A simple introductory guide for beginners
Travel Hacking for Beginners
So you want to travel the world, cheaply, in a way that you can see amazing new places while not restricting your day to day diet to just instant ramen. First thing's first, watch the video above. This will give you a brief introduction to everything that we are going to cover in this blog post.
Traveling cheap can be easy, but it isn't necessarily simple, it can take a little bit a work and a lot of dedication. You need to know the ins and outs of how airlines work and function. For the purpose of this article, we will be covering the basics. However, you will find that just this introduction of new information will revolutionize the way you search for and purchase flights! Get excited, because if you're someone who loves to travel as much as I do, this is all REALLY GOOD NEWS!
There are 3 main things to consider when looking to find cheap flights.
search-engines are your new best friends...
Google Flights Search
By far, the most helpful search engine there is for finding flights is the infamous google.com/flights. Everyone knows (or should know) about this extremely beneficial flight search. Google Flights not only searches an enormous database full of different flight-plans, routes, and airlines, but it allows you the greatest flexibility when figuring out where to go and what's cheapest.
Starting Broad -
- Say you open up this magical website and you're looking for a flight from New York City. You don't even need to put in a destination, and the website already starts listing your cheapest options for a weekend, week, or 2 week trip! (Note that this is in Google Flight's EXPLORE tab)
- Additionally, it searches available destinations and flight routes over the next 6 months, making your possibilities nearly endless. You can choose a specific month that you plan to travel, or leave it up to Google to give you your cheapest options!
- Once you get an idea of what's available, it's time to get more specific.
Narrowing Your Search -
- Let's imagine that you want to take a trip to Europe sometime within the next 6 months. Google Flight's allows you to type in entire regions or continents for your search option.
- Then, Google simply lists the most popular and cheapest destinations as a list. Here are a few options available today from NYC!
- If you have more specific dates in mind, you can easily change this on the search and Google will adjust your great deals accordingly.
Non-Flexible Destination / but Flexible Dates -
- If you have a non-flexible destination but have a little wiggle room on your flight dates, then that's when things get really interesting.
- Many flight search websites try to populate a calendar with available prices (or at least partially fill with a little info), but Google Flights FULLY DISPLAYS all of the cheapest rates for the next 6 months in it's calendar view option.
- This way, you can see exactly how much your total flight cost will be
when selecting a specific outbound and inbound flight. MAGIC!!!
Bringing It Back Home -
There are a ton of alternative options and tools with the Google Flights website. Just play around with it for a little while and you'll quickly see just how intuitive and helpful this search engine can be.
I can limit the search options by the airline company, the class I want to fly, the take-off times for the outbound and return flights, and how many stops I want in my itinerary. The customizations are nearly endless, increasing your chances of finding your cheapest possible flight option.
You'll see that if you use google flights on your laptop or desktop computer vs. your phone, that the display is quite different. While the phone focuses more on list-based results, desktops give you a more interactive world-map search result. You can literally zoom in and out of the map and see the cheapest airport prices populate based off of your listed departure airport.
Kayak, Skyscanner & Student Universe
Google Flights is not your end-all-be-all website. It will give you some of the best options out there, but it is possible that it may be missing something! I always double check all of my results through cross-checking my favorite websites, Kayak & Skyscanner. They have slightly different methods of displaying results, and you may find a better result through just a quick search.
Skyscanner - I love the search everywhere option on Skyscanner. The search even allows you to select your departure dates and return dates on "cheapest month" - basically the broadest search you could possibly imagine ever. It's like telling the internet, "hey... I'm willing to go anywhere in the world, but I only want to pay the cheapest possible price, so where can I go for like nothing???" Skyscanner will populate all kinds of results for you. Some of them great, and some of them you'll find to be kind of inaccurate once you keep clicking. It's a shot in the dark, but totally worth checking!
Kayak - Kayak is a very straight-forward search option. I have found a great number of my favorite deals through this website. The (+/- 3 day) flexible dates option has been perfect when I have some dates in mind that I need to travel. Using this in conjunction with Google Flights does wonders.
Student Universe - If you are a student, it's possible that the flight you are looking for may be eligible for a discount through Student Universe! Sometimes the flights I have found here have given me hundreds of dollars off, other times they seem to be more expensive on the website. Student Universe does list some of its best deals on the homepage though, and it is definitely worth checking out if you're a student!
The rewards just keep building...
Award Travel On Credit Cards
I never thought of myself as someone who would ever get a credit card, but alas, here I am! Everything we have discussed up until this point shows you how much the flights will cost at face-value. That is the straight up out-of-pocket expense you would face if you payed cash for your flights. However, applying for a credit card and joining one of the many programs out there may bring thousands of award miles under your belt, redeemable for cheaper or free flights.
These are my TOP recommendations for travel cards. There are tons of options available. I have found The Points Guy to be extremely helpful in covering some alternative options (though his articles agree the following to be among the very best)!
Chase Sapphire Reserve
In regards to traveling, I have not found a card to be both as accessible and as beneficial as this.
- 50,000 Point Signup Bonus (must spend $4k in first 3 months)
- $300 Annual Travel Credit
- 3x Points on Travel & Dining
- Points are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel
- FREE application to TSA PreCheck & Global Entry
- FREE Access to the Priority Pass
This credit card costs $450 out of the gate, but with the $300 travel credit, this limits your investment to $150 a year (as long as you spend at least $300 a year on travel).
Applying for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck without the Chase Sapphire Reserve costs $100. The Priority Pass membership is listed anywhere from $99 a year to $399 (the latter with unlimited access to airport lounges). However, with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Priority Pass Select membership with unlimited lounge access is completely free, and at most lounges, your guests are free as well. These benefits add up to hundreds and hundreds of saved dollars for the frequent traveler. Every time that my fiancé Michael and I fly together, we eat for free in one of the many domestic or international airport lounges. We save far more than $150 a year by this benefit alone, and knowing about all the other perks with this card makes it that much sweeter!
If you'd like to give this a try, sign up with my referral code! Earn 50,000 bonus points with Chase Sapphire Reserve, I will be rewarded too if you apply HERE and are approved for the card.
How Far Do The Points Go?
The greatest part about this card are not the perks, it's the buying power.
You earn 3 points on every dollar spent with CSR. Now when you redeem those points for travel, your points are worth 50% more. So in conclusion, every dollar spent on travel or dining equals 4.5 points in buying power.
For example, if you spend $4000 on flights and dining with your CSR card, you automatically earn 12,000 points. When you go to redeem those points through the CSR search, the actual value of those 12,000 points equates to 18,000. Other credit card companies hold the value constant for your earned points, but Chase increases the value by 50% when redeemed for travel. So instead of just getting $120 off your flight, you're getting $180.
Sometimes, depending on the fare-class and the airline, the flight you purchased with your CSR points may accrue points BACK with a frequent-flyer-program of the selected airline. Michael and I are both members of Delta's Skymiles Program and when we redeem our CSR miles for some Delta flights, we earn thousands of miles back onto our Delta account. We can then use those miles from our Delta account to purchase more free flights. Boom, travel hacking!
Chase Sapphire Preferred
If you do not qualify, or are not quite ready to make the jump into Chase Sapphire Reserve, there is a still a great second option. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card may not have all of awesome perks the CSR brings, but it does have the same point benefits. If you ever decide to upgrade to the CSR, you can transfer your points at a 1:1 ration from Preferred to Reserve!
The first year with CSP is free, and after that it is a $95 annual fee! It's a great option to build credit, and earn points before stepping up to the big leagues!
Platinum Delta Skymiles
The best combination we have found when pairing credit cards are the Chase Sapphire Reserve with the Platinum Delta Skymiles.
- 5,000 Medallian Qualifying Miles (MQMs)
- 35,000 Bonus Miles (70,000 with my referral code until 1/31!!)
- $100 Statement Credit
- 1 Free Bag on all domestic flights
- Companion Fare at 1 year renewal
If you fly a particular airline most frequently, it may be wise to invest in their credit card to gather the benefits of being a one of their card-holding frequent flyers. Especially when it brings you closer to achieving status! Now that I have been a Platinum Delta Skymiles card holder for over a year, I have a companion fare in my back pocket (A completely free flight + tax, for anyone who flies with me to any US Delta destination). That will save me hundreds of dollars this year alone. Michael and I both have been able to achieve Silver Medallion status with Delta by using the card this year. Now, on all of our Delta and SkyTeam Partner flights, we are automatically eligible for complimentary upgrades to Delta Comfort+ & First Class. Additionally, being able to check luggage on all Delta domestic flights without a fee is a huge perk!
Dedication / Flexibility
be willing to step into the unknown...
This blog consists of tips and tricks in finding cheap flights and making them cheaper by gaming the points system. However, none of this matters if there isn't dedication and flexibility.
The biggest key in finding cheap flights online is repeatedly checking. If you are dedicated to go somewhere special, check every single day.
It does not take long to enter a quick flight search over a span of dates on Google, Kayak or Skyscanner. Additionally, each of these search sites allows you to opt in for Price Alerts. These are indispensable, especially if you have non-flexible dates! Don't just rely on this automated alert system though, sometimes they come late, or miss the opportunity all together. That's why you should manually check yourself day by day, and you'll be the first to hop onto a good deal! Be sure to clear your browser history or open a window incognito in order to avoid your pesky cookies tipping off travel sites that you're desperate to find a flight. Many travel sites are programed to adjust prices depending on the frequency of people checking.
The bottom line - the more flexible you are with your dates and destinations, the better chance you have of finding the best deal. If you're going to Europe and want to make it to Athens, consider flying into Stockholm or Amsterdam or Frankfurt. Spend a few days in one of these other awesome cities that may have a much cheaper price listed, then continue your journey on a budget airline for that last short leg of the trip. You'll see more incredible places and save some money along the way.
Thanks for reading along this simple beginner's guide to travel hacking. With these simple pieces of information, you're bound to find cheaper flights from here on out! Make sure to subscribe for more travel tips and hints, and follow me on my social media listed below!