We had all the odds stacked against us: short notice travel, Christmas rush, multiple journeys from one of the most remote cities in the world (Perth) and flying part way with our kids.
Geez, it’s one of our biggest flight planning challenges in our 16 years of travel.
But, we still overcame the odds to save some money on our flights to the USA to attend the upcoming travel summit at the White House on December 9th. In case you missed it, we are honored to be invited to The White House as one of the world’s top 100 travel influence’s.
At first thought our flight path looked like this: Perth –> Sydney –> Dallas –> Washington D.C and back.
Lot’s of Aussies want to head to the US at Christmas time, and lot’s of Aussies travel from Perth to Sydney or vice versa at this time of year. High demand equals high prices.
We thought we were going to be screwed with the cost of flights at this time of year, and were looking at roughly $7-8K It’s still costing us over $5K, but not as much as we anticipated.
Before we go into how we worked it all out, it’s essential you have a notepad at the ready to record all your information and run through several scenarios. You will forget and if it’s not clear, you’ll be having to go back to searching again.
On your notes record:
- Booking site / airline
- Times / date of flights
- Layover times
Because Craig had saved up 150,000 frequent flyer points with Qantas they were our preferred carrier for the Sydney to D.C leg. And because we both had a few Virgin Australia points, they were our preferred choice between Perth and Sydney.
But we still had to run the numbers to make sure!
Here’s how we saved money on flights to the USA
1. Got clear on our needs and purpose
It’s not always about getting the cheapest flight, it’s about the best value to suit your needs.
We’re flying from Perth via Sydney to drop off our kids with my parents, then to D.C and Raleigh, North Carolina. As it’s a long journey, we’re looking at 52 hours flying time there and back, we wanted to make it worthwhile and spend a bit of time in the States visiting our old home and friends in Raleigh. Since it’s so close to D.C, it was the perfect chance.
Craig and I still hold a dream in our heart to move back to Raleigh. This is an opportunity for us to see if it’s just a nostalgic longing or truth and how we can make it work if it is.
We also want to leverage our time in the US and meet with potential business partners for our blog and have a few meetings scheduled.
As it’s a short two-week trip and long flights we wanted to take the most direct route possible for the best price.
2. Get realistic about our plans
We originally hoped to add on a side-trip to New York City. Because New York is New York and I wanted to meet up with Jonathan Fields from The Good Life Project in person! He’s such an inspiration to us an such a great guy. I chatted to him recently in a phone interview and he was keen to meet in real life.
But, after running the numbers and evaluating our goals, we realized our NYC goal was too wild. It was going to cost us way too much (yeah New York over the festive season) and would drain our energy. Think running around being a tourist. This trip wasn’t really about us being tourists. We’ve been doing that for the past 14 months.
Plus, we’ve done New York for Christmas before, and this trip was about business and catching up with beloved friends.
3. Try multiple scenarios
We were going to fly straight to D.C. for the event, and then, either fly to Raleigh or our friend Hitesh was going to come pick us up form D.C. We decided to investigate possibly flying into Raleigh and then either driving, or flying, to D.C from there.
We had to run through each scenario taking into account price and time.
4. Try different routes
From Sydney, we can fly to the States on Qantas via Los Angeles or Dallas.
I hate LAX with a passion and wanted to avoid flying through there. At first we just ran the numbers through Dallas. But, then we thought we better check LAX. Bummer dude. It was cheaper, and by enough to warrant flying through there.
5. Be flexible on dates and times
Originally we thought we were locked in with dates as we were flying direct to D.C. and the summit was on the 9th. So we were looking at flights a couple of days before this.
But, upon noticing that flights a week earlier were cheaper, we decided we could fly straight to Raleigh for a few days first, and then either rent a car or fly from there.
Also be flexible over your times of flights as prices can fluctuate quite a bit through the day. You also have to make sure you time your layovers and connecting flights right.
6. Go direct to airlines
We originally priced our flights on Qantas to go direct to the States and then we used search engines to find cheap flights from Dallas to Raleigh/D.C, and LAX to Raleigh/D.C.
At last minute, we decided to check booking a flight direct from Sydney to Raleigh/D.C through Qantas. We were shocked to discover going direct all the way through a Qantas booking was cheaper – and less hassle!
7. Use frequent flyer points
Our favourite way of getting free, or cheaper, flights.
We have an American Express Business credit card through the Commonwealth Bank which gives us up to 3 Qantas points for every dollar we spend. We use this card for all our business expenses and over time it accumulates nicely, plus we’ve gained points from taking other reward flights over the years.
Do not use this strategy if you can’t pay off your credit card balance in full each month, or it’s not worth it.
We had points with Qantas and Virgin, the most with Qantas so we knew that was the carrier we wanted to fly to the States with. They are our preferred airline anyway. There’s also a chance for us to be upgraded to business with Qantas (fingers crossed) which made flying with them even more attractive.
Craig’s 150,000 Qantas points is enough to get him from Sydney to D.C and back using their calculator, BUT all the seats using “just points” were booked out months ago. So he had to use points + pay. In the end he still saved $1,200 off his flight which is a big help!
We are jealous of the amazing frequent flyer programs in the States. If this applies to you, you should start researching how to tap into this.
8. Get on the phone
We were having difficulty getting an accurate cost using our frequent flyer points, so to be sure we weren’t going to mess it up we phoned Qantas and Virgin for advice.
Both were helpful in advising us what to do and how we could best use our points. Sometimes getting on the phone can save you a lot of time and frustration.
9. Use flight search engines
We only have enough Virgin points for Craig and I from Perth to Sydney. So we have to pay for our two kids on that leg, and all four of us on the return Sydney to Perth flight.
So we checked all the search engines for those flights plus my Sydney to the US flight, plus the domestic US flights. It becomes a headache with all the combinations and timing of connections, but it can be worth it.
Our favourite search engines we used were:
But then we found a new favourite –> Hipmunk.
By searching Hipmunk we saved $100 over all the other search engines on our Sydney to Perth flight. We’re now flying with Jetstar on this leg. And Hipmunk were cheaper than by going direct to the Virgin or Jetstar website – we will be trying them on every trip from now on!
10. Check car rental prices
After all that, we then had to run the car rental price numbers! Our Facebook community gave us some great tips on their preferred car rental companies.
The best we found was hiring it for the two weeks was cheaper than flying to D.C. It does involve a five hour drive, but really when you add in all the time you have to spend waiting at airports now, it won’t take us that much longer. (As long as D.C traffic is okay, which 10 years ago it wasn’t!)
Our final flight plans to the USA
After all this we ended up with the following:
- Perth –> Sydney with Virgin: $600 (x 2 kids)
As mentioned Craig and I got free flights using Virgin points and we had to pay for the girls. The red eye (11.30pm flight) was the cheapest flight we could get and it saved us one nights accommodation in Sydney on our connecting flights. Flying into Sydney early in the morning meant we could get a flight out of Sydney that afternoon to the States.
- Sydney –> Dallas –> Raleigh. Then on the return it worked our cheaper to go Raleigh –> Los Angeles –> Sydney.
Craig $1,284 and Caz $2,326
The only thing that worries me here is the layover time between flights. LAX is a freaking shocker for this, and we’ve never flown through Dallas before. But as it’s on the one carrier I’m hoping they know what they’re doing!
Craig got over $1,200 off this flight with his frequent flyer points. As it’s a busy time of the year he couldn’t get a full points only flight, otherwise it would have been completely free. I used my 30,000 Qantas points + pay to save a few hundred dollars.
- Sydney –> Perth with Jetstar using Hipmunk.com $998 (2 adults, 2 kids)
Total in Flights: $5,208
As you can see we had a lot of different scenarios and numbers to run and this took us a couple of days to get it right.
If you’re looking at getting the best price for your flights, you will have to do this, especially if you have a long and complicated flight path like we did. It’s always best to brainstorm as many different scenarios as you can. (Don’t forget we have lots of in-depth tips and strategies to save money on travel in our ebook.)
All up we’ve saved over $2,000 in flights using points + pay and Hipmunk. More money for jugs of Blue Moon beer and buffalo wings at Sammy’s, our old favourite local in Raleigh!
Glad that’s all over.
We leave tonight!!
See you soon US of A.