Travel

You Can Now Get $69 Flights to One of the Caribbean's Most Glamorous Islands

GRAND TURK, TURKS AND CAICO
GRAND TURK, TURKS AND CAICO | Ritu Manoj Jethani/Shutterstock.com
GRAND TURK, TURKS AND CAICO | Ritu Manoj Jethani/Shutterstock.com

JAY-Z didn’t choose to rap about his friends rolling private jets down to Turks and Caicos because it kinda rhymes with “payroll.” He picked it because these islands at the southern end of the Lucayan Archipelago -- with the prettiest turquoise water in the world -- have a ballin'-ass-luxury rep right up there with Tom Ford and Ciroc. Yes, those pristine Caribbean seas and powdered-sugar beaches look great. But so does Beyoncé. And when $500 flights to the TCI were the norm, both were out of reach for the average traveler.

Until this week. On November 5, America’s favorite cult-of-personality airline Southwest begins one-way flights to Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos for an astonishing $69. That’s an amount likely less than the bar receipt that’s sitting crumpled next to your computer. Granted, this flight leaves from Fort Lauderdale and, if you don’t live in South Florida, will require some kind of connection. Still, that’s not leaving the rest of the country out of the Provo party.

“We’ve been building up Fort Lauderdale (as an international hub) so we have connections from 24 cities that will get people to Turks and Caicos,” said Steven Swan, Southwest’s director of international planning and airline partnerships.

So what does that mean for people not lucky enough to live in South Florida? A quick search found one-way flights from Atlanta for $104. Chicago-Midway at $143. Houston Hobby at $216. Head over to Southwest.com to see more of them, or mix and match your own itinerary to line up with these crazy-cheap fares. Wherever you are, the better-than-diving snorkeling at Coral Garden and the world-class beach at Grace Bay are a lot closer than they’ve ever been.

Grace Bay Beach, Providenciales
Grace Bay Beach, Turks and Caicos | Jo Ann Snover/Shutterstock

Why is this such a big deal?

For years, Turks flights from even the closest US airports at Miami and Fort Lauderdale were a lesson in nonsensical airline pricing. A trip barely lasting 90 minutes -- roughly the same flight time as Atlanta -- was considered a bargain at $450. Meanwhile you could find a rash of sub-$500 flights going a full nine hours to Europe. Obviously, this might put the TCI down a couple notches on someone’s 2018 to-do list.

But with Southwest entering the market, the Turks and Caicos immediately becomes sexier to a huge new group of travelers.

Southwest sees the islands as an important continuation of its development of Fort Lauderdale as a connecting gateway to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Latin America. The new, cheap flights are a way of getting people consider flying Southwest through South Florida on trips to tropical destinations, in much the way they consider flying through Miami on American.

“We’ve been adding a lot of destinations out of Fort Lauderdale,” said Swan. “This was the next market customers were asking for. The demand is already there, so we can stimulate the market to Turks and Caicos.”

Marina in Turks and Caicos
Marina in Turks and Caicos | RAGCAM/Shutterstock

Will "the Southwest effect" change travel to the Turks and Caicos?

Southwest was the forbearer for airlines like Norwegian and WOW, dropping fares to once-expensive destinations and causing the entire industry to follow suit. Industry-wide, it’s known as “the Southwest effect,” and its ultimate influence on the Turks and Caicos remains to be seen. “Other carriers are monitoring the marketplace,” Swann says. “Whether they want to match those fares, that’s up to them.”

Getting there might, in fact, get a lot cheaper in the coming year. But don’t look for these luxe islands to become a bargain destination quite yet.

Ramon Andrews, the director of tourism for the Turks and Caicos, assured me he’s expecting the same variety of visitors to arrive -- that is, relative free-spenders. He’s just expecting more of them. “American Airlines might have 16 seats in first class,” he says. “We built an entire tourism industry on everyone flying in the back.”

It’ll be a while, then, before you can expect a string of Super 8s and HoJos lining the shores of Grace Bay. The 12 miles of beach here are developed on a high concept, and that’s not about to change.

Providenciales island in Turks and Caicos
Providenciales island, Turks and Caicos | BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock

And much like your lunch at Da Conch Shack, there is a catch. Return flights trend a little more expensive, starting at $145 returning to Fort Lauderdale. Perhaps this is the islands’ subtle way of telling you to give up the rat race and set up shop under a palm tree. And these fares must be booked by November 17, for travel from November 13-December 23, or January 9, 2018-March 1, 2018. So Thanksgiving in the TCI is totally doable. Spring break, notsomuch.

Both Southwest and the TCI said they have “plans on the horizon” but wouldn’t go into much more detail. But the hope is that Southwest’s arrival in this slice of paradise will make it much easier -- and cheaper -- for us all to get there. Whether we’re rolling in a private jet or not.

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Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer to Thrillist who briefly lived in the Turks and Caicos while he was homeless. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.