Tick tock! It’s time to start thinking about summer vacations. And I think you should go somewhere new this year. No more Myrtle Beach, Fort Walton Beach, South Beach, Virginia Beach, or that fake “beach” in your backyard. Maybe you should even scrap the beach idea. Your dermatologist will thank you.
I’m exploring the possibility of a trip to Seoul, Korea, this summer. Since I’ve never been there, I have a lot of homework to do. If you’re not the homework type, I’ll let you copy my notes. But only this once. And you have to share your Oreos with me.
This post is geared to those flying; if you’re driving, buy a GPS. And a map. Using a GPS solely in a place you’ve never been can sometimes land you in the middle of the woods. Literally.
Since I tote around two testy boys, it’s better for me to fly nonstop if at all possible. But how do you know what airlines (if any) fly nonstop between your pair of cities?
You can find this info out by either googling it (which could take a while), or you can check Orbitz. After entering your search info (you can use dummy dates or flexible dates if you’re not set on those yet), a grid at the top of the results page will reveal nonstop, one stop, and 2+ stop airlines. Ignore price for now; at this stage, you are just gathering options.
You’ve probably heard it said before that flexibility is the key to finding the best deals. Flying on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday helps, too. Try to think outside the traditional Monday-Sunday week. Could you still take the same amount of days off but travel Wednesday to Tuesday?
The next step is to narrow down your date range until you find the cheapest dates in your window of availability. For this, I visit Kayak.
Kayak can search flexible dates and multiple airports (you can type several airport codes in the “To” and “From” fields). Pay attention to the month calendar to the right of the search fields as you enter your data. It often displays the cheapest dates before you even search.
I should warn you that Kayak can sometimes return an overwhelming number of results. Luckily, the site has tons of boxes on the left sidebar representing preferences such as airlines, airports, number of changes, connection airport, etc. You can check and uncheck these little do-dads to your hearts content. Obviously someone obsessed with organization, order, and options designed this. I have a feeling we would be great friends.
(Side note: Another great resource, especially for domestic trips, is Farecast, now a part of Bing Travel. You can read more about their fare prediction technology here. I have not personally been successful with this tool as it seems the city pairs I search never end up on the list of included destinations.)
Another thing Kayak often will give you is a list of airlines you probably have never heard of. Ever. This is less true on domestic routes, but usually very true on international ones. My search showed that Asiana Airlines just happened to be the cheapest (and Orbitz told me they fly nonstop).
Now, I am a bargain hunter through and through but some things are worth the extra cash. Flying a safe, reliable, and even comfortable airline is one of them. Especially with kids. I once flew a Russian airline that had mismatched seats, tray tables, etc. I think the upholstery was the same but everything else happened to be hodge-podge. Makes you wonder what the plane’s innerds were like… and if you’d end up at your destination in one piece!
For the skinny on airlines, I hop on over to Skytrax. Here you can find an airline’s rating (from one to five stars) as well as reviews regarding seating, comfort, lounges, and general flight experience. If you’re trying to decide between two layover cities, Skytrax offers airport ratings as well.
(That Russian airline happens to have two stars. I wondered what airline on earth could be worse than that. Only one airline is the owner of a single star.. Air Koryo of North Korea. And on that, I’m going to officially have no comment.)
Through this process you should be able to narrow down your potential travel dates and preferred carriers as well as establish a realistic price range. Now, it’s just a matter of hounding online travel search engines.
I do usually find, however, that the airline’s website itself usually offers the lowest price and the smoothest process in rectifying any bumps you may encounter before, during, or after your journey.
If you’re not finding the price range you want (and Farecast is not playing nice with you), consider how far away your trip happens to be. The cheapest prices can usually be found (and I say usually because there are many exceptions) about three months out. If you haven’t found something by two months out, you’re going to have to place a bet. One wager would be that you can get a last-minute rock-bottom steal-of-a-deal. If you lose, though, you’ll either find yourself with no seats left on the flights you want or you’ll have to pay premium prices.