin a meandering tour to wineries on the back roads of California’s central coast. The area is gaining in popularity, but it’s still far less crowded than the well-known wine regions of Napa and Sonoma. Allegiant also has a non-stop flight to Monterey, where autumn is the perfect time to drive along Big Sur or enjoy the annual migration of monarch butterflies as they pass through Santa Cruz and Pacific Grove.
Art hike: Great Falls, Montana, is the home of the Charles M. Russell Museum of Art. It’s an ideal starting point for a tour along the route Lewis and Clark followed or a visit to Glacier National Park. In nearby Fort Benton, the historic Grand Union Hotel offers old-time charm on the banks on the Missouri River.
The great green northwest: Bellingham, Washington, offers easy access to Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia as well as road trips along Puget Sound, to Seattle, and into the temperate rainforests of Olympic National Park.
Forsooth, a lake: Crater Lake National Park is another spectacular destination in early October. The summer crowds have gone home and the winter snow has yet to close the roads. Fly into Medford, Oregon, to take a loop trip through the coastal Redwoods near Crescent City, California, then stop at Crater Lake and drive on to Ashland for a performance at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Rock festival: Head to Grand Junction, Colorado, for a trip along the historic Rim Rock Drive through Colorado National Monument or the two national parks to the southwest: Arches and Canyonlands. The nearby “slickrock” country around Moab, Utah, offers great hiking and river recreation. Fall is an especially lovely season around Grand Junction — forests of quaking aspens turn brilliant gold.
Grin and bear it: Idaho Falls, Idaho, offers easy access to Yellowstone National Park. Autumn is an excellent time to see elk, moose, and buffalo, and maybe even wolves in Hayden Valley. For great photo opportunities, visit the nine resident grizzly bears at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana. Round out the journey with a stop at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody.
Chili dance: Fly into Laredo, Texas, for a road trip to Big Bend National Park and the Texas-Mexico border along the Rio Grande. October is the beginning of high season in Big Bend, so get ready to eat chili and dance the night away at the Starlight Theater in Terlingua.
Big cheese: If watching the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field is on your bucket list, fly to nearby Appleton, Wisconsin. Yes, it might be chilly in October, but locals will remind you that it’s balmy compared to February. For more road-tripping fun, take a tour of the Harley Davidson factory in Milwaukee or visit Oshkosh, home of the EAA Airventure Museum. It houses full-sized replicas of Voyager, Spaceship One and dozens of restored WWII aircraft.
[HEAR MORE: Learn how airport waits impact Las Vegas tourism on "KNPR’s State of Nevada."]
Head trip: Begin a trip to Mount Rushmore in Rapid City, South Dakota. Head south to the Iron Mountain Road, a remarkable — and slow — drive with three corkscrew bridges and three tunnels strategically designed to frame picture-perfect views of the Mount Rushmore sculptures.
While Allegiant’s flight schedule may not be as convenient as other airlines, its low fares and unusual lineup of non-stop routes make it a matchless option for anyone inspired by the idea of an easy and affordable fly-and-drive getaway. And there’s one more thing – picking up a rental car at one of these second-tier airports is a joy. When I picked up my road-trip ride in Great Falls, Montana, the car was parked less than 30 feet from the baggage carousel and the rental staff had upgraded the car for free.
Flight check: fly-and-drive travel tips
• Booking ahead is good way to save money on any flight, but it is especially true with Allegiant Air. Because there are a limited number of flights to each destination each week and virtually every flight sells out, fares can vary widely. Booking a month or more in advance can drop the round-trip price by nearly half.
• Most flights operate Sundays and Thursdays, but check for schedule changes.
• All fares are priced per person one-way, but check both legs of the trip for the total round-trip cost. Often the flight originating in Las Vegas will cost significantly more than the return trip.
• Convenience has costs. There are extra fees for checked baggage, large carry-on luggage, food, beverages and priority boarding. Seats are assigned, but there is an extra charge for the privilege of choosing a specific seat. There are weight and size limits for both carry-on and checked baggage and fees for exceeding them. Allegiant’s website has a detailed FAQ, and most fees can be prepaid at a discount when purchasing a ticket.
• Expect three lines when checking in at an Allegiant Air counter: priority boarding (for a prepaid fee), online check-in and general boarding. Passengers in the priority boarding line are served first, those in the online check-in line second. There’s no extra charge to check in online, and it can save some time to be in this second line.
• Because just about every Allegiant flight is completely full, arrive at the airport two hours before departure to make sure you’ll get through check-in and security in plenty of time.
• Allegiant Air doesn’t participate in any of the travel aggregators like Expedia. Book directly at allegiantair.com.
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