I've been on an awesome run of trips recently. I've gone to China, Peru, Mexico, and Japan, and have paid $1350 total for all four flights. That's roughly the cost of the normal price of just ONE of the more expensive flights on that list. I have a few tricks to share with you which are responsible for these four flights.
FlyerTalk Mileage Run Forums
You may already be aware that there's a group of people online who are completely obsessed with miles and status on airline frequent flyer programs. They all congregate on a site called FlyerTalk.com and discuss mileage runs, which are flights so cheap that it's (nearly) worth going just for the miles. In fact, many members go on trips that last for just hours before they get back on the plane home.
You may not want to take trips like that, but you can use their forum to find extremely cheap flights (and get miles while you're at it). Just go to the Mileage Run subforum and search for your home airport. You can also check out this thread which has deals that are still very cheap but don't earn enough miles to qualify as a mileage run. Sometimes that's because the price is a bit higher, but often it's because it's an obscure airline with a crappy frequent flyer program or a fare class that doesn't offer miles.
This is where I found my Mexico flight, which was $273 for SFO-CUN. It also earned me ~$50 worth of frequent flyer miles.
GetGoing is probably my favorite new startup, despite the fact that they got into Y Combinator and I didn't. The premise is that they have very low fares, but you can't choose exactly which one you want. Instead you pick two that you're willing to go on, put in your credit card info, and then randomly get booked on one of the two.
I chose Shanghai for $480 and Beijing for $500, which are both excellent prices. I was lucky to get Shanghai, which I had a slight preference for.
Good fares are somewhat inconsistent, so make sure to add everywhere you'd like to go as a favorite so that you can look at all possible options. On the West Coast they always seem to have great deals to Hawaii (~$250), so if there's only one great foreign fare, you can use Hawaii as a backup.
Another trick is that if you link your Facebook account with them, you get $25 off your first flight. That would have dropped my China trip down to $455 if they were running the promo back then. And if you refer friends (as I'm doing here), you get $50 if they book a flight within 90 days.
Kayak Price Alerts
I learned this trick from my friend Jenna Meister, who found both the Peru ($284) and Japan ($315) flights. Very occasionally, airlines will have ridiculously low fares for very short amounts of time. If you set up alerts properly in Kayak, you can get emailed whenever something good comes along.
To set these up, go to kayak.com/alerts and click "Add a flight price alert". Click "Top 25 Cities" and enter in your home airport and the region that you're interested in. Fill out your max price, switch the frequency to daily, and hit Save. If you want to go to a specific airport that's not a major hub, you could also add a fare alert for that specific city pair. Besides SFO, I also add OAK, SJC, LAX, and LAS as separate alerts, since it's very cheap for me to get to any of those airports.
You should now get emails occasionally when these deals pop up. It's important to jump on them VERY quickly. Often they evaporate within a few hours if not minutes. You can also check from the Android or iPhone apps throughout the day. I'm not too experienced with this, but Jenna recommends it.
Most importantly-- if you find a good deal out of one of my airports, email me and tell me about it! Dinner's on me if I book it!
Photo is from Gangnam, Seoul. Yeah, I did the dance.
Seriously, super great tips. Thanks a lot, man. I actually saw Jenna's tweet about the Japan flight, had it in my queue, hesitated, and missed it. I wish I just took it. Oh well.
Man I seriously wish Canada would have flight tickets as reasonable as in the U.S. Unfortunately it seems next to impossible to get the kind of deal you mentioned in your post in Canada...
Nice tips! I really like the new start up http://us.paperflies.com/. They search all the best deals over the internet. I recently found a ticket to bankok for 450 euros!
This was brilliantly helpful! Thanks for the wonderful (and well written!) insight.
I figured it might be helpful to leave another resource I found helpful in my search to get cheap flights. There are all sorts of fun tricks aren't there? Check out:
Tynan - This is just the post I needed! I was looking for "secrets of trade" type post and where to find the pockets of flyer miles that are worth it. I use the virgin america card a bunch but I know there must be more efficient ways fo flying/acquiring miles. Thanks for the heads up, I"ll checkout FlyerTalk as well.
I would also add dohop.com on this list. Dohop is a great flight search engine out of Iceland. They specialize in finding all possible connections that may include budget airlines that are not officially working together and piece together and itinerary not found by other search engines. They are not as competitive in the US market, but for finding good fares and connections that include low cost airlines in Europe they are great.
Also check out their Dohop.com/away page that shows various deals from your home airport to all sorts of destinations. Again, works best when you select a European airport as your homebase.
I find it to be a great research tool to find out what airlines fly to what airport and to find great prices and connections as they have flight schedules from almost all airlines in the world, small and large, and a great algorithm to calculate connections that are not visible elsewhere.
Over the past few days there was a "mistake fare" going on with some European airlines which enabled you to book amazing US -> Europe -> Asia multiple stop tickets for $130-400. Friends and I booked three different trips, because deals this good come along about once a year.
The deal was a little bit complex. Some city pairs didn't work, and it was difficult to guess which ones did. Going from LAX to Budapest was really cheap, but going LAX to Paris wasn't. To try to figure out the itineraries, we spent a bunch of time combing through the forum thread about the deal.
A small portion of the posters were super sharp and found all sorts of city pairs that I couldn't find. The bulk were neutral, just posting their itineraries or asking reasonable questions. But there was a contingent who were scared to pull the trigger on one of the best flight deals they'd ever find.
What if they cancel all of these flights? What if I change my mind? How will I get between the intermediate countries (most itineraries had a small intra-europe segment you had to cover yourself)? Will this fit into my schedule then?
One of the things that took me a long time to figure out is that often, flying through 2-3 different cities on a single ticket often costs very similar to a one-way flight.
So, going "New York to Berlin on May 25th" might not be cheaper than going "New York to London on April 28th, London to Munich on May 22nd, Munich to Berlin on May 25th" -- strange but true.
It's especially easy to stop in hub cities for up to a month, so swinging through Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and other regional hubs is easy. It's fun to stop in New York for 2-3 days when you're on your way elsewhere if you've got the time.
The thing is, it can be tricky to plan these routings. That's where Matrix comes in --