How would you react if I told you in a 10-day span of time, I spent less than $600 on flights from the US to Slovenia, boarded said flights, stopped in England for fish and chips, drove around Slovenia, and flew home to tell the tale?
You’d probably think I was a pathological liar.
But, in the week in between changing corporate jobs, I had received my last paycheck and, of course, was ready for another adventure. So, I did just that – I took advantage of a cheap flight deal and explored a new place. And, for all of my flights, I spent roughly $550. Total.
For those of you who are staring at your screens in disbelief, I’ll share with you exactly how I did it, which airlines I used, and what my logistics looked like so that you, too, can hop on a plane at a moment’s notice!
Step 1: Searching for a Last Minute Flight Deal
Whenever I get the itch to travel, my first stop is Google Flights. It’s my go-to for finding cheap flight deals when I have no idea where I want to head next. The cool thing about Google Flights is that you can put in your location of origin and your dates, and out pops a map with the flights to major airports in all different regions. The world is literally your oyster!
For this particular trip, I checked the flights from Boston (where I was spending the weekend) to Europe, and found a cheap one-way to London on Norwegian Air. I love a good flight deal, so I bought it immediately.
Total cost of one-way from Boston to London: $195
Step 2: Deciding Where To Go Next
Now, I could have stayed in London for the entire week, but I’ve been several times before. Instead, I used it as a jumping off point to go somewhere I’d been dying to explore – Slovenia. Why Slovenia? In a nutshell, because it’s a) stunning and b) not gigantic, so it’s easy to see a lot of stuff in a short amount of time.
I knew flights within Europe tend to be fairly cheap, so my next Google Flights search was for London to Ljubljana. I found pretty cheap flights on Easy Jet, a regional European budget airline. The tricky part was that London has 5 different airports, and the cheapest flights originated at a different airport (Stansted) than my layover point (Gatwick). Sigh, what a pain.
When this happens, I do a simple calculation. If I were to take a taxi between airports, would it offset the cost savings that I’d get from flying out of a different airport? Let’s take a look below:
Layover time: 6 hours
Flight #1: $64 round trip, flying out of Stansted
Flight #2: $156 round trip, flying out of Gatwick
Cost of taxi from Gatwick to Stansted: ~$100 and 1 hour
Cost of shuttle from Gatwick to Stansted: ~$45 and 4 hours
As you can see, going from Gatwick to Stansted by shuttle would be risky time-wise, but taking a taxi would actually make flying out of Stansted MORE expensive! You can probably guess what I ended up doing – I bought the flight from Gatwick to Ljubljana.
Total cost for round-trip from London to Ljubljana: $156
Step 3: Buying My Return Flight
Now that I had my Boston > London Gatwick > Ljubljana > London Stansted trip figured out, my next move was to figure out how to get home to Houston. I checked Google Flights again and it was quoting me over $1,000 for a one-way ticket! Shit.
But here’s where the magic of stockpiling points came in. I was able to scrounge around for my United points (I had around 50,000 of them) and purchase a direct flight back from Heathrow to Houston for 30,000 points plus $181.
Total cost for one-way from London to Houston: $181 + 30k points
Step 4: Reading the Fine Print
You’ll notice that all but one of my flights were on budget airlines, and here’s where I messed up a little bit. I didn’t read the fine print. When I showed up at the Norwegian check in desk at Boston Logan airport, I put my luggage on the scale and it was over the allotted weight. The gate agent required that I check one bag, since I could only have 10 kg to carry on. Reluctantly, I agreed and forked out the associated $65 fee.
If I’d read the fine print on my ticket, I would have noticed this policy. Instead, I was too excited about my trip to even check. Mistakes happen, and although I ended up being $65 in the gutter, it could have been a lot worse.
When you book any plane ticket, especially on a notoriously budget airline like RyanAir, Condor, Norwegian, or WOW, I strongly recommend knowing the baggage and ticketing policies well in advance of your departure. Some airlines charge horrendous bag check fees. Others charge you $50+ for printing your ticket. You could actually end up paying more than the cost of your flight in fees if you’re not careful!
Cost of not reading the fine print: $65*
*Not included in my total flight cost
Step 5: Heading Out
You’ve booked your flights, read the fine print, packed a small bag, and are ready to go! My last piece of advice here is to do your research before you head out. For me, that included researching layovers at Gatwick, how to get around Slovenia, and where to stay while there. For you, it could include booking hostels/hotels or figuring out how to get from point A to point B. Either way, don’t forget that every trip requires research. In fact, it’s probably the most important piece of the puzzle.
And there you have it: my 5 easy steps on how to secure a cheap flight on a moment’s notice. Any questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll give you my best advice.