As someone who was born in Los Angeles and who traveled more than my fair share while living there for most of my life, it’s not surprising that I get quite a few questions about which of the airports to use when people are looking for a cheap fare for their visit.
There are five major airports serving the metro Los Angeles area, and that is not counting dozens of general aviation airports where private pilots and private planes dominate. Sure, Los Angeles International (LAX) is by far the largest, and in fact it’s the busiest airport in the world when only counting passengers beginning or ending their journey (rather than just changing planes), but the other four each have good uses, depending on where you are coming from and what you plan on doing in LA.
If you are coming from anywhere other than the United States, the cheapest flights to Los Angeles will almost always be into LAX. The lowest fares to Los Angeles from outside the country are almost exclusive to LAX, but that’s not always the case from US destinations.
The 5 major Los Angeles airports and when to use them:
Los Angeles International (LAX)
This giant is located in West Los Angeles so it’s quite close to most beach destinations in LA County, and it’s also fairly close to Downtown Los Angeles. This is also most popular for those flying in to the busy San Pedro cruise port. With all the family cruise deals lately, it’s getting even more crowded. And in spite of Disneyland being much closer to Orange County Airport, this is the closest to where the Disney Cruises leave from in Los Angeles.
Burbank International (BUR)
This airport is in the San Fernando Valley and is now officially known as Bob Hope Airport (he lived in part of Burbank called Toluca Lake for much of his life), but the locals always just call it Burbank Airport. It’s only about 8 miles from Hollywood and even closer to Universal Studios, so if the “entertainment business” is your main thing, this airport puts you closest of all.
Long Beach Airport (LGB)
This is a small airport that is about 20 miles southeast of LAX and it’s very quick and easy to get in and out of, though the traffic on the freeway nearby is almost always bad. This airport has become trendy in the past few years since this is the only place in the area that JetBlue flies into.
Orange County/John Wayne Airport (SNA)
This airport is the fanciest in the area, but airfares are always on the high side due to strict limits on the number of flights each day. This means every departure has to make a certain amount of money for whatever airline, and they can’t afford to offer bargain basement prices like the other ones. Also, this airport is in the middle of a very crowded and affluent area, so it seems there are always people willing to pay $50 or $100 more for the privilege of flying here. This is also closest do the main theme parks in Orange County so it’s very popular for Disneyland vacation packages.
Ontario International Airport (ONT)
This airport is out in what’s locally known as the “Inland Empire” which is a very densely packed area of suburbs. If you are going somewhere east of Downtown Los Angeles then this might be your best bet of all, as airfares are often low and it keeps you out of the worst downtown traffic.
If you are coming from somewhere within 2,000 miles or so, it’s not a bad idea to check the airport closest to where you’ll be staying in addition to LAX. Once in a while you’ll actually find a lower fare and save a lot of hassle in the process.