People make a lot of excuses why they don’t travel internationally, but no excuse seems to carry more psychological weight or is as just plain wrong as the notion that flying overseas is incredibly expensive. But that notion is simply false. With the right mindset and a handful of tips you can grab flights to foreign countries, even flights to foreign countries located far, far away at huge savings.
Tip 1: Stop Reading About Budget Travel
With a few notable exceptions (including this article) most of the inked spilled on budget travel revolves around ways you can fly to Paris for two days or how you can get half-off cruises to Costa Rica and overly regimented 7-day tours through mainland China. In other words, most of the writing out there dealing with budget travelling focuses on how to take binge trips. Yet, binge trips are not the sort of travel experiences you should aim for.
Also, beware that too much information, even too much good information, can confuse you and that encourages inaction. Using a few tips that work really well will deliver much greater rewards, including greater psychological rewards, than trying to perfect the process with endless study.
Tip 2: Money Isn’t Everything
Which represents the bigger win: 1) Taking 30 minutes to find a $600 round trip flight from JFK to Heathrow, or, 2) Spending 30 hours to find an equivalent overseas ticket? If you responded with the 30-minute ticket you understand an important element in overseas travel- the value of your airfare is more important than the raw dollars and cents you pay for it.
Money is an element of value, but it’s only one brick in a much larger wall. You need to consider the time, the mental exertion, and the emotional expense that goes into the process. This means paying a little more and saving yourself 29.5 hours is a much better deal than getting the absolute lowest price possible.
Tip 3: Pay Extra for Convenience and Reliability
As a quick upshot to the topic of value, it’s important you don’t search for the cheapest ticket you can find, but search for the best combination of convenience and cost. Trust me- it’s worth plunking down a little extra cash for a one-way ticket to London than saving some scratch and tackling four layovers and 10 hours to your trip.
Reliability, knowing you’re going to be able to make it out of the country when you want to, is also crucial to successful world travel. Can you sometimes grab an ultra-cheap last minute ticket to Brazil by simply making calls to airlines the day you want to leave? Sure you can. But you might also end up paying way more than you would if you bought a discount ticket a few weeks in advance. If the deal you find today is “good enough” then purchase it and stop dreaming about the White Whales of discount travel.
Tip 4: Accumulating Travel-Related Awards Points Requires Commitment
Reward points are awesome and can really help make your goal of circumnavigating the globe affordable. But accumulating enough rewards points to grab a trip out of the country requires a level of commitment most would-be world travellers don’t think about when they sign up for a new Amex card.
In one program I used a round-trip ticket to Japan that costs about 60,000 points. For most of us, putting $60,000 on a credit card doesn’t represent a fast or low-cost way to finally explore the future-shock of Tokyo.
The rules of gaming the rewards points market to transform world travel into a guilt-free after-thought are complex and deserve their own article. For now just know rewards points do NOT represent an effort-free pass to grid skipping.
Tip 5: Nothing Will Save You More Money Than a Flexible Schedule
Airlines are constantly selling ultra-low priced tickets to exotic destination, they just don’t heavily advertise these steals.
When searching through travel price comparison websites it’s extremely common to find a ticket for $500 sandwiched between two nearly identical tickets going for $1,500. The difference between a $500 ticket and a $1,500 ticket is usually the difference between leaving on a Tuesday instead of leaving on a Monday or leaving at the end of one month instead of departing at the beginning of the next.
There are certain generally true rules you can keep in mind when picking your arrival and departure dates, but the rule which seems to express itself with the most iron-clad regularity is the fact it’s cheaper to fly out on a Tuesday, a Wednesday or a Thursday than it is to travel from Friday to Monday.
The more flexible your travel schedule the greater the chance you can snag a great deal, but if you have to set down solid travel dates plunk them down in the middle of the week, and as a general rule always try to start looking for tickets at least a few weeks before your proposed departure date.
Tip 6: Use Kayak and Orbitz
Using Kayak and Orbitz offers the most reliable method for finding inexpensive international airfare. In case you don’t know, these two websites search through hundreds of airline and airfare websites to find the cheapest tickets currently on sale for your dates and destinations. There are quite a few fare comparison websites around these days but you only really need to look through Orbitz and Kayak to consistently grab the best deals. I start out with Kayak and only use Orbitz to double check my results, but Orbitz used to be my favorite fare comparison website.
Why do I now favor Kayak? Is it because Kayak launched a huge and entertaining marketing initiative last year? Am I just easily swayed by advertising? Not at all. I prefer Kayak these days because Kayak’s “Flexible Dates” option lets you search for the cheapest airfare within a massive 30-day period. That’s right, on Kayak you can tell the site you want to fly from LaGuardia to Morocco sometime between May 5th and June 5th and the site will give you a breakdown of the cheapest flights available on every single one of those days, all put into a convenient little calendar. Orbitz, by contrast, only lets you search within a 3-day fare window.
Tip 7: Pick an International Hub First
As a final note it’s almost always cheaper to fly to a highly-trafficked international city first and then to fly to your final destination from there. It’s cheaper to fly to Bangkok first then take a regional flight to Laos or Cambodia. It costs a whole lot less to purchase a ticket to Heathrow and then take EasyJet flight to Paris than it costs to fly directly to Paris. If you book far enough in advance (usually just a few weeks, sometimes a month or two) you can get these sorts of short flights on regional airlines for minuscule amounts.
Finding international hubs isn’t difficult. Often to find the right international hub you just need to use common sense and assume London is a higher-traffic hub than Glasgow, that Hong Kong sees more daily flights than Bali.
Take a little time to explore your options as obvious international hub doesn’t always offer the cheapest option (ie: flying from New York City to Berlin can be cheaper than New York City to London). So, do a little research you will come up with a good value fairly quickly.