Travel Hacking: Flying The World For Less

It’s easily possible to fly all over the world on a budget, there are just certain things that you need to know. In today’s world there are thousands of competing sites and apps to book your travel on, and if you don’t know what you are doing you are really going to be eaten alive.

I’ve had the amazing opportunity to travel to many destinations around the world. Here are just a few places I’ve been:
Italy – Amalfi coast was beautiful and the Coffee in Rome was to die for. Pizza in Naples, yum!
Paris – So much history, one of the last people to put locks on the bridge before they stopped it and trying to speak French.
Mumbai, India – Incredible people and incredible culture.
Australia – Melbourne was such a modern and exciting city.
Hawaii – Kauai was breathtaking and not as touristy.
Bahamas – Some of the best water anywhere.
London – Cultural diversity. High tea!
Alaska – Denali was incredible! The whole state was beautiful, wildlife everywhere.

Based on my travel map of places I’ve been to, I still have many many more destinations to go to. Too many to list!

The best part about my travels is that I don’t have to spend hundreds of thousand of dollars to go there because I was clever about it. I’ve always been a connoisseur of travel hacks and figuring out ways to travel in style.

In this post we’re going to cover a lot of important concepts including:
Flights – Important factors that affect price
Advanced concepts – get an even better deal
Points Hacking – How to use credit card and airline points most effectively
Booking tools – What I use to gather intel and get amazing deals

Flights – Important factors that affect price

Seasonality – The season that you travel, usually broken down by specific weeks.
Week 45 for example, means the 45th week of the year. The particular season that you travel will have associated prices that will be different than other seasons. Holidays and summers are usually the most expensive, so if you can avoid those then you can sometimes save up to 20-50%.

Airline – This should be obvious, this is the airline you are traveling on. There are drastic differences between airlines. Prices are different, seats are different, level of service is different, and pretty much every aspect of your flying experience.

Day of departure – This is calculated as the number of days before your departure at the moment you book. This does affect the price in almost all cases. 41 days has been considered a sweet spot for a lot of long-haul flights to get the best price. 3 days prior is often the most expensive time to book.

Day of week – This is the specific day of the week that you fly. Depending on the flight you will find better deals on certain days. Usually this comes down to common sense. People go to Las Vegas for the weekends, so flights early or in the middle of the week tend to be cheaper. The day of the week plays a big factor in the ultimate price.

Time of day – This is the time of your flight. Usually flights that leave at commonly undesirable times are cheaper. On domestic travel, usually a red-eye (overnight flight with a date change) is cheaper than a 7-9am departure.

Class of ticket – Economy (Y), Premium Economy (W), Business Class (J), First Class (F), etc. This is referring to the type of seat you have. The letter codes can sometimes vary by airline.

Fare basis – This is something used mostly internally by the airlines. This determines rules surrounding your ticket, such as if it’s upgradable or refundable. There can also be other classifications for infants, children, etc that might have received a special rate. You can read more about all of these codes here.

Geographic Location – Your geographic location at the time of booking is calculated into most fares. If you book a flight from Los Angeles to New York from Los Angeles then it might be cheaper than if you book a flight from Los Angeles to New York from Australia, for example. Sometimes people have a friend book from another location or use what’s called a VPN to connect from a different geographic location. Often times even 1 city or town over can have a different price.

Cookies – Certain websites have been known to place cookies and manipulate prices based on the cookie. It is generally considered optimal to clear your cookies before looking at prices. Do this prior to each browsing session.

Advanced concepts – get an even better deal!

Hidden city flights – These are highly discouraged by airlines, yet I thought I would point them out. Essentially a hidden city flight is a method of intentionally booking a flight with a stop over and then getting off the plane in the stop over city and not continuing the remainder of the flight. Generally people book 2 separate hidden city flights because the airlines will often cancel your return ticket if you do it all on one itinerary. This means that you have to book the outgoing and return flights separately or with different airlines.

Secondary cities – This is a method of getting a better deal by leaving or arriving in a secondary city nearby. This can work great at times and other times not so much. For example, instead of leaving from Boston you could leave from Rhode Island instead and going to REWORD certain destinations in Europe might give you a better deal. It’s just a short <2 hours drive and you might save in some cases hundreds of dollars. This also works for the destination cities. You can book nearby to a different smaller airport and then drive or take a train to your final destination.

Budget airlines – Often times budget airlines are not setup on the big sites like Expedia. You have to do some digging and google around a bit to find out what the budget airlines are for your route. There are tons of them.

Last minute upgrades – It never hurts to ask for an upgrade. Often times if there are first class or business class seats open then they will offer them at a discount. It’s less likely for long-haul international flights and more likely for domestic, though. Some airlines also offer you upgrades when you check in online, so always make sure to check in online as soon as you can to see if there are upgrades available. Then if that doesn’t work you can ask at the counter at the airport.

Last minute flights – If you google “last minute flights” almost all of the main booking companies have special sections for deals on last minute flights. If you are brave enough to book at the last minute you can sometimes get incredible deals on left over inventory that otherwise would have been empty seats.

Points Hacking – How to use credit card and airline points most effectively

Credit card points – The concept is simple here, you pay bills on your credit card that gives you the most points. You then use those points to book travel. I personally use an American Express Platinum because I also get a 20-30% rebate on my purchases using points. That means if I book a flight that would have been $1000 in points, I get back $300 and save that money in points. I get 1 point per $1 spent, except when they offer deals such as spending a certain amount at a certain place where I might get 3x points for that purchase.

Point transfer bonuses – Another method to get more from your points is to look for point transfer bonuses. All of the airlines offer these special promos, you just have to be on the lookout for them. You can check around on various online points forums, and sign up for the email lists of the airlines. I’ve seen up to 50% transfer bonuses. That means 50% of your trip could be free just for transferring your points around. This applies to credit card to airline transfers and airline to airline transfers.

Airline points programs – Always sign up for the airline points programs and make sure to get your points for the flight. In many cases they collaborate with each other in various alliances such as One World. You can use your points for whatever airline you want under the particular alliance. Look for special deals and transfer bonuses as well. I used to not take this seriously and missed out on probably several around the world tickets at this point by not claiming my points.

Booking tools – What I use to gather intel and get amazing deals

Seat Guru – This will show you information about particular numbered seats on a flight. You can get information like leg room, pitch of seat, seat type. Often times it will rank seats and show you which seats are the best in terms of leg room, noise levels, etc. Often times people forget that certain factors like being next to a lavatory on a long-haul flight can be worse than a little extra leg room.

Google Flights – Super easy and clean interface. They have an overview map that will allow you to see nearby flights in the map view. This allows you to find a destination in your price range in case where you originally wanted to go is outside of your budget. Often times there are many airports pretty close to where you want to go, that you may not have otherwise considered (secondary cities). You might be able to find a flight way cheaper to an airport only a couple hours away and then take a car or train to your desired destination.

Momondo – Lots of intelligence about international flights. One of the most intelligent tools I’ve seen out there, that is also extremely accurate and tends to have great deals.

Cheapoair – Just as it sounds. They have cheap flights and some budget airlines. You can sometimes find cheap budget flights on here that don’t otherwise show up on the other big booking sites like Expedia. Sometimes they can be a little cheaper on the non budget flights too.

FoundersCard – There are a number of ways to get discounts, but most of them revolve around booking in large groups. If you don’t have a large group or corporate account to book with then there are a lot of programs out there that give you access to similar discounts for a fee. For example, I’m a member of FoundersCard. This gives me 5-20% off most flights on most airlines, amongst other benefits. That’s off of the full fare ticket, so it doesn’t always work out to be a better deal – though I’ve gotten some great buys using this. Another benefit of something like FoundersCard is that you can get upgraded status on the airlines. Upgraded status gives you more points faster and access to upgrades when available. The yearly fee pays itself back very quickly. – For domestic U.S. travel I tend to find that they have pretty comparable prices to anyone else out there. Also some great deals on International travel occassionally.

Other tips and tricks

Flight insurance – Make sure to read the fine print very carefully. Often times the “insurance” only protects you from doctor approved illnesses or death in the immediate family, and doesn’t cover you if you have to cancel for any other reason. There are some good travel insurances out there but you really do get what you pay for here.

Middle seat trick – If you are traveling economy and the flight configuration is a row 3 then you can leave the middle seat empty. Often times people don’t want to sit in the middle and if the flight doesn’t fill up you might just get an entire row to yourselves. And if someone does show up they are usually happy to take the aisle or window instead and you can sit next to the person you’re flying with by just asking them to switch.

As you can probably see by now it is possible to fly the world without breaking the bank, it’s just a matter of being clever about it. Use these various hacks, tips and tricks to get the best deals. The real savings are in the details. Gather as much intelligence as possible about your particular flight or route before booking.

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