Everyone loves a trip. But if you aren’t obsessively watching flights and all you remember is that one time you tried to go to London back in 2004 and a coach ticket was $1800 roundtrip, you may think international travel is a money pit. So how I am able to fly to all these far-flung places without going completely broke?
There’s a whole philosophy I have about that which is very long winded but it has two parts: 1) Make travel a priority and 2) Find cheap flights.
Today I’m going to skip right to the good stuff — how to find cheap flights!
Let Me Introduce You To My Secret Weapon
To find ridiculous deals on flights, you need the right tool and you need to spend a little time every week or so using it. This will help you figure out the best way to use the tool, but more importantly it gets you used to seeing prices attached to cities. Once you get a few weeks of price shopping under your belt, you can contextualize the data in your mind and begin to figure out what’s a really good deal and what’s not a bargain.
It is flexible, so you can do all kinds of general searches, and it is extremely easy to use. Google also owns the ITA Matrix software (which I am guessing powers Google Flights) and I have been using that for years to find cheap flights. It’s reliable, but the user interface is kind of yucky and there’s no cool explore feature that plots fares on a map. Google Flights shows you a map view, and it’s interactive.
Pick your dates (or just an approximation) and you’ll get a bunch of results that combine a mini-map with some packages. Click on the map to see the exploration view in map format.
These prices are from Los Angeles! And I did this search just now, so it’s all up-to-date as of this posting.
What I love about this view is that you may see places here you’d never think about traveling to but all the sudden they are $400 and your bags are packed.
Be sure to go deeper than this level — click on each location and a panel slides out from the left. Here you will see options on your flights. The panel will show you the carrier, amount of stops, total travel time one way and prices. If you are in an airline loyalty program, this is very useful for selecting flights that accrue miles toward status. But it also shows total flight times, and you must ALWAYS check the total flight and layover times because you may not want to be sitting in Lisbon for 17 hours (or you might like that, who knows!)
Keep playing around with the site and you’ll see that once you select a flight, google will also offer you options on your itinerary if your dates are flexible. You can use their suggestions (“Travel a day earlier to get $60 off”) to whittle down your ticket cost.
Once you start to familiarize yourself with the prices from your city to your destination, you can either check frequently to see if prices have changed or set up alerts using their prompt at the bottom of the page. I tend to set flight alerts for trips way off in the future (6 months or more) because I’m not in a panic to lock in a good price right away.
Flying First Class, Up In The Sky, Sipping Champagne, Wondering Why…
You can also filter the tool to search flights just inside your loyalty program. For example, I only fly on One World because I use points and miles to upgrade. Or you can set it to search for Premium Economy, Business or First. If you want to fly in style and comfort overseas, always check the Business Class fares overseas before looking up First Class.
Most International Business Class is just as good as First, and in many cases the planes only have two classes of service so you are in Business-sold-as-First anyway. Business is usually half the price and you may find yourself in a first class seat if you have a connection. Just check before you book that the airline you’ve selected has amenities that are worth spending more. For example, I think it’s always worth it to upgrade on the major carriers for long-distance flights. I would not, however, spend the extra to upgrade on no-frills carriers like Aeroflot and Icelandair. Google it before you buy and you’ll see plenty of blogs and articles that describe the class of service so you can make an informed decision.
Many folks think Business Class is way outside the realm of possibility but I am here to tell you it is 100% possible. You may need to search more diligently and set up flight alerts left and right, but even just a two-minute search this morning surfaced several roundtrip business class fares from Los Angeles to European destinations in the $2K range:
I have regularly been able to get roundtrip business class flights on major airlines for under $900. That’s what a roundtrip ticket to Paris used to cost just a few years ago!
Some travelers want to go on more trips per year, so the cheap and easy coach class fares are the way to fly. But if you only do one major vacation a year, this tool can help you find a great cushy business-class lie flat seat to Europe for just a little more out of pocket.
Everyone has different travel styles, and I love that this tool accommodates almost everything. Many other search tools (Hipmunk, Kayak, Hopper) only offer economy tickets or make it difficult to find business class deals.
Keep searching and utilize the alerts feature to get the most out of price shopping. If you are flexible on your destination and flexible with your travel dates, you too can be checking out the Eiffel Tower before year’s end!
Earlier this week I found my coworker a flight to Dublin for $390 during the last week of October. Even I was amazed at that one. I spent at least three times that amount on a coach ticket to Dublin when I traveled there back in 2007 or 2008. And now with Airbnb everywhere in the world, you can stay in great locations for a fraction of the price of a hotel. I’m a big fan of apartment stays (once you are comfortable traveling) because it’s a great way to save money and you can stock up at the grocery store and make your own meals and snacks. It’s cheaper and it’s a great way to pretend you’re a local.
Travel to Europe has never been so affordable. Look at your credit card or debit statements from the past month and you may see you spent $390 on dinners out, drinks, movies, trips to Target and random visits to Michael’s. Oh but wait, that’s part one of my travel philosophy. Make travel a priority. If you want to see the world, now is the time. The world is on sale!