Travel & Day Trips

How To Get Cheap Flights to San Francisco (From a Local)

Hi, I’m Thomas Smith, and I’ve lived in the Bay Area for 10 years. Today, I’m sharing my local tips on how to get cheap flights to San Francisco.

I’ve flown from many different places all over the country into San Francisco, and I can tell you there are a couple of things you’ll want to keep in mind.

The Three Least Expensive Airlines to San Francisco

The least expensive airlines flying into San Francisco are generally:

  • Frontier
  • Spirit
  • Southwest.

In most cases, these will be your cheapest options. You can look for things like a basic economy flight on United, and sometimes they’re less expensive, but fundamentally, Spirit, Frontier, and Southwest are the airlines to consider if you want a cheap flight to San Francisco.

I generally choose Southwest, primarily because they provide free checked bags and other perks. In contrast, Spirit and Frontier often charge for all kinds of things that other airlines would consider basic.

That said, Southwest is generally pricier flying to the Bay Area than these other options. It’s kind of like a legacy carrier but at a slightly reduced price these days, whereas Spirit and Frontier are true budget upstarts.

Understanding the Three Major Airports in the Bay Area

The airline isn’t the only factor, though. Keep in mind that there are three major airports in the San Francisco Bay Area:

  • SFO (San Francisco International)
  • Oakland
  • San Jose

SFO is the main airport for San Francisco and is very close to the city. However, for better fares, you often want to look at Oakland, which is easily accessible via BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), or even the San Jose Airport, which is further south near Silicon Valley.

San Jose doesn’t have as easy of a transit route, so you’ll need to take an Uber or find another way to get to San Francisco. It’s about an hour drive from San Jose to SF with good traffic. You can also take Caltrain from San Jose to SF, which makes the San Jose airport a more viable option.

Still, I rarely fly into San Jose. Looking at SFO and Oakland airports are great options, with Oakland often being cheaper. I love flying OAK!

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Comparing Rates and Schedules

Now, let’s take a look at some actual flights about three weeks away from the date I’m searching. A little longer notice will usually lead to better deals.

For example, there’s a direct flight from New York City to Oakland on Spirit for just $185 round trip as I write this.

That’s an excellent price for a cross-country trip. By considering Oakland Airport instead of SFO and using Spirit as a low-cost carrier, you’ll find better deals flying into San Francisco.

Another example, I found a nonstop flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco on Frontier for just $80. That’s a fantastic round trip flight for under $100 into San Francisco. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that.

Another popular route and airline is Southwest, and keep in mind that you won’t find their fares on Google Flights or other aggregators; you have to search directly on their website.

Using Oakland Airport instead of SFO to save on the fare, I found a flight from Los Angeles up to Oakland for $79 one-way. 

Those are all pretty cheap options to get into SF from around the country.

What day flight fares are the cheapest?

In addition to choose a good airline and airport, it’s also important to get your timing right. Remember that San Francisco is a major business destination for travelers in the tech industry. That means that if you travel on Mondays (the start of the business week) or Fridays (when business travelers are heading back home), you’ll often pay more.

Midweek is a great time to fly in or out of the Bay Area. If your dates are flexible, check for flights on a Tuesday or Wednesday, which tend to be cheapest.

Which Month is Cheapest to Fly to SF?

In addition to the day of the week, your timing during the year makes a difference, too. The high season is the San Francisco Bay Area is generally May to September. If you fly during that season, flights are often more expensive.

Conversley, flying over the Winter (February especially) can result in cheap flights. San Francisco’s weather is fairly uniform year round. The Winter is a bit colder than other months, but there’s still plenty to do in the Bay Area over the winter (just make sure to pack a rain jacket, as that’s the region’s rainy season.)

If you want to save, consider a trip in the off season. You’ll generally pay less for both flights and hotels.

Conclusion and Tips

In conclusion, if you’re looking for cheap flights to San Francisco:

  • Make sure to consider these three airlines: Frontier, Spirit, and Southwest.
  • Additionally, explore different airports in the Bay Area, like Oakland and San Jose, to find the most affordable flights. Often, flying into Oakland will save you money compared to SFO. Remember the airport code for Oakland is OAK.

By following these simple strategies, you’ll be well on your way to finding cheap flights to San Francisco and experiencing all the incredible things the city has to offer.

Key Takeaways

  • The least expensive airlines flying into San Francisco are generally Frontier, Spirit, and Southwest.
  • Look at SFO and Oakland airports for cheaper flights.
  • Spirit and Frontier are great low-cost carriers flying into San Francisco.
  • Southwest has to be checked on their website for cheaper fares.
  • Consider Oakland airport instead of SFO to save on the fare.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.
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