If there is one commandment of value travel, it is: Thou Shalt Always be Flexible. Flexibility is the travel superpower that unlocks pretty much every travel deal.
Flexibility with your destination.
Flexibility starts with your destination. I grew up in Atlanta listening to money and travel expert Clark Howard on the radio. Thanks to Clark, I booked my first bargain flight in 1998: Atlanta to Munich for $298 RT.
Clark’s number one rule is to book a deal when you see it—and then figure out why you want to go there. As Clark says, let the deal drive the trip. If you find a cheap flight to Lisbon, book it. Then start researching and planning.
Found a cheap fare to Tallinn? Start reading about the wonders of Estonia (I haven’t been, but it’s on my list!) Eventually, when you are flexible, you will be able to travel the world for cheap.
Don’t be wedded to an airline or route.
If you want to snag a flight deal, don’t be a brand hussy. And don’t insist on direct flights. By being open to flying on various airlines–and and not just your favorite–you increase the odds of finding a deal.
Though you can sometimes find deals on direct flights, you should expect to connect in another city. Direct flights often command a premium because there are a limited number of them (and airlines servicing them) from any one destination.
Flexibility pays off.
How about a real-life example of flexibility as the travel superpower? Using google flights, I recently found a flight from Atlanta to Rome, on April 1, 2021, returning April 12, for $530 RT on American and American/British Airways (connecting in Dallas-Ft. Worth or Philadelphia). Pretty good! Flying United or Lufthansa (connecting in Newark or Frankfurt) cost more, at $658.
How much did it cost to fly nonstop from Atlanta to Rome on Delta/Air France/KLM/Alitalia? A whopping $1,045 because Delta operates the sole nonstop flight! So if you needed to fly to Rome on these dates, by being a little bit flexible, you would save $515 (Though by being flexible on the destination and date, you might be able to snag a better deal).
Multiply $515 by the number in your family or traveling party… that’s real savings. Flexibility is the superpower!
I usually look for the shortest possible connection. Spending an hour or two in a connecting airport is not a big deal. It gives you a chance to use a real bathroom and grab a meal. But, on occasion, you will find an irresistible value with a long connection. My advice, if you find a knockout deal with a long layover, is to try to make it work.
A 9 hour layover?
A few years ago, we decided to have a mini family reunion in Hawaii. Only after we agreed did I realize that fares from Atlanta to Kauai topped $1,000 in the summer! Ouch.
Nine months before our trip, I snagged an amazing value: $530 RT from Atlanta to Kauai—a discount of $500 (times four)! Even though the trip had a nine-hour layover in LA, I jumped at the chance to save $2,000. Who wouldn’t?
After booking, I found dayuse.com, a website booking hotel rooms—reputable hotel rooms—during the day. After a five-hour flight to LA, we were able to sleep and recharge in a Hampton Inn & Suites near LAX for only $79. It was the best $80 I ever spent. Instead of arriving in Hawaii jetlagged after 12 hours in the air, we broke the trip into two segments and arrived refreshed.
So, if you find a great deal, book it, and then find a way to make it work. That’s flexibility.
Gateway to the world….
Another way to be flexible (and wealthier) is to use your flight destination as a gateway.
For example, if you find a $400 flight to Paris, consider booking it, even if you don’t want to travel to Paris. You can often find affordable flights (or trains) to other cities. It may be cheaper to use Paris (or some other city) as a springboard elsewhere. You can always spend a couple days in your gateway city at the end or beginning of your trip.
The key to the “gateway” approach is to do your research—and the math—before you book the first flight. Make sure the cost of the “gateway” fare plus the shorter flight is less than the fare to fly directly to your destination. So, if you can fly to Paris and then to Prague (or wherever) at a total cost of $600, make sure that’s less than the cost to buy a ticket to Prague. Be guided by the math!
Don’t start from home.
Consider being flexible on your origin. Instead of reflexively looking to your hometown airport, you might depart from another airport within a two or three-hour drive. Market forces affect airports differently.
Even if you live near a large, international airport, you might find a better deal from a smaller airport nearby. For instance, although Atlanta’s airport has direct flights to dozens of international destinations, you can often find cheaper fares from Chattanooga, Tennessee, or Birmingham, Alabama (a 90 minute and two and a half-hour drive, respectively).
Do the research. If you find a cheaper deal from another city, you can decide if it’s worth the time and hassle.
Speaking of timing….
Being flexible on when you travel may be the greatest superpower of all. Summer is high season in Europe and elsewhere in the Northern hemisphere. So you will likely pay top dollar in June through August.
But if you are willing to travel outside that window, you can save big. Amazing deals can be found in the fall and spring (the earlier in spring, the better). Cities across Europe and elsewhere are less crowded and cooler then, and you can save bundles.
You may be thinking, “Matt, I have school-aged kids.” I get it. So do I. But even with school schedules, there are ways to be flexible.
If your school has a fall break separate from Thanksgiving—sadly, ours does not—check out prices then. Spring break—usually early April for us—is our go-to week for travel. Don’t tell child social services, but several times, we have taken our kids out of school Thursday afternoon to get a head start on spring break. They only miss a day and a half of class immediately before spring break—notoriously unproductive classroom time, anyway.
Departing the States on Thursday afternoon and returning the following Sunday means a nine-night, 10-day trip. I would prefer to take off two full weeks (or longer), but a week and a half is the most vacation I can take at once. An American reality….
Flexibility has been our superpower. Over spring break, we have flown from Atlanta to Rome ($625 RT per adult, $610 per child – direct) and Paris (via Frankfurt) ($475 RT). Finding these deals allowed our family to afford trips to Europe. Later, we’ll explore how to find deals like this–or better. But know that being flexible is 80% of the game. Flexibility is the travel superpower.
- Flexibility is the travel superpower. Be flexible on your destination. Find a deal and book it! Eventually, you’ll see the world….
- Be flexible on airline and connections. Direct flights are pricey.
- If you find an awesome deal, grab it… and make it work.
- Consider alternate origin airports. A couple hour drive can save big bucks.
- Be as flexible as possible with timing. Avoid summer and target fall or spring. Families with children should focus on spring break or fall break.