Choices Branson air travelers make can cost time and money

With the opening of Branson’s newest airport, currently named “Branson Airport,” travelers to Branson now have a choice of two airports to choose from and competitive low cost airfares. Yet, just in case it comes up in a trivia quiz, none of the airports serving Branson are actually located in Branson.

The closest commercial airport to Branson is the Branson Airport (BKG) which is located about 8 miles and a 10 to 15 minute drive southeast of Branson. It has been open to commercial air traffic since May 11, 2009 and is currently served by AirTran and Sun Country.

The Springfield-Branson National Airport (SGF) is located about 50 miles and a 60 minute drive northwest of Branson. It is served by Allegiant, American Eagle, Delta, NWA and United.

At first blush it seems superfluous to even mention another airport and carriers serving Branson with Branson Airport only being 8 miles away. But aren’t there other factors that should be considered also that could be as important?

In today’s economy, it would seem that price might be one of those factors. Although SGF has been serving Branson for decades it was notorious for high prices. Some believe this actually helped pave the way for the private development of BKG based on the fact that it would offer low cost air service to Branson. The good news for Branson air travelers is that in doing so it forced the air carriers flying into SFG to lower their fares to compete.

For example, at 3:00 p.m. on June 7, 2009, showed that two travelers, traveling from Chicago to Branson on July 11 and returning on Jul 18 could fly round trip to Branson through SGF on American Eagle for $192.20 each. Kayak showed that the same itinerary on AirTran Airlines into BKG would cost $350.90 per passenger. The total difference on the two round trip tickets is $317.40. For that kind of savings, some travelers might elect to drive the extra 50 minutes and 42 miles to Branson.

Sharon Budnick, Manager, Branson Travel Agency, a sister entity of Branson Tourism Center, points out that travelers flying into Branson have more practical and flexible options available than ever before. She said, “Travelers flying into Branson should consider all the factors including price, travel distance and time from the arrival airport, length of flight, scheduling, and the options that are available to the traveler if there is an issue with a connecting flight.”

Budnick also suggests that most air travelers to Branson will need a rental car. BKG is a private airport and has only one rental car agency “Enterprise.” Unlike the vast majority of other airports in the United States, BKG does not permit other rental car agencies to pick up their customers at the airport. She advises travelers going into BKG, not using Enterprise, to have local contact and other appropriate information for the agency they will be renting from prior to their arrival at BKG. The car rental situation at SGF, in terms of choices and manner of operation, is the same as that found in most airports.