Let me start by saying, if you came here for an easy-button, quick-fix solution to your costly travel woes, you might as well stop reading here. Successful and cost-effective travel requires sufficient preparation and proactive planning; There are a myriad of factors that must all come together and fall into place at just the right time, but you have to be willing to put in both the time and effort to make it happen.
Over the years, I’ve traveled near and far; From the American Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic Coast—to Puerto Rico and over 20 European cities. I am incredibly thankful and blessed to have had the means to travel; Traveling has had a significant impact on my life and, as a result, I’m a huge advocate for it.
Though I’ve learned many lessons throughout my travel experiences (usually the hard way), I want to walk you through my latest travel success: booking a one-way trip from the Midwest to Europe for about $340…TOTAL! My hope is that this article will inspire those who have been dreaming of international travel, but struggling to justify the cost, to finally take the leap without having to break the bank.
❖ Where To Begin ❖
In January of 2019, my boyfriend, Jake, and I applied to teach English in Spain for the duration of a Spanish school year (October 1, 2019-May 31, 2020). Although our circumstances were a bit unique, due to our reliance on the structure of the application process, we began to plan as best as we could with what little information we did have—a timeline.
Once we applied, we had about eight months to plan and book the trip of a lifetime (however we had known about this trip for over a year). You can never—and I cannot stress this enough—ever give yourself too much time to plan an international trip. In order to strategically plan a cost-effective trip, begin coordinating core trip logistics i.e. who, where, when, etc. anywhere from 9-12 months in advance.
We knew that we would need to arrive in Spain about two weeks prior to the October 1st start date. Selecting an exact date this early, however, would only hinder us later on in the process. Not everyone has the luxury to be flexible with their travel dates, but if you can, it can end up saving you money!
❖ The Key to Our Success ❖
Once we knew the general logistics of our trip, it was time to put our resources to good use—earning flight points through an airline credit card. We already were using credit cards for things like groceries, gas, date nights, etc. so we figured why shouldn’t we be earning points to lessen the blow of our flight expenses? (I will explain how this comes into play later.)
Jake and I prefer flying Southwest and they frequently run promotions that include incentives for signing up for their Rapid Rewards Card (i.e. spend $1K in 3 months and receive 40,000 pts.) that make it worthwhile.
❖ Time to Start Booking ❖
Okay, this is where it gets interesting and takes a bit of finessing. There are two major factors in play going into booking an international flight: location and timing.
For domestic travel, finding the cheapest flight from where you live to where you’re going typically entails comparing airlines and dates. For international travel, you have to think bigger. The goal is finding the cheapest flight from your country to theirs, and that might not be from your local airport.
When traveling East to Europe, we did our research and found that major cities along the East coast are where you’re most likely to find the most cost-effective flights (they’re closest, makes sense). So—knowing the hop across the pond would be the most expensive leg of the trip, we began our flight search from New York City to Madrid, the Spanish capital, and worked backwards from there.
Once we had determined the WHERE, we were ready to begin flight tracking to find the most opportune moment to pull the trigger on buying an international flight—and timing and patience were everything.
Online travel resources, such as AirHelp, recommended booking flights between three and five months in advance for international travel. So, in aiming for a mid-September arrival in Spain, we began our search and comparison of airlines and dates on Google Flights in April. Not being limited to certain days of the week helped, because we found a Norwegian Air flight on a Sunday for an AWESOME price.
However, we wanted to wait and see if time would sweeten the deal even more. Google Flights’ “Track Prices” feature allowed us to receive email updates when the price of the flight changed. Once it dropped, we made moves. Flight tracking is always a gamble, because you never know whether or not the price will continue to fluctuate, but being patient ultimately saved us $50 each.
Book international leg of the flight for $670 ($335 each!): CHECK.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST…
Now this is where the Southwest credit card comes in. Once we booked our flight out of New York City to Madrid, we wanted to wait until domestic flight prices were at an all-time-low, which is around three months before departure, according to AirHelp. We also needed to wait until we had both accrued enough points to purchase FREE FLIGHTS from our local airport in Kansas City to New York City. This made all the difference in the world.
Book domestic leg of the flight for $11.20 (Southwest charges $5.60 as a security fee for each flight you buy with points): DOUBLE CHECK.
Next stop: Spain.
It has been so exciting for us, getting to see everything come together for our next big adventure together; I hope to continue sharing bits and pieces of it along the way, here on LaoL.
I’m new to blogging for other people to read (so bear with me) but I hope sharing my experience was helpful and offered some new insight on how to book international flights strategically so that you have more money to spend on your trip! Please comment and let me know your thoughts or feel free to reach out to me on Instagram // @sarahhknowles!
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