How We Saved Money on Flights to USA

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.

How we saved $2,000 on our flights from Australia to USA
images via Shutterstock.com

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 influencers.

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
  • Route
  • Times / date of flights
  • Costs
  • 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 Washington 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 Washington 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 visit to 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 for Christmas) 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 directly 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 favorite 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 favorite flight search engines we used were:

But then we found a new favorite –> 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 was cheaper than by going directly 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 a car for the two weeks was cheaper than flying to D.C. It does involve 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!)

Rentalcars.com is our preferred car rental booking site

Relevant reading: Finding cheap car rental

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.

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 favorite local in Raleigh!

PHEW!

Glad that’s all over.

We leave tonight!!

See you soon US of A.

21 thoughts on “How We Saved Money on Flights to USA”

  1. Have a great trip… at least Tom Bradley has shops in it and is actually a nice terminal now… I had a layover from 10am to 11pm in LAX 2 weeks ago and I just booked a hotel room at the Sheraton – worked, napped, hung out at the pool. The day rate was great and when I did have to go to Tom Bradley, it was 1000% better than the it used to be…though that stupid bus transfer to get to your flight caught a few people out – they really don’t make it clear when they kind of tell people to “amble along to the gate” when they are actually shipping people on what seems to be a 20 minute (exaggeration) bus ride across 57 tarmacs! I must have been lucky to miss that little sub-trip before! Have a wonderful time guys – I will be living vicariously! So proud! xxx

  2. Katie @ The World on my Necklace

    Wow, well done! Just wondering though, aren’t there taxes that you have to pay when booking with airmiles through qantas? I nearly have enough points for a return flight to Hawaii but it is then going to cost me about $550 in taxes and fees as well as 72,000 points.

    1. Hi Katie,

      Yes when using “just points” you have to pay some taxes, depending on the airline and to-from locations. I think becasue I used points + pay on this trip the taxes were included in my price.

      I did a “points only” flight from North Carolina to Cape Town many years ago and had to pay around $300 in taxes, but that was a long flight.

  3. Hope you have a fabulous time and safe travels. Put a bug in Obama’s ear about easing up our antiquated visa policy. So many people want to come to the US and can’t get visas for travel. Have a great time and can’t wait to hear about the conference.

  4. Enjoy your trip. That is a good amount of savings needless to say. High five you can’t go wrong with Blue Moon either.

  5. Keryn from Walking On Travels

    Hope to finally meet you guys while you are in DC. We just moved there and I know there is going to be a DC Travel Massive meet up one of the nights of the summit. Can’t wait!

  6. That’s a great bargain! We have just started “travel hacking” so we can accumulate some miles to help pay for our trip Down Under in Jan 2016.
    I was interested to read that you would like to move to Raleigh, NC. We love North Carolina. We have vacationed there probably 7 times to Topsail Island, which is about 2 hours east of Raleigh. We said we were going to go some new places, but my mom and dad shout a house about every other year so we can’t refuse the deal! We would love to end up in the Carolinas someday for the chance at a better climate (Ohio is rough!) and also the beach! We love the city of Wilmington.
    Welcome back to the US of A!

    1. Thanks. Yes we love Raleigh and living in North Carolina. And Wilmington is great too, have been many times. You should also check our Asheville in the mountains.

  7. This is awesome! I’m actually from Georgia and visiting Perth as well! Thanks for some great tips! Hopefully I can visit some other time too after I leave!

  8. In Travel 2 things we have to look 1. Travel 2. Hotel to stay. This article has given a idea how to save money on travel. I am doing research on Hotels. Right now i found one, where not only the cost is less even the Services is good. budgetinn-artesia.com

  9. You’re American, right? You have a SS#? You can sign up for a Citi bank card and get 50k free miles if you spend 3k in the first 3 mo. I live in perth, but am a dual citizen, and I got the card online instantly, used it to pay my real estate tax, and BOOM, 50K free miles with American Airlines. That was enough reward miles to get my family of 4 (2 adults, 3yo, 3mo) from St. Louis to LAX free on our upcoming trip. Single leg domestic trips are 12.5k miles. Tax was $3 each. Google the citi American Airlines card with 50k bonus.

  10. Oh! Another way I save $ getting between Perth and USA is round the world tickets. Typically Perth to St Louis is $2500 round trip. RTW tickets on sale are often cheaper. Especially SWISS.

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