Along with people not understanding the difference between prosecco and champagne (Google it) or knowing the importance of a hostess gift, overpaying for plane tickets is right up there in our top three biggest pet peeves. Don’t judge us—nobody ever said pet peeves were supposed to be rational. There have been countless times that we’ve had to hold ourselves back, whether in the office, out to dinner, or on the bus after hearing someone proclaim “I just scored the BEST deal to London! $800 each! Can you believe it!?” We realize it’s probably not a social norm to unleash a slew of travel and flight savings tips on a complete stranger. Luckily for us, if you clicked on this post, you’re probably somewhat interested in hearing a few of these tips, and we are SO excited to share them with you.
For those who missed our latest Betches post where we busted 5 of the most common finance myths, we’re Lauren and Kelda, millennial sisters (and avocado toast lovers) living in Seattle, WA. Together we run Hello HENRYs, a blog on all things personal finance and travel. Why should you trust our travel tips? While we aren’t travel agents, interns for Rick Steves, or anything of that nature, we do travel often and do so at killer prices. Between the two of us, we average nine countries and countless states each year, while still working full-time jobs with limited vacation days just like you. We haven’t spent more than $500 to go to Europe in years and cover over half of our trips with miles and points alone. How do we do it? Here are six of our best tips for making your dream trips happen on a dime.
Be Flexible Around Location
We get it. Sometimes flexibility is just not an option. However, 9 times out of 10, there is some element of flexibility to a trip and, if you truly want to find the best flight deals, you need to be open to it. Below are a few examples on ways to be flexible when it comes to location in particular.
Don’t Be Tied Down To An End Destination
The world is a huge place and, while we’ve been lucky enough to travel to many amazing places, there are tons of places that we have yet to go and all of them sound pretty appealing. Frankly, at this age, most people haven’t been everywhere yet, and simply just being more open to the exact location can help so much. Say you know you want to travel to Europe, but are open to exact cities, and want to go during a set time frame. Simply enter your starting destination, the continent or region you’re hoping to visit and the date range. Google Flights will pull up a map displaying the cheapest flight to each city within the region for the dates selected.
In this specific example, you can see that you could fly to London for just $406. If you simply just want to go to a region, an interactive map like this is a great way to find the cheapest destinations.
Be Open-Minded About How You Get To Your End Destination
Let’s say you are 100% sold on traveling to a specific country in Europe. Maybe visiting Greece, Croatia, or any of the typically more expensive flight destinations. Chances are you’ll have a stop or connection on the way to these top beach destinations anyway. Use a map like this to find the cheapest nonstop flight into Europe and then book a cheap flight from there on RyanAir, EasyJet or any of the low cost European carriers. This is how we traveled to the Greek Islands during peak travel time (July) of last year for a fraction of the cost.
Think Outside of the Box When It Comes to Exact Point of Entry
Most major cities have more than one airport, but most have one that is the primary or most highly trafficked airport. If you’re tied to a specific city or country, be sure to research all of the airport options. London, for example, has four airports. Paris has three. When booking flights to other countries, be sure to play around with airport options. Some are obviously more conveniently located to the city than others, but, when the cost difference is sizable, we’ll spend an extra 30 minutes on public transportation to get there. The same goes for departure airport when we’re coming from the US. We live in Seattle and have two local airports. While one doesn’t operate flights outside of North America, we still always check prices. If it connects us to a domestic international airport at a major cost savings, we are willing to take the extra flight.
Be Flexible Around Dates
Sometimes the exact location is inflexible. Maybe you’re visiting a specific city for a friend’s wedding or exploring Maui has been a lifelong bucket list item and you aren’t willing to sacrifice the specific Hawaiian island. In this case, try to be flexible with dates whenever possible. There is often more wiggle room than you think.
Two years ago, Lauren was heading to Las Vegas with a group of girlfriends for a birthday weekend. The location was a non-negotiable for the birthday girl and, at first glance, you would think the dates would be too. I mean, duh, you can’t change the day you were born. However, when they played around with dates, they found it was actually cheaper to fly in Thursday after work, instead of Friday morning as planned, even with the additional night of hotel costs factored in. Nobody needed to take more vacation days, plus they woke up rested and ready to go Friday morning, while saving money on their trip. So many wins.
Another example and amazing way to use Google Flights is to search for a specific length of time at any date in the upcoming year to an exact location. Let’s say that you know you want to go to Hawaii sometime this year for a one week vacation, but are open to when exactly you take the trip. Simply enter the departure and arrival airport, the length of time for the vacation and the window of time that you are open to waiting.
This is how Kelda scored $200 round trip flights to Kauai for September of last year. She entered that she wanted to visit some time in the next six months and found a deal for the very next week!
You’d be surprised what a huge difference moving your trip up or down by just a day or two can make, also. Google Flights highlights the best deals in Green to help you easily plan your travel or vacation window. In the example below, for round trip flights to Barcelona, leaving on October 12th vs. October 13th is an almost $200 fare difference!
Set Trip Alerts
Whether your upcoming vacation is non-negotiable, such as for an interview or wedding, or if it’s totally flexible, such as just wanting to go home and visit your mom sometime in the next year, we set alerts for every single trip we have in mind and receive email notice or notifications on our phone when prices are particularly low. Our favorite ways to do this are through Google Flights and Hopper. We use both platforms because not all airlines pay to be included in both algorithms. For example, we love Hopper, but Delta is not included as one of their tracked airlines at this time. Because we live in a Delta hub (Seattle), we definitely want to track those flights as well, so we also set alerts on Google Flights.
In addition, Scott’s Cheap Flights is one of our favorite services for scoring insane flight deals. It’s simply an email subscription with both free and premium options that alerts you when an airline has a mistake fare—often lasting just a few hours to a day. At this time, Scott’s Cheap Flights only tracks mistake fares for international trips, but we have booked many a trip through their email list. At times for trips we knew we wanted to take, like last year when Lauren needed to fly to Thailand for a friend’s wedding, but also for trips that we didn’t necessarily have planned, but the deal was too good to pass up. Hello, $400 RT to Curaçao.
my only hobby is sending my friends cheap flights to their city with the 👀 emoji and then forgetting to ever text them back
— dirt prince (@pant_leg) December 10, 2019
Along with this, after we get an alert on a super low price, whether that’s through Google Flights or Hopper, we always do one last check on Southwest if our flight is domestic. We rarely fly this airline and it isn’t included in any algorithms at this time, but every now and then, it ends up offering a cheaper price. This doesn’t happen too often, but we still always take the time to check before booking.
Use Points and Miles Wisely
First, it’s important to understand the difference between points and miles, as many people use these terms interchangeably.
Miles are tied to a specific airline or airline alliance and are earned primarily through actual flights taken with the airline or spending on an airline specific credit card, such as the Amex Gold Delta Skymiles Card. Miles are not transferable outside of the airline alliance.
Points are earned through third party credit cards tied to banks, such as the Chase Sapphire card (our personal fave). Long story short, points essentially equate to cash, but, if you have picked a good card, can also be transferred to miles, giving you much more flexibility. Why does this matter? Sometimes flights can show vastly different fares depending on if you’re paying with cash or using miles. Last month, we went to LA and flights were showing $400 in cash, but only 12,000 miles. Pretty big difference. Sometimes, it can be the other way around and the price in miles is vastly more. Having points gives you the flexibility to redeem for the cheapest fare possible.
Okay, now that we have that out of the way. Two major tips here.
Never Leave Miles On The Table
For the most part, everyone has one or two airlines that they fly most frequently, often dependent on whichever airlines have hubs in their city. For us, that’s Alaska and Delta. Most people have frequent flyer numbers for their primary airlines, but not for any others. We randomly fly American or United once, maybe twice a year, but still always collect frequent flier miles for these trips and have been able to use the miles earned to redeem for free domestic flights, even though our travel with them is so infrequent.
Similarly, if you’re flying internationally on an airline that you don’t expect to use often, if ever, always check their alliance and find the domestic airline partner. Enter the frequent flier number for the domestic airline partner to earn miles on your flight. Lauren flew Asiana Airlines to Thailand last year and found that they were partners with United. She entered her United number and, because of the long length of the trip, earned enough miles from that flight alone to redeem for a domestic flight to Denver last month.
I deserve a vacation. I deserve I deserve.
— Kay (@KaylarWill) December 9, 2019
Lastly, many airlines offer partnerships to earn miles outside of actual flights taken or credit card spending. For example, Delta partners with Lyft to give you 1 air mile per dollar spent with Lyft and doubles the air miles if the Lyft is taken to or from an airport. There are countless similar offers out there and we recommend taking advantage of as many that make sense for you.
Know The Value Of An Air Mile
Just because you have air miles to use doesn’t always mean that it makes sense to use them. The Points Guy publishes a recap on current points and miles valuations each month. Let’s say he values 1 American Airlines mile at 2 cents. You should, typically, only use miles to book when the cost to redeem miles is less than the cash value of a trip. Doing some quick math, if you’re looking to book a trip that is quoted at $600, you should only use miles if the mile redemption is 30,000 miles or less.
Obviously, we are finance gurus first, and if the $600 is going to cause some financial strain and taking the trip is non-negotiable, we always support redeeming the miles even if it ends up slightly below value, to prevent spending the cash.
Don’t Be A Diva
In pretty much all other areas of life, we can be a little bit high-maintenance, but when it comes to traveling, this is one area that we are willing to sacrifice comfort. If taking big trips often and at a low price is something that you really want to do, you have to be willing to go as basic as possible.
For example, this new evolution where an airline can charge you $50 just to pick a seat? Who cares? It may seem cheap AF, but we have never once paid for this option. Honestly, a majority of the time, if you book on the same reservation as your travel partner, the airline will end up seating you together anyway and, in the few cases that doesn’t happen, you can try asking your seatmate to switch or the gate attendant to help reassign your seat. In the rare case that none of these things work, is it really that big of a deal to sit alone? We don’t think so.
Done looking at Instagram until everyone is back from Capri, Greece, Lake Como, Africa, Israel, and wherever else their parents are paying for them to vacation
— Ashley Fern (@disco_infern0) July 3, 2019
Along those same lines, we never pay to check a bag or pay for a meal. Some of the best international flight deals come if you elect to carry on only. Doing so can sometimes save $100 a ticket. We’ve taken three week vacations with just a carry on. If we can do it, so can you. When it comes to the meal, who really likes airline food anyway? We’d rather pack our own snacks than pay up to $50 up front for a dry chicken breast.
Lastly, you will be fine in economy. Seriously. We’ve taken 19-hour flights in a middle seat in the last row of the plane. We aren’t going to lie and say it was glamorous, but we can suck it up if it means saving hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of dollars on a flight. We’d rather use that money to upgrade our accommodations, cover a spa day, or just keep it in the bank. In some cases, there can be killer miles deals to be had by fluke for business or first class fares. In those cases, definitely go for it.
These aren’t hard and fast rules that we think everyone needs to follow, but just tips that we follow to be able to travel as frequently as we do and at such low costs. If you’d rather take just one trip a year luxuriously, then by all means, you do you and we want to see the pics!
Truly, helping people take the vacations of their dreams is one of our biggest passions in life, and these tips, while extensive, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our approach to affordable travel. More resources, along with complete travel itineraries, individual consultations and trip planning sessions, can be found on our website www.hellohenrys.com.
Images: Gerrie van der Walt / Unsplash; Google Flights (3); pant_leg, kaylarwill; disco_infern0 / Twitter