The Best & Worst Cities for Summer Travel in 2013

CardHub-2013-Best-Worst-Cities-for-Summer-TravelIn order to supplement the money-saving information already available to travelers through CardHub’s Currency Conversion & Best Travel Credit Card studies, CardHub sought to determine the Best & Worst Cities for Summer Travel in 2013.

More specifically, CardHub analyzed flights listed on from the 30 largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the United States to the 10 most popular domestic and international destinations, using July 13 as the departure date and July 21 as the return date.  We compared airfare costs, flight times, and the number of connections for each in order to determine:

  • Which departure points offer the best combination of inexpensive flights and short travel times to the most popular destinations; and
  • Which destinations are the most accessible – both logistically and financially – for U.S. travelers across the 30 largest cities.

You can find more information about our Methodology at the end of this study.


Ranking Best for International Travel Best for Domestic Travel Best Overall
1 Washington, DC Denver, CO Chicago, Ill.
2 New York, NY Dallas, TX Washington, DC
3 Chicago, Ill. Chicago, Ill. New York, NY
4 Miami, FL Detroit, MI Dallas, TX
5 Philadelphia, PA Las Vegas, NV Philadelphia, PA
6 Boston, MA Los Angeles, CA Atlanta, GA
7 Tampa, FL Phoenix, AZ St. Louis, MO
8 Atlanta, GA Minneapolis, MN Miami, FL
9 Dallas, TX San Diego, CA Houston, TX
10 St. Louis, MO Atlanta, GA Boston, MA
11 Pittsburgh, PA St. Louis, MO Detroit, MI
12 Houston, TX Houston, TX Denver, CO
13 Cleveland, OH Washington, DC Baltimore, MD
14 Orlando, FL Kansas City, MO Pittsburgh, PA
15 Baltimore, MD New York, NY Tampa, FL
16 Detroit, MI Baltimore, MD Cleveland, OH
17 Minneapolis, MN San Francisco, CA Orlando, FL
18 Cincinnati, OH Portland, OR Minneapolis, MN
19 Denver, CO Cincinnati, OH Cincinnati, OH
20 Kansas City, MO Philadelphia, PA Kansas City, MO
21 San Antonio, TX Boston, MA Phoenix, AZ
22 Phoenix, AZ Orlando, FL Los Angeles, CA
23 Los Angeles, CA Seattle, WA Las Vegas, NV
24 San Francisco, CA Pittsburgh, PA San Francisco, CA
25 Las Vegas, NV Cleveland, OH San Antonio, TX
26 San Diego, CA Sacramento, CA San Diego, CA
27 Portland, OR Tampa, FL Portland, OR
28 Seattle, WA Miami, FL Seattle, WA
29 Riverside, CA San Antonio, TX Sacramento, CA
30 Sacramento, CA Riverside, CA Riverside, CA


Ranking Best Domestic Destinations Best International Destinations
1 New York, NY Cancun, Mexico
2 Chicago, IL Playa del Carmen/Riviera Maya, Mexico
3 Washington, D.C. Montego Bay, Jamaica
4 Fort Lauderdale, FL Negril, Jamaica
5 Orlando, FL Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Other Main Findings

  • It makes sense that only 16% of U.S. travel expenditures are for international trips, as the average flight to a popular international vacation destination costs $1,193, takes 13 hours, and has one connection, compared to $540, 5 and a half hours, and 0.40 connections for the average domestic flight.
  • Judging from the combined rankings for vacation destinations both foreign and domestic, the best overall departure points are Chicago, Washington, New York, Dallas, and Philadelphia.
  • California cities average a 26th place ranking for international travel affordability, despite LAX being the 5th busiest airport in the U.S. and Los Angeles ranking 6th in terms of domestic flight affordability.  This is attributable to the popularity of European and Caribbean destinations among U.S. travelers, who seem relatively uninterested in Asian getaways.
  • Atlanta – home to the busiest airport in the United States – ranks 10th in terms of domestic flight affordability, 8th for international affordability, and 6th overall.
  • Washington, D.C. is the most affordable East Coast city to fly out of, ranking second overall.  Much of this can be attributed to the close proximity of three major airports:  Washington Dulles, Reagan National, & BWI.


CardHub used booking data from the Travel Leaders Group to determine the most popular domestic and international vacation destinations for summer 2013 and data from the U.S. Census Bureau to determine the largest metropolitan statistical areas in the United States.  We then used more than 3,600 data points from to compare airfare costs, flight times, and the number of connections for round-trip flights from each MSA to the airport(s) serving each popular vacation destination.

We used July 13 and July 21 as the departure and return dates, respectively, since July was the most popular date for travel last summer, according to a Morpace Omnibus survey, and while the average American considers 12 days to be the perfect length for a vacation, according to American Express data, most of us can neither afford such a long getaway, nor spare the vacation time.

In determining ultimate rankings, CardHub analyzed and weighted the following metrics for round-trip flights between each MSA and each popular vacation destination:

  • Cost of the cheapest flight:  30%
  • Duration of the cheapest flight:  15%
  • Number of connections on the cheapest flight:  5%
  • Cost of the shortest flight:  30%
  • Duration of the cheapest flight:  15%
  • Number of connections on the cheapest flight:  5%

For simplicity sake, we recorded only the longest leg for a flight’s duration.  Given the often stark disparities in flight costs and travel times, we also chose the best deals for each metric within a $20 range and/or one hour window.  For example, if the cheapest round-trip flight between Washington, D.C. and Rome, Italy cost $1,000 and the second cheapest fight only cost $15 more yet would save you two hours in total travel time, we chose the latter.  Similarly, if the shortest round-trip flight between Washington, D.C. and Rome, Italy took six hours each way and the second-shortest took only 25 minutes longer yet saved you $200, we chose the latter.

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