You’ve probably heard the adage about how when you have too many options, it makes it hard to make a decision about what you want. We have been faced with that exact problem in figuring out the first step of our travels. We knew we needed to get from the US over to Asia, but have been very open to the exact where, or even how, so hadn’t been making any decisions at all.
The first plan was to fly using the frequent flier miles we’ve been earning. We even mapped out a most excellent itinerary using our United miles that would’ve given us a 3-week stopover in Jordan on the way to Bangkok. Unfortunately, in order to book that trip, the rules required that we book it as a round-trip ticket, and there is just no way we could commit to buying a return ticket home when we have no idea when we will be ready to come home, or where in the world we might be when we decide that.
Plan two got more creative. Inspired by the supercheap fares we were seeing for transatlantic repositioning cruises this spring, we wondered if we could find a cruise to take us from the west coast over to Asia in the fall. We found a few we liked, one from Vancouver to Tokyo and one from LA to Sydney via Tahiti. The cruises were still more expensive than we wanted to spend, but we were hoping that if we waiting until closer to departure time, they might drop the price to fill any empty rooms. How fun would it be to cruise to Asia?!
But then an opportunity hit. And not just a new idea, but a real travel hacking opportunity. I was reading through a Facebook group I’m a part of for Travis Sherry’s Frequent Flier Bootcamp (which is where I’ve learned most of what I know about using/earning miles), and another member posted a link to details about a mistake fare to Asia. My pupils dilated.
People were finding cheap tickets flying from a few cities in the US, mostly JKF, to a few cities in Europe, mostly Milan, and then flying mostly from Prague to various destinations in Asia. And by cheap tickets I’m talking about $130 all in.
My heart began to race. I may have even peed a little.
The biggest complaint people were having was that once they’d taken this great fare to Asia, then they couldn’t find a cheap way to get back home. But this complaint was irrelevant to me, because I WANTED to end up in Asia! The crazy good deals people were finding were towards the end of the year, but I knew I didn’t want to wait until mid-October to leave. The rainy season in Indonesia begins in Oct/Nov, so we wanted to arrive in early/mid September. I was curious if those dates were going to work.
My first search was just for a basic itinerary people were talking about having worked: NYC-Milan, then Prague-Tokyo. And bam, there it was, for $280 in early September. Not quite as good as $130, but still an amazing deal. Now I was hopeful that September could still work out. For reference, when looking for a one-way ticket from Vegas to Bangkok, the best price I was finding was $573, and that was for a miserable 25 hours of flying with two 3-hour stopovers.
I tried looking for availability from LAX, but doing so increased the price by upwards of $300. So I stuck to JFK, knowing that I would still have to find a way to get there. (A quick check was showing flights to NY for about $200, still a cheaper option.) As for the city pairs in Europe, northern Italy sounded great to me, and I’ve been looking at Prague for a long time anyway, so I stuck with what was working. I did look for dates to fly to Bali instead of Tokyo, but those flights included three layovers of various uncomfortable lengths. Gross. Kuala Lampur wasn’t much better. Finally I just decided to be obvious and searched for Bangkok. And bingo. Not only did my flight come up for $260, but my flight from Prague included a 21 hour layover in Amsterdam – plenty of time to get out and quickly explore another interesting city for free!
Now I froze. The thing about mistake fares, is that they don’t last long. But David was at work. I dialed his cell phone, knowing he wouldn’t answer. And he didn’t. I’d hardly had time to consider what I was doing, and these are not the kinds of decisions I like to make quickly. But I knew if I waited the deal would likely be gone.
So I quickly summed it up. I knew it was a great deal. I knew it would take us to places we wanted to go, and then even though we are likely to spend a fair amount of money seeing all these places in Europe (and getting ourselves from Milan to Prague), I knew David would agree that it would be worth it. So I booked it.
WHAT I DID RIGHT
– Having loved the Bootcamp class I took, I’m fairly active in keeping up with the alumni Facebook page. The people there range from total beginners to near experts in all things flying, and while not every single post is relevant to me, many are. By checking that, I was in the right place at the right time to get in on the deal.
– I acted fast, found an itinerary that worked, and made the decision to book it. Opportunity favors the bold.
WHAT I DID WRONG
Looking back, there were a few things I could’ve done better. Lessons learned for next time!
I didn’t do my research (Only nerds need to read this section.)
In the article, most people were referring to this as a mistake fare, which is what I assumed it was, although it did seem a bit weird to me with the unusual routing. A mistake fare, for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, is when an airline (or hotel) publishes a low fare by mistake. Someone enters it in wrong, or there is a computer glitch, or whatever. The mistake itself can vary, but it results in a very good fare for the consumer. These often last only a matter of hours until the company notices what is happening and kills the deal. Many times, though not always, airlines will honor these fares, but there is risk involved. To get them you just have to be in the right place at the right time and be ready to book it online. You can’t call the airlines while booking, or get any help in any way from them, because by asking questions you are alerting the airline to the mistake and will kill the deal not only for you but for everyone else. It does take some guts to play this game and wait out the uncertainty.
But after booking my flight, I did some more digging, and I’m more convinced that this was not technically a mistake fare, but instead an example of what some call a “fuel dump”. The definition of that is complicated and entails more details than you probably care about, and gave me hours of reading figuring it out. Basically by pairing an unusual routing across locations/continents and with different airlines, I was able to take advantage of a loophole that sold me the base fare itself, without any of the traditional fuel surcharges added into the mix like usual. (Hint: Fuel surcharges often make up the majority of the price of a ticket.) (Full disclosure, I haven’t actually researched my ticket to know this for sure, but this explanation fits the situation better and other actual experts agree.)
The reason I include this under what I did wrong, is that had I known this before, I probably wouldn’t have felt as time pressured. It is impossible to say how long this deal had been available, but probably a good long time. Once it hit the blogs and became a sensation that the masses (including myself) were taking advantage of it, it looks like the airlines ended the deal after a couple of days. But days is better than hours. Which leads me to my next point,
I should’ve spent more time searching dates
I’m sure I didn’t search more than a dozen city/date combinations. Partly because I very quickly found something that worked pretty well, which is fine. But I wish I’d spent a little more time trying to find a flight from the west coast. Because now I have to book a separate positioning flight to get me from the west coast to NYC which, if anything goes wrong, could be trouble since it will be a totally separate ticket. I may not have found anything, but I wish I’d looked harder.
I didn’t look at the calendar
This was my dumbest mistake. I knew I wanted to leave in early September, so randomly chose the first Tuesday of the month. In the process I forgot that the Monday before is Labor Day! This is making my flight to NYC more expensive because it is a holiday. Since I am pressed to get to Indonesia before it gets wet, I’m not sure I would’ve chosen to wait another week to leave, but I wish I’d chosen that intentionally.
Cut to the chase, Robb!
At the end of the day, I have a great ticket that I’m extremely happy with.
– Searching for my exact itinerary without that deal, the price currently coming up is $1844. That is a savings of over $3100 for the two of us! Doing a little searching I eventually found a way to get it down to about $900, but with the addition of uncomfortable layovers and the loss of the stop in Amsterdam. And even so, last I checked $260 is significantly less than $900.
– Searching for the cheapest flight from Vegas to Bali direct comes up with another very sad 31-hour itinerary: Vegas-San Francisco-Seoul-Singapore-Bali for $778. Includes a six hour overnight layover in the Singapore airport. Gross!
– Though I haven’t booked the extra legs yet, I’m estimating my final cost to Bali will be about $580 total. (And it just takes one Air Asia sale to make that last leg even cheaper!) So not only am I saving $200 off my cheapest priced alternative, but I also have no miserable layovers sleeping in airports. And I get to see NYC, Milan, Prague, Amsterdam, and Bangkok on the way, not to mention whatever trouble I can get into with two weeks in Europe! This is a huge win/win in my book.
And boy does feel good to have the decision made. Now we’ve hit up the library for Lonely Planet guides for Europe and are busy making plans for the two weeks we are going to spend there.
I’m excited! Have you ever found a great deal travel hacking? And if anyone has any tips for things to see/do/stay in and around northern Italy, Prague or Amsterdam, let me know in the comments below!