(How to Travel Part 2 Here)
Enough about credit cards, let’s talk Travel. Traveling is one of my hobbies, and I think judging by what I read on OkCupid, everyone else like it too. But as a Bargain Hunta, I do it for cheaper than everyone else while remaining as comfortable as I can afford. You might wonder, “Gee, who does this guy think he is? Some sorta Travel Guru?” Well, yes, I am a little bit of that. Take a look at the bottom of this post for my past scores. Now, enough gloating, let’s jump into it.
Step 0 – Passport & Visa:
This goes without saying, but your passport is like wings, and you can’t fly without wings. Get one asap, preferably American. Not a citizen? Marry someone.
Once you have a passport, write down a list of countries you wanna hit up. Then check that list against this. (Or this if you are Chinese) Hopefully you don’t want to go to any countries with a Visa requirement, but if you do, better figure out how to get that visa. (Hint: Go to their embassy’s website)
PS: If you want to go to Vietnam, don’t go to the consulate in the US which charges you ridiculous fees($100 or so), instead use this Visa service that I used. (I’ll write more about my Vietnam trip in a future post, so hang tight)
Step 1- Step up flight deal alerts:
Theflightdeal.com is my favorite website, hands down. It posts flight deals departing from the cities of NYC, SF, LA, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Philly,Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, and DC. Its sister site, Faredealalert.com, posts deals for Atlanta, Charlotte, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Kansas, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Orlando, San Diego. But checking those websites every 30 minutes is gonna kill your productivity, and their email newsletters always arrive late. So the best way to keep an eye on it is to set up real time alerts on your phone. Check out the tutorial by MileWriter here. For me, I have an alert set for all deals leaving from NYC to trigger a notification on my iphone, and also another alert for all deals with the word Las Vegas in it, so I can repost deals for our Class Reunion in July.
The thing with good flight deals like the ones near the bottom of the post is that they are usually mistake fares, aka someone screwed up and the booking engine allowed you to buy super cheap tickets. Usually they only last 30 minutes from the time of alert til the time they fix it, so you better act fast. Sometimes I find it helpful to book the ticket for yourself first so that if your friends don’t jump on board quickly enough, you can still solo travel.
PS: There’s also http://www.secretflying.com/
Step 2 – Google Flights, ITA Matrix, Skyscanner
In the scenario where I have to travel on certain dates and can’t rely on flight deals popping up, I rely on these three sites:
- Google Flights is my bread and butter. It aggregates the results from most booking sites so you usually see the cheapest one listed. It also has a handy Explore feature that gives you a visual representation of when tickets are the cheapest.
- ITA Matrix is Google Flight’s unfriendly cousin. It has a slight learning curve, especially with its advanced codes. But once you learn it, it’ll be the Nutella to your bread and butter. A good example of something ITA can do that Google Flights can’t is to “Look up the cheapest price for a flight leaving in the month of January, with a return flight 7-14 days after departure, via American Airlines on the outbound, and United Airlines on the inbound, passing by Tokyo.”
- Skyscanner catches the smaller airlines that are often ignored by Google flights. Just know that the search results are not 100% up to date so if you see it, don’t assume it’s available until you actually click on it and see the checkout page.
There are other websites like hipmunk and kayak but I don’t really give a shit since they failed to find me the cheapest flights.
Step 3- Check the luggage policy
Once you find a cheap flight, don’t jump the gun yet. Check the luggage policy for both checked and carry on, as some airlines like Spirit charges you an arm and another arm for bringing luggage. Dishonorable mention: Air Canada, for only letting me bring 1 checked luggage from NY to Paris, and ended up charging me $100 extra each way. Merde.
Step 4-Check your airline allegiance
Do you have an airline credit card? Do you get extra benefits for flying that airline? Is it worth it paying x Extra over the current cheapest option? That’s for you to decide. Just know that as long as you are flying on an airline in the same alliance as your favorite airline, you can still earn miles. For example, if my favorite airline is American Airlines, and I’m flying Cathay Pacific, I can still earn American Airlines miles on that flight because they are in the same Alliance.
Step 5- See if you have enough miles for this trip
If you have enough airline miles, it might make more sense to use that instead of paying cash for tickets. I have an easy rule to follow: If a round trip ticket cost 50,000 miles, that’s close to worth $500. If my cash tickets cost more than $500, I should redeem the miles. If my cash tickets were less than $500, I should buy the cash tickets and save my miles for a future trip. Of course this is a very general rule, and miles are valued differently, so take that with a grain of salt.
Step 6-Try to avoid arriving at your final destination too late in the day
Cheap tickets are all well and dandy, but some of them are cheap for a reason. Arriving at your city of choice between 8PM and 8AM is quite awkward. Most hotels don’t let you check in until after noon, so arriving early in the morning after a long flight is brutal. Arriving after 8PM on the other hand wastes a full night’s hotel stay, unless you need the time to adjust your sleep schedule.
Appendix: Behold! My past bargains:
1.NYC-Milan, Round Trip in 2014, $324:
2.NYC-Bangkok, Roundtrip in early 2015, $296:
3.NYC-Hong Kong, Roundtrip in late 2015, $290:
4.NYC-Kuala Lumpur, Roundtrip in 2016, $389:
That’s not counting my 70k point redemption bouncing around 4 countries in Southeast Asia last year. Being a Bargain Hunta is a nice life style once you get good at it.