How I Scored the Best Flight Deal Ever

$723.

That is how much I spent on a round trip ticket from St. Louis to Tokyo.

While $723 certainly is a large chunk of change, it is nothing in comparison to the ever-fluctuating prices for flying from the Midwest to Japan. Summer prices for a round trip flight currently range from $1,200 to $2,000 and I was honestly expecting to pay that price.

However, I am a big cheapskate when it comes to… anything, and travel is no different. In an effort to save money, I always reflect upon my seasoned budget traveler experience and am a voracious researcher. In the past, I have saved myself hundreds of dollars by choosing:

  • to ignore tourist traps and map out my own self-guided tours.
  • to walk when I can, utilize public transport second, and rely on Uber or taxi third.
  • hostels over hotels, Airbnb’s over hotels, motels over hotels.
  • rental cars over flying, trains over flying, and always choosing budget airlines when the opportunity presents itself.

Etc., etc. etc.

In fact, one of my favorite overheard observation’s is that EasyJet is the McDonald’s of the skies.

So when I monitored November prices for flights to Tokyo and back, I was already in an “in it to win it” mindset and ready to find some deals.

Here is how I went about the process, and some tips on how you can save too!:

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Versailles just chillin’.
  • Watch prices like a hawk.

Before purchasing my ticket to Tokyo, I watched flight options for 4 months. I researched the lowest that fare was expected to go ($700 was the price point) and waited to see if prices would drop to this rate.

We specifically needed to purchase the tickets for over David’s fall break and, when I first started looking, flights were around the $900 range. Still not shabby, but because I could see September was in the $700 window, I had an inkling that prices would probably drop if I waited.

I  monitored the prices every day to ensure that they didn’t start to hike up and cause me to miss my opportunity. As the months bore on, I could see the prices drop for October… And then November. Bam. $723! My intuition was correct.

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Red Rocks Amphitheater.
  • Check out the off-season and holidays.

Is Thanksgiving of great importance to you?

If not, you need to start scheduling your flights around it. While prices skyrocket in the U.S.A. for the holiday, abroad they seem to drop (given we are the only folks who celebrate it). Thus far in my life I have missed 3 Thanksgiving’s for travel, and I am sure that number will only continue to increase.

Additionally, you are more likely to find cheaper ticket prices during a countries off-season. I’d be willing to bet that finding a $723 flight during the Cherry Blossom Festival is close to impossible for STL -> HND, and understandably so.

The off-season of any place is still hopefully destined to hold amazing memories for you regardless, and will also be lower in tourists. In particular for Japan, we are looking forward to the bright red and gold foliage, less rain as we will be visiting out of green season, eating kaki, and the apparent excitement over sumo wrestling (as November hosts the last 6 matches of the year).

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Visiting Hagrid & his pals in London.
  • Consider your options.

Generally, international flights out of St. Louis will always be more expensive, as we do not have an international airport. We lucked out big time in finding a cheap flight right out of our hometown.

We had anticipated having to travel to Chicago, and had everything not worked out in our favor as it did, we would have. Traveling to Chicago from St. Louis on Amtrak is of low cost to everyone, with train tickets sometimes as low as $27. If an international flight from St. Louis were to set us back substantially, this would have been a no-brainer.

If the option of an international airport is maybe not convenient but is possible for you, you should consider departing from there. Figure in how much it will cost you to reach the location of this airport, whether by a friend driving you, train, or Greyhound, and then compare the difference in price with your local airport.

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You can’t tell in this photo how horrified I was driving up the peak of Mt. Evans.
  • Expect weird connections and long-layovers. 

There were two choices for the layover of our $723 ticket: a 45 minute layover to catch our next flight at DFW (death) or an overnight, 12 1/2 hour layover at DFW (also death). Both flights arrived at the exact same time on Tuesday in Tokyo.

We chose a 45 minute layover and have just been silently praying to the airplane gods that they can make this happen for us.

I expected there to be some mild inconveniences though because the ticket is just so darn cheap, and we are still honestly quite fortunate in our flight schedule. Sure, the way there is a bit convoluted, but nothing nightmarish. We pop into DFW for 45 minutes or what will feel like 10 seconds, then will fly for one hundred years to Beijing, only to backtrack over to Tokyo. On our way back, however, we have the good fortune of a direct flight from Tokyo to LAX and then back onward to STL.

I understand airlines do this to save on money, and if it means scoring a $500 cheaper flight for myself then I am game. Your willingness to get tousled around in the sky for a bit and bounce between airports can literally pay off.

Speaking of being flexible…

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Exploring the Bayou in Louisiana.
  • Be flexible in your duration.

If you want to leave on a Thursday, and come back exactly on a Sunday with no wiggle-room, then expect to spend more for your preferences.

While we did have to arrange our flight around a wedding I will be shooting, as well as David’s fall break, we still were lenient in our schedules. Sure – it’d be great to leave on a Thursday and arrive by Saturday (those darn timezone changes), being close enough to the weekend that I wouldn’t have to ask off more time for work. Realistically, however, this type of a schedule will almost always be more expensive because this is the same thought process going throughout every travelers head.

In fact, every money-saving article I can remember glossing through, that was related to flying, has suggested the same: weekends are expensive, early weekdays are cheap.

With the way it worked out for us, we will leave on a Monday and come back on a Tuesday. David will miss one day of class, but it’ll be right after his fall break and he hopefully won’t miss any tests. And while it puts us on a bit of a wonky schedule, I am grateful to arrive early in the week. Hopefully our sleep will be adjusted and we will be bright and starry eyed come the weekend!

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Grabbing peach filled beignets in New Orleans.

Spoiler alert: none of this is sponsored. I wish it were, then maybe I’d be rich? (Hey Google, wanna sponsor me?) I am just a big fan of Google trying to make my life easier.

Google flights and Google maps (to find hotels) are constantly developing in the tech scene and have been undeservedly under-hyped. The process is simple. Go directly to the Google flights website and you will be given boxes for where you’d like to depart from and where you’d like to end up. Once entered in, you can use the calendar tool to choose the days you’d like to go. The best part about this though is that when looking at the dates, it tells you the lowest price you will find for the day. Because behind-the-scenes, Google is seeking out and comparing flights from airlines to find you the best bang for your buck.

For example, we will be flying Japan Airlines on the last leg of our journey to Tokyo. This JAL ticket is included in the total price that I purchased from American. However, this was only an option through Google and could not be found on American’s website directly (only through Google’s link).

If I had done this on my own sans Google, I would have somehow had to have known it’d be cheaper to fly from Beijing to Tokyo and on a different airline. Possible to figure out, but tricky and time-consuming. Luckily, however, Google Flights spotted the deal. And when you click on the link they provide you, it takes you directly to the website of the airline with the deal. No third parties.

It sounds too good to be true, and trust me I was skeptical. I called American Airlines five times with different questions about the flight. First – is it real? Second – are you sure Japan Airlines is included in my ticket price? Will my layover be long enough? Are my bags free? Yes!? And so on.

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Strolling past Big Ben.

In conclusion: 

I have used Google maps to find deals and book hotels before with great success, but this was my first flights experience. While I can’t fully recommend them until after I have made the journey in November, I can say that right now I am a happy camper.

Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive, and I hope that my flight-finding skills can perhaps help you in the future. So go forth young traveler, and find those cheap flights!

Questions? Concerns? Recommendations? Etc.? Let me know in the comments!

 



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