HARLINGEN — The new year is here, and it’s time to set the itinerary for that summer vacation.

Airline passengers flying out of Valley International Airport have some unique options this year thanks to new nonstop seasonal routes to a broad range of destinations from airline hubs in Houston and Dallas,

American Airlines is now offering summer seasonal service between Dallas-Fort Worth and Fairbanks, Alaska. The carrier will also offer seasonal nonstop service between DFW and Dublin and Munich.

Southwest Airlines, which has five weekday flights between Harlingen and Houston/Hobby, is beefing up its Mexico routes with two daily flights to Cozumel. In addition, Southwest is offering daily nonstops between Houston and San Juan, Puerto Rico, Seattle and Portland and Grand Cayman. Weekend-only service is available from Houston/Hobby to and from Aruba, Nassau, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and Salt Lake City.

The reason for these new nonstop destinations is certainly linked to competition, but it also is made possible by aeronautical technology of new long-haul aircraft, making it easier and more cost-effective for airlines to offer more nonstop flights from Texas without having to make an additional stop on the East Coast or West Coast.

“The main lines are adding nonstop seasonal flights out of their hubs to places where they don’t fly regularly,” said Jose Mulet, director of air service and business development at Valley International. “With our daily service to those hubs, people now can connect with one stop going from Harlingen to Punta Cana, Harlingen to Edinburgh, Scotland, or Dublin, or places like that that are seasonal nonstops.

“Southwest is returning the San Juan flight, finally,” added Mulet, who flies 8,000 to 10,000 miles a year. “So that’s going to go daily in the summertime and that always connects from here going and coming, for the growing Puerto Rican population down here.”

Travel strategies

These new nonstop destinations from the hubs in Houston and Dallas offer vastly improved options for travel itineraries.

Here’s how Mulet thinks it can benefit travelers flying out of Harlingen.

“Let’s say Turks and Caicos, for example. Those might only operate daily once a day from Atlanta, from Miami or Fort Lauderdale,” he said. “But to have it from Houston/Hobby and if you have the right rewards points and don’t know what to do with them, ‘Hey, Turks and Caicos here we go.’ Or to Cayman, or Aruba, Montego Bay. These are all Southwest nonstop flights from Hobby.

“Then there’s this other stuff like United is doing nonstop Newark to Cape Town” in South Africa, he added. “If somebody wants to do that, maybe hunting or whatever. But that’s not a seasonal, that’s a new route that just happens to start in the summer.”

Mulet thinks these new nonstops to and from Houston and Dallas will perhaps benefit European travelers the most. These nonstops just beg for open itineraries to take advantage of the new options.

“If you like to go to Europe in the summertime, London, Frankfurt, Paris are all the old places,” he said. “But now you can come back from Rome nonstop to Dallas, for example, or from Edinburgh, so you can do what is known as an open-jaw trip where you go to one airport and come back from another and you either fly with a low-cost carrier, or take a train, or try the Chunnel.”

Open-jaw is a term used in the travel industry for a flexible airline return ticket where the destination and/or the origin are not the same in both directions

More new flights

United will start offering five flights between Harlingen and Houston/Intercontinental starting this month, with a new flight added which departs Harlingen at 7:30 a.m. This new flight will offer additional connections to points in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

For summer 2020, United is offering seasonal nonstop service between Newark and cities in Europe like Palermo, Italy, Athens, Greece, and Porto, Portugal. The longest flight United Airlines operates from Houston is their nonstop service to Sydney, Australia.

Frontier Airlines has not published its summer schedule yet.

Cruise ship thoughts

Mulet says these new nonstop destinations also give cruise ship passengers extra flexibility.

“A lot of these cruises start at Civitavecchia, a port that’s just west of Rome right near Naples,” he said. “You fly to Rome and then take a shuttle to the port and then get on the ship. I always tell people, if you’re going to do that, get there two days early.

“For one thing, if the luggage doesn’t get on that plane, you have two days to catch it up,” he added. “Plus you get to see Rome. Its like people go to Puerto Rico … it’s the first stop of the cruise ship and you get off the airplane and go directly to the boat. No. Get there two days early or stay two days at the end and see the island because it’s included.”

And the possibilities aren’t all just in Europe. For an Alaskan cruise, many begin in Vancouver or Seattle. And now with these new nonstop flights, a cruise ship passenger can easily schedule an earlier or later flight to take a day or two to see those cities.

Or if a cruise ship trip starts in Italy and ends in Barcelona, or vice-versa, travelers can take a low-cost European airline to fly from Barcelona or Rome to Edinburg, and then fly back nonstop to Dallas.

“You’re not going to have a cruise ship leaving from a city that’s not really deserving of a visit,” he said.