Brian and I had an idea that a trip to Australia was a possibility this year. Even so, our plans came down to the wire. We didn’t give ourselves an official Green Light until nearly 4 weeks before departure. There were a handful of reasons for this, with the cost of flights being the main one.
From our home airport to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia (with at least 1 stopover), the total cost of our flights would have been over $6,000. No matter how much we considered going, there was no justification for that price tag for us. At all.
So why were we thinking about flying halfway across the world anyway? This chapter in our story actually begins in Palermo, Sicily, Italy in September of 2019.
Brian and I were just wrapping up a morning food tour of scrumptious Sicilian street eats (lookin’ at you, Pani câ Meusa!) when we connected with another couple on the tour. Hailing from Australia, we learned that they were in the midst of a month-long European adventure. After chatting for a bit, I asked if they were interested in joining us on our next stop: the Catacombe dei Cappuccini. And just like that, we were all on our way. They were actually up for exploring the catacombs with a couple of random Americans!
We spent the next 8 hours strolling through Palermo, eating, drinking, and hanging out. We would spend the next three years e-mailing and video-chatting. The four of us fell into an easy friendship and became a consistent part of each other’s lives.
And so, when Brian and I received an invitation to their wedding, we knew there was a good chance we’d try to make it work.
We prefer traveling in a laissez-faire kind of way. Flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to savvy budgeting. However, because we had a specific event to attend, we weren’t able to be as flexible with our dates.
Finding low-cost airfare was challenging due to a specified timeline, peak travel season, and a national holiday. I spent months checking flights and realized that the prices were holding steady, if not slowly creeping up. I needed to change my strategy to find cheaper flights. Otherwise, this trip wasn’t going to happen.
Rather than book through to Melbourne, I figured the next best thing would be to check on the cost to fly to Sydney and then rent a car to drive to Melbourne. Unfortunately, that was still too expensive for us in both money and time. We’d need to rent a car in Sydney and drive for 9 hours. Who really wants to do that after flying for over 20 hours??
I hopped onto Flight Connections for a visual overview of direct connections among different airports. If Brian and I could find an affordable connection, say $30 round-trip tickets to the west coast, for example, then we might be able to swing a good price from a west coast airport to Melbourne.
Flying from our home airport on the east coast to Melbourne was a considerable expense, ranging anywhere from $6,500 to $8,000 for main cabin tickets for both of us. These flights had up to 1 stop and the shortest flight times. The $6,000 price tag I mentioned earlier was for economy flights including up to 3 stops with much longer flight durations.
Using Flight Connections, we could see which airports flew directly into Australia. It helped us visualize different parts of the world we could travel to for a fun and relaxing addition to our trip. If we needed to include a stopover for a more affordable adventure, we might as well pick a place we’d love to visit!
Once I compiled a list of alternative airports, I headed over to Kayak to continue my research. It’s one of my favorite resources to use when putting together travel options. To make pricing comparisons convenient and transparent, Kayak gathers travel deals from official booking websites. When a booking option is selected, Kayak will redirect the user to the official booking site to complete the transaction.
Kayak helps me streamline and visualize different flight options. While it also aggregates data for other travel deals, including vacation packages and hotels, I primarily use its flight search. I find the filtering and overall user experience to be very easy to navigate.
The filtering, specifically, allows me to search for nearby airports, certain timeframes, number of stops, flexible dates, flight duration, and more. It’s an excellent tool that helps me parse out different options and narrow down what I’m willing to compromise on.
|For the flexible traveler, I highly recommend browsing the Kayak Explore feature for flights to anywhere!|
With select potential itineraries in mind, I shifted my focus to our reward points to see if I could offset additional costs. Depending on location and availability, I could use our rewards to cover the cost of a flight (or portion of a flight) and even a hotel stay in cases of a longer stopover.
As members of IHG One Rewards, we can enjoy benefits across 17 brands in 6,000 destinations. From complimentary nights and discounted rates to free upgrades and more, we have appreciated the ease and convenience of this membership.
Additionally, the Chase Ultimate Rewards point system allows us to book travel at a 50% redemption value when booking with points. This means our points have a higher dollar value than cash.
Offsetting costs via reward points is one of our most recommended and favorite ways to travel.
Low-Cost Carrier Options
Lastly, I double-checked the price points of flight options across low-cost carriers. Most notably, Brian and I have had tremendous success booking cheap flights directly at the airport.
If we’re traveling internationally, I do a quick search to find out whether or not those regions offer a low-cost carrier of their own. We fly budget airlines in the States most of the time, so we are open to exploring low-cost carrier options abroad. Luckily, this strategy, combined with those above, worked out for us in securing a great rate for flying to Australia.
Compromise & Customize
Ultimately, when searching for airfare, it’s best to take some time to consider what’s important to you. What are you willing to compromise on? Do you have certain deal-breakers?
For this trip halfway around the world, Brian and I opted to:
- Book extended/overnight layovers to break up our flight time
- Select airports that offered quality Priority Pass lounges (we actively avoided LAX!!)
- Utilize a mix of credit card points and hotel reward points to offset costs
- Fly one of Australia’s low-cost airlines to Sydney and then onto Melbourne
- Carry-on our baggage, which could not weigh more than 10kg (or 22lbs)
We customized our own itineraries to fit what we were willing to compromise on. Even though we flew a low-cost carrier for the Australian portion of our trip, it was a pretty comfortable experience for a 10-hour leg. In fact, Brian and I thought it was much more comfortable than the low-cost carriers we’d flown in the United States.
All in all, we successfully booked half-price flights to Australia!
Brian and I redeemed Chase Ultimate Rewards points for most of the cost of our round-trip flights to Honolulu, Hawaii. We spent the night, utilizing points for a hotel stay. We flew out the next morning via Jetstar, an Australian low-cost carrier. The round-trip flights from Honolulu to Australia cost us $2,800 total.
Rather than spending over $6,000 for our Australian flights, Brian and I managed to spend just over $3,100 total. Using these strategies, we cut the cost of our flights in half!
On top of that, we applied some extra funds toward the flight that we received from a side hustle, which brought the total cost of airfare to $2,250. We would have likely booked our flights at $3,100, so receiving side hustle proceeds was a nice surprise. At that point, there was really no reason NOT to book this trip.
Was the time spent on research and effort worth it? Yes.
We traveled halfway around the world for the experience. It was affordable enough for us, even during peak season. Brian and I spent 8 hours in-person with our friends the first day we met; this trip granted us 12 more hours for a celebration of love, friendship, and adventure.
For us, life is about the experience. It’s about the adventure of it all – especially when it comes at a bargain.