11 Budget-Friendly Airlines for Getting to (and Around) the Caribbean

by  Chanize Thorpe | Mar 7, 2014
Plane flying over a beach
Plane flying over a beach / Tomwang112/iStock

Getting to the major Caribbean islands is pretty easy these days, with the major airlines providing direct service from many U.S. cities, Canada, and even Europe. But what if you’ve set your sights on a smaller island? Or if you plan to island-hop between destinations in paradise? Inter-island ferry service is possible, but the logistics of arranging it can be tricky. Flying is often a better choice, especially when time is a factor. Luckily, there are at least a dozen regional Caribbean airlines servicing the most remote islands. Some even have flights departing from the U.S. and Canada, sometimes at a cheaper price and with fewer connections than on the big commercial carriers. Use our mini guide to make navigating the islands fun, cheap, and, best of all, easy.

If your aim is to island-hop, you'll first need to get yourself to the Caribbean. U.S.-based low-cost carriers like Air Tran and JetBlue are ideal for this, as they offer an expansive flight network that includes major cities like Washington D.C., Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Boston, Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale, and Chicago. Better  yet, JetBlue even provides inter-island service between destinations like St. Thomas, St. Croix, and Puerto Rico, which are also U.S. territories.

Meanwhile, both Spirit and Sun Country Airlines have routes into places like St. Maarten, Santo Domingo, Cancun, Cozumel, St. Thomas, and even Port-au-Prince from secondary airports in Orlando, Dallas, Detroit, and Minneapolis. But when it comes to getting between the islands themselves, your best bet are the following Caribbean-based regional airlines:

Air Caraibes: This French airline travels to Guyana, Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Cuba, Martinique, Haiti, St. Bart's, St. Martin, and Guadaloupe. Flights are even available from Paris to these islands. Prices are quoted in Euros, so convert to make sure you’re getting a good rate. Sample fare: From St. Lucia to Martinique for $175 each way.

Bahamas Air: It’s possible to explore the Bahamas’ Out Islands like Abaco, San Salvador, Exuma, and Great Inagua from Nassau via small turboprop planes, and for relatively little money. Sample fare: From Nassau to Great Exuma for $88 each way.

Cape Air: This New England-based airline flies to San Juan, Ponce, Mayaguez and Vieques in Puerto Rico as well as the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Sample fare: From St. Croix to Vieques, Puerto Rico for $69 each way.

Caribbean Airlines: Caribbean Airlines started out servicing routes once dominated by giant Air Jamaica, which it now owns. They now service 10 countries, and even offer one-way fares, a good option for those with a multi-stop itinerary. Note: some flights aren't exactly nonstop. For example, a flight from St. Lucia to Grenada on Caribbean Airlines includes a two-hour layover in Trinidad’s Port-of-Spain, which can be frustrating considering that destination is geographically so close. Sample fare: From Trinidad to Grenada for $186 each way.

LIAT: This company dominates most of airline routes within the Caribbean. Destinations include Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago. Reaching some far-flung islands requires multiple stops, so take that into account when you're planning. Sample fare: From Antigua to Dominica for $129 each way.

SVG: Small planes carrying 8-20 passengers between multiple destinations in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (including Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Union Island, and Carriacou), and Grenada and Barbados. Weight and baggage restrictions are tight, so pack light and read the fine print carefully when you buy your ticket. Sample fare: From Barbados to St. Vincent for $140 each way.

Winair: If you want to reach the remote islands of Montserrat, Saba, and St. Eustatius, look for flights with this small company. Sample fare: From St. Maarten to Saba for $90 each way.

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