I am planning a family reunion near Glacier National Park, Mont., and have several relatives from Alabama and Georgia who are now unable to attend because of the high price of airline tickets to Kalispell, Mont. Do you have any suggestion about obtaining cheaper tickets? Perhaps a group rate or some other tactic to reduce the cost of this travel?
Since flights into small airports, such as the Kalispell-Glacier National Park Airport in Montana, will likely cost you in the high $600 range, instead consider flying into a larger airport. In this case, the closest airport that's significantly larger is Spokane, Wash.
Taking an alternate route that combines a Spokane flight and train or car travel could save you $100–200 per person. A flight to Spokane from Atlanta, during the week, in mid-October, on Frontier Airlines, with one stop, will cost you $360. From Birmingham, Ala., on multiple airlines with two stops, it will cost $483 (both prices found on kayak.com). These prices beat the $615 it would cost you flying from Birmingham, and the $689 from Atlanta, on the same dates to Kalispell.
One alternative is flying into Spokane, Wash., and taking the train to Glacier National Park. For about the same price, (cheaper flight, more expensive train ticket) you can also fly to either Portland, Ore., or Seattle, then take the train through Spokane to the park.
The train ride from the Spokane train station to the West Glacier, Mont., station takes about six hours and costs $42 per person. While the train offers plenty of legroom and the option to get up and walk around, the ride leaves at 1:15 a.m.—yes, in the middle of the night—and arrives at 8:15 in the morning. Returning from Montana, the train departs around 8:20 p.m. and arrives in Spokane at 1:40 a.m., so you would have to plan your flights accordingly.
Your other option, taking the extended train ride from Portland, Ore., or Seattle through Spokane to the West Glacier, Mont., station, is an overnight, 14 1/2 hour ride arriving at 8:15 a.m., for $84. This applies to both the Portland and Seattle options.
Don't forget you'll have to get from the airport to the train station once you're in Portland, Seattle, or Spokane, so plan ahead for the cab fare. The good news is that once you arrive at the West Glacier, Mont., Amtrak Station, you are just a half mile from Glacier National Park.
To book your train rides, go to www.amtrak.com and enter the following train-station codes depending on your chosen path: Portland-PDX, Seattle-SEA , Spokane-SPK, and your destination, West Glacier-WGL.
Yet another option would be to fly into Spokane and drive a rental car to your destination—and with a 75-mph speed limit and scenic mountain pass, it might be a good way to go if you're not averse to a little driving. You can take I-90 east to 93 North, which will take you a little more south than necessary, but is easier than taking the connecting roads (I-90 to St. Regis to Highway 135 East to 200 East to 93 North).
There are more places to stop along this route. This route will take you through the panhandle of Idaho and the town of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, a tourist spot with a beautiful lake, to Wallace, Idaho, a historical mining town with red-brick buildings, then through the high mountain pass and on to Missoula and Paradise, Mont., and arriving in Glacier National Park.
Group-travel Web sites, such as triporama.com, triphub.com, or groople.com can also help you plan flights and hotel stays for your family reunion. Be sure to note, however, that most deals only apply to groups of 10 or more, flying from the same place to the same destination. In other words, unless you've got at least 10 people coming from Alabama and Georgia each, you won't be eligible for group-flight discounts.