Despite what you may think, all of my international trips are done on a budget (call it the “Jew” in me) and I squeeze every bit of value I possibly can.
Here’s how I do it…
Try to affiliate yourself with 1 major hotel group and 1 major airline alliance. For me, that’s Starwood and One World (American and their other international partners) because it’s what I also use mostly for work travel. And open a rewards account with each. Then, figure out ways to earn as many points/miles as humanely possible. Through booking your travel, credit card purchases (if you decide you want one of those), online shopping, etc.
I personally hate paying for hotel rooms, so a credit card that lets me book kick-ass hotels for FREE is the one I love the most. I have the Starwood Luxury Card and highly recommend it for anyone looking to get in the travel game! The card I have has a lofty annual fee, but the benefits more than cover it and it also helps me earn qualifying nights towards my SPG status. There’s also a lower fee alternative! Win-win.
Pro tip: Whichever rewards credit card you end up with, make SURE that it has no foreign transaction fee – it would be awful to have that additional cost on all of the amazing international trips you’re planning!
Sure, you don’t always have to stay/fly with them if there are dirt-cheap alternatives, but if you can, do it. The points/miles add up much faster than you realize and I cannot tell you how many upgrades and free tickets I have gotten as a result of my miles/points. I was able to upgrade Adam and I to business class on our recent trip to Chile.
There are a few key parts here:
- Be open to when you travel. I realize this may not be possible for those of you with children on specific school breaks, but this is key. Do your research and know when the “shoulder” seasons are for your destination and look for trips in that window. Airfare, hotels and tours will all be cheaper during this window. For example, I was able to snag airfare to Dublin for ~$500 by going in late April (off-peak season) – this is technically off-peak season due to the rain, but who wouldn’t want to see Ireland when it’s rainy and lush?!
- Be open to how you get there. This one is a bit tougher for people to get on board with, but you don’t have to fly into the exact destination you’re looking to go…you can fly in somewhere else cheaper and catch a quick/cheap flight to get you where you’re going. This way, you can see and do even more! For example, I flew into St. Petersburg on my way to Munich for Oktoberfest. I was able to get the flight for ~$450 and also see a new place!
- Keep your finger on the deal pulse. There are a few excellent sources for curated deals. My 2 favorites are The Flight Deal (sign up for their daily email) and Travelzoo’s Top 20 (sign up for their weekly email). You won’t regret it.
- Pro tip: You also NEED to get familiar with Google Flights – it’s the best tool out there to help you compare costs of different destinations. For example, you know that you can travel a certain week…plug in those dates to the tool and look at a map view of the world to see where you can go and how much it costs. As a bonus, you can also sort for airline alliance so you earn those miles!
Finalizing Your Trip
Once you have your trip booked, get creative on how to plan it! I oftentimes look at tour companies I respect for example itineraries for inspiration, as well as buying the Lonely Planet books and looking at their site for more information on your destination. I LOVE their books because it is the perfect mix of hitting on the tourist high notes, while also providing insider/local knowledge and tips for all budgets.
I really hope this is helpful for you all as you’re planning your future trips. I am also here as a resource in planning and finding the best deals out there.
And remember, travel does not have to be expensive to be high quality and meaningful!