Welcome to a regular feature on Eye of the Flyer! This blog series covers “rookie” topics pertaining to either a Delta or other travel-related theme (sometimes both!) and attempts to break down each topic to a basic level. You can read up on all the previous posts HERE. Now on to this featured subject!
Most major cities have at least a couple of airports. And if you’re scheduled to fly into (or out of) one of them, you may be able to alter your reservation and change airports — for free.
For example, if you’re booked to arrive in (hellish) Los Angeles International (LAX) but plan to stay near Disneyland, there’s a chance you can modify your trip to go in and out of Orange County (SNA).
Or, maybe you live in New York and LaGuardia (LGA) is closer to you than Kennedy (JFK). You might not have to trek out to Jamaica.
But how and why? Let’s talk a little about co-terminals.
What is a Co-Terminal?
Some travelers (even a few seasoned frequent flyers) don’t know about co-terminals.
They’re basically airports that an airline uses in the same metro area. For example, San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC), and Oakland (OAK), or some combination thereof, may be considered co-terminals for airlines that fly in and out of those airports.
Washington, D.C., has National (DCA), Dulles (IAD), and Baltimore (BWI).
Los Angeles features a bunch: LAX, Hollywood Burbank (BUR), SNA, Long Beach (LGB), and Ontario (ONT).
You get the idea.
The largest airport in a city is generally the most affordable option for many travelers. Airlines operate more flights out of those airports, there’s more schedule availability, etc. It’s not uncommon for itineraries involving smaller airports to be very expensive compared to their larger siblings across town.
For example, my family almost always books Delta trips out of LAX — even though Burbank is far closer to our home. LAX options are much cheaper and readily available.
But we occasionally get our wish and fly out of BUR — because it’s a Delta co-terminal in Los Angeles.
So what if you find yourself in the same position? Maybe you’re flying to Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) — but your kids live closer to Love (DAL). Or you’re going into Chicago O’Hare (ORD), but Midway (MDW) is better for your schedule and plans?
You’re not entirely sunk.
Here are a few options when you might be able to change your itineraries to more favorable airport locations.
A friend of mine living in Los Angeles learned about co-terminals when traveling back from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
His scheduled Delta Air Lines itinerary was Sioux Falls (FSD) – Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) – LAX. But some bad weather significantly delayed his inbound aircraft — and the ticketing agent at FSD informed him he’d miss his connection in the Twin Cities.
Delta confirmed him on another FSD-MSP-LAX itinerary departing a few hours later. But that wouldn’t get him to LAX until around 5:30 PM. His home in the San Fernando Valley is about 90 minutes from LAX during rush hour. (It’s probably 30-ish minutes in no traffic.)
But much-smaller Burbank (BUR) is about a half-hour from his house — even during rush hour. But Delta trips from BUR generally cost two to three times the prices of LAX fares. (Hence his booking the LAX option.)
He texted me his frustration and tribulations. I called him and suggested he ask a Delta rep about the chances of modifying his itinerary again — and allowing him to change (at no fee or fare difference) to BUR.
“I can do that?” he said. “I don’t need to fly into LAX?”
“Yes, you can,” I said, “and no, you don’t.”
I explained that because he was flying into a metro area (Los Angeles) featuring multiple Delta destinations, the airline could reroute him to one of Delta’s other airports (BUR, SNA, LGB).
Plus, he traveled only with carry-on baggage. So he didn’t need to worry about any luggage being sent to his original destination. (Though it’s possible the good folks in FSD could’ve found his bags before they got on a plane and had them re-tagged.)
He spoke to the agent again — and she was happy to accommodate him. She rerouted him FSD-SLC-BUR.
He ended up landing at around 5 PM. But his ride home was much shorter than if he had arrived at LAX. Added bonus: he didn’t have to spend any time at LAX.
It’s not like he wanted to take an entirely different trip on Delta’s dime. He wasn’t trying to visit, like, Las Vegas or New York. Nor was he hoping to stay an extra couple of days exploring Sioux Falls. (He means no offense, FSD! 🙂 ) He just needed to get back to the Los Angeles area sometime that day.
Schedule Change Saturday
We know Delta-initiated schedule changes generally happen on Saturdays. And I’ve used those changes to modify itineraries — and get more favorable routings involving co-terminals.
For example, I once had a BUR-SLC-ATL-PUJ trip book. But a nasty schedule change reared its head. So I used the opportunity to turn that into (sort of) a mileage run! So we searched for published routes and found one we liked. We called Delta and changed the trip to LAX-SFO-ATL-PUJ. (“Wait a second,” the Medallion rep said, “you want to change from Burbank to LAX? Really? Wow. Never head that one before.”
Again, it’s not like we decided to depart from another metro area (i.e., San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas, whatever), visit somewhere else, or change our travel dates.
Same-Day Confirmed (SDC) Change
What if you want to change to a co-terminal within 24 hours of your scheduled flights? If you’re doing it simply because you want to change airports and there are no other factors (i.e., weather, plane maintenance issues, etc.), then you’re technically out of luck.
Delta says, “Origin and/or destination changes are not available for a Same-Day Confirmed change. Same-City/Co-terminals (ex. LaGuardia Airport to John F. Kennedy Airport) changes are not available for a Same-Day Confirmed change.”
Indeed, I just flew from JFK to LAX. I checked the SDC option on my Fly Delta app and was offered flights only between those two airports.
That being said, your (sky)mileage may vary. You can call your airline; maybe you’ll get lucky and speak with a sympathetic rep. Or an airport ticketing agent may be game to indulge your co-terminal dreams. (Having elite status definitely helps, too.)
Travelers can use co-terminals — airports in the same metro area — to their advantage. You might be able to fly out of or into an airport that works better with your travel plans.
But airlines have different rules about when and how you can switch to a co-terminal. Weather and airline-initiated schedule changes are a couple of feathers in your cap when it comes to changing airports.
Do you have any advice on using co-terminals? Any examples (good or bad) of how co-terminals played into your travels? Please share in the below Comments section!
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