Where to Find the Best Deals on Airfare

Probably the most common question that people ask me is, “how do you find such good deals?  Where do you look for these cheap fares?”

There is not a quick, simple answer to that question.  There are several different avenues that I monitor on a regular basis for good fares.  I’ll detail those later in this post, but #1 reason why I’m able to travel on such good deals is that I’m flexible.

By “flexible”, I mean that when seeking out deals, I am generally  looking for neither a specific destination, nor  date.  All I want is for the fare to preferably be leaving the DC area (DCA, IAD, or BWI), though I certainly make exceptions to that requirement, as I frequently “fly” from the Philadelphia 30th Street train station via the United / Amtrak code-share.  I’ll also consider flying from New York – especially for good international deals.  Once I see a fare to a cool place (hopefully far, far away), I check availability to make sure it fits into my schedule.  This generally means I’m looking for a weekend.  If those two criteria are met, I’ll pretty much go anywhere.

A ridiculously cheap airfare sent me to Istanbul for a weekend in February!

A ridiculously cheap airfare sent me to Istanbul for a weekend in February!

I know this is not necessarily the answer people want to hear, but it’s the truth.  If you’re looking to travel on specific dates to any destination, you have a good chance of getting “lucky” when a good fare comes about.  However, if you are looking for a certain destination at a certain time, things get substantially tougher – you’ll actually have to search for fares, and they will most likely not be one of the crazy deals that you want.

In reality, I travel so often due to both finding great deals, and by using miles that are earned at least in part by flying far distances for cheap by acquiring airfares that I find using several of the below flights:

Below are a list of resources that I use to check for both deals, and for specific flights:

Where to hunt “deals”

  • TheFlightDeal.com – This website is an awesome resource for those who are casually browsing for deals.  It is a blog that calls out fantasic deals.  It evaluates fares on  a CPM (cents per mile) basis to show the value of the fare.  Follow this site on Twitter to stay on top of the deals.  Notice that the site has a menu option where you can select a specific US city.
  • FareMagnet.com – Similar to The Flight Deal, FareMagnet is also a fantastic resource that alerts folks to abnormally awesome airfares.  You should also follow this site on Twitter if you’re looking for deals.
  • Travelzoo “Today’s Best Fare” Airfare specials – These are not always accurate, but they do provide a nice, at a glance view of lowest airfares out of specific US gateways to various domestic and international destinations, sorted by price.  This is a good starting point for finding good fares.

    Today's Best Fares from Travelzoo

    Today’s Best Fares from Travelzoo

  • ITA Matrix —  For hardcore searching, I run searches from WAS to a list of places on the west coast on a semi-normal basis.  This tool tells me when and where there’s space, and how much it is listed for.  This is more of an advanced search tool, but it allows searching to multiple cities and returns the cheapest airfares — for that reason, it’s an invaluable resource for airfare hunting.  This site requires a bit of direction, and I will detail how to search for cities in another post.
  • Flyertalk mileage Run message boards — Though these fares are sought specifically by and for mileage runners, they certainly can be used by anyone.  It is Flyertalk etiquette to evaluate a fare on a cents-per-mile (CPM) basis.  On this site, CPM is calculated referring to Premier Qualifying Miles (generally the actual mileage flown), and not redeemable miles.  The goal is to fly as far as possible, for as cheap as possible.  Generally speaking, a “good” mileage run deal comes in at less than 5 cents-per-mile.  A very-good mileage run is less than 4 CPM, and an amazing mileage run would be less than 3 CPM.  This can be overwhelming if you’re new to it, but some threads started here regularly feature some really great deals.  Learn your airport codes if you plan on using this site!

These five resources are great, but it does take a bit of time to stay “up to date” on the fares disclosed on these sites.  Since most of these deals are so good, they rarely last more than a day or two.

The best resources to search for specific flights

  • ITA Matrix — Again, this is the most thorough search engine for finding fares between defined city pairs.  The only downside is that you cannot book directly on the website – you must go to the airline’s website, or another booking site in order to make a reservation.  There are a series of codes to return exactly what you may be looking for, and I will detail these in a later post.

    ITA Matrix Search and Syntax for hints on searching

    ITA Matrix Search and Syntax for hints on searching

  • Kayak.com – This is a very popular and very useful metasearch engine for flights.  It searches over 120 websites to find the best price.  It’s usually pretty accurate and gives great results.  Definitely a good site if you know what you want and need to book today.

You can search all you want for fares.  There are a few tricks of the trade, but many times it just comes down to luck.

A mistake fare put me in this seat from Seoul to LA for less than $250!

A mistake fare put me in this first class seat from Seoul to LA for less than $250!

Below are a few tips:

  • Be flexible.  As I indicated earlier, this is probably the best way to get in on an airfare deal.  The more you limit your options, the less likely it is that you’ll find a great fare.  I routinely fly from BWI or IAD instead of my preferred DCA – simply because I can get fares that are sometimes hundreds of dollars cheaper.
  • Be alert.  Use all the avenues above to their fullest.  The more you monitor fares, the more likely you are to benefit from them.  This can be crazily time-consuming, but if cheap and frequent travel is your goal, this is just a fact of life.  Use Twitter, RSS readers, and online forums to better your chances at finding deals.
  • Fares tend to be re-filed by the major airlines on Tuesdays around Noon, Eastern time.  This is often a time where you can find some of the better pricing out there.  Contrarily, fares can also raise at this time, so if you’re debating a trip with what you deem to be a reasonable price, book it, don’t wait!
  • If you see a mistake fare, BOOK NOW and THINK LATER.  When I see something too good to be true, it may be.  But lots of times, the airlines let them slide because they’re a headache to deal with.  Just book the mistake fare and work out the details later.  If it doesn’t get canceled by the airline, you’ll likely have plenty of time to work out the hows and whys of the trip.
  • Make friends who seek out deals.  What’s better than monitoring fares on the reg?  Having friends who monitor fares and then alert you of them!  Since I’ve been doing this for a while and have friends who share the same interest, I’m often alerted of awesome deals that I may have missed, or that I just didn’t see.

All in all, cheap fares are out there.  It’s just a question of how much time you’re willing to put in to find them.  There’s no “magic bullet” to finding the cheapest fares all the time, but by visiting some of the sites suggested in this post, and by adhering to some of my hints, your odds are much better!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Four Days in Tokyo: Day 4

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo


…Continued from Day 3 

Tsukiji Market

Since this was to be my last day in Tokyo, I wanted to make it to the famous Tsukiji  Market.  This is probably one of the most famous seafood markets anywhere in the world.  Every morning, the tuna boats unload their fresh catches, and they are sold at auction.  One can witness the auction by showing up early (think 4am), but I have a hard enough time being up by 7am.  So after arriving at Tsukijishijo station (a straight shot from Shinjuku), I walked around the market a bit, and then went in search of some fresh, off-the-boat sushi!  I read the top two sushi places in Tsukiji (and in Tokyo, for that matter) were Sushi Dai and Daiwazushi.   After it was apparent that I wasn’t getting into Sushi Dai without waiting for hours, I went to Dawiazushi, which had a smaller, but still substantial line.

Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji Market

The line at Daiwazushi at Tsukiji Market

The line at Daiwazushi at Tsukiji Market

I got into the line, about 25 people back and the “host / line-control / bouncer” asked how many people were in my party.  I replied that it was only me, and that resulted in me being seated immediately.  I ordered the set menu for 3500 yen, the “Omakase Chef Choice”, as anyone should, and what came out was nothing short of amazing.  It was easily the best sushi I have ever had.  I’m certainly not a sushi snob, but after eating this, I maybe ruined for life when eating “lesser” quality sushi.  I can’t describe how fresh it was — I mean, it came off the boat just hours prior to me putting it in my belly.  A trip here is a MUST-DO experience when you’re in Tokyo.  You seriously cannot skip at trip here.  If you’re a sushi fan, this is pretty much as good as it gets — probably the best sushi in the world.

Daiwazushi

Daiwazushi

asdf

Tai (Red Snapper) nigiri, Uni (sea urcin) nigiri, and Ikura (salmon roe) and magura (tuna) maki roll

asdf

Toro (fatty tuna) nigiri

asdf

Shrimp and Fatty Tuna Nigiri

asdf

Tomago yaki (egg) and Saba (makeral) nigiri

After Tsukiji, I went back to the hotel to pack my suitcase in preparation for my trip to Narita airport later that afternoon.  Later in the morning, I enjoyed breakfast at Grirandole in the lobby of the Park Hyatt Tokyo.  After finishing breakfast, I gathered my things, and headed downstairs to catch my limousine bus to Tokyo-Narita airport.  This was pre-arranged with the concierge for 3000 yen.  The drive out to the airport took over 90 minutes, as Narita is nowhere near downtown Tokyo.

 Tokyo Subway / Getting Around

Tokyo is home to the world’s largest and most extensive subway system.  It is extremely easy to use and to get around.  There are two main lines, Tokyo Metro and the Toei Subway.  Together, this system is composed of 13 lines to 290 stations, with a daily ridership of over 8.9 million passengers.  The subway system is extremely orderly, though a bit overwhelming and crowded.

Orderly chaos of the Tokyo Subway

Gates at the Tokyo Subway — DC sure could use these!

Luckily, there are subway stations seemingly everywhere, and they are pretty cheap (120 – 4o0 yen, each way).  Given the astronomical taxi cab rates in Tokyo, the subway was my primary and preferred means of transportation throughout the city.  If you’re out late, its importatnt to note that the last train is around 1am, so if you miss that, an expensive cab becomes necessary.  A great refrence for getting around on the Tokyo Subway can be found on this wikihow page.

 Airport Transfers

As mentioned before, I used the Airport Limousine Bus Service for both my arrival at Haneda Airport to the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, and for my departure from the Park Hyatt to Narita Airport.  This is an extremely easy option, since the bus picks up and drops off from the hotel door.  This service is available at a number of Tokyo hotels and subway stations.  From Shinjuku, Haneda airport is about 45 minutes away, and Narita airport is 90-120 minutes — a much longer ride.

Overall Thoughts about Tokyo

Tokyo stole the show on this trip — it was without a doubt my favorite city that I visited during this fifteen day adventure.  Tokyo is the definition of a megalopolis, and there are so many different neighborhoods in the city.   I was in Tokyo for about 3-4 days, but I could have stayed for much longer.  With that said, I feel that I spent enough time here, unlike some of the other destinations on this trip.  The simple fact it is — Tokyo is so large, so expansive, and has so much to offer– that one could easily just focus on a few neighborhoods each time they visit.  There is no way you can see all of Tokyo in a week, or maybe even two.

The relatively concentrated areas I visited in Tokyo

The relatively concentrated areas I visited in Tokyo

To demonstrate this, above is a map with the geo-location tags for the pictures that I took while in Tokyo.  As you can see, I focused almost all of this trip in the west / southwest neighborhoods of Tokyo.  It’s the largest city (population-wise) in the world, and after four days here, Tokyo is certainly one of my favorite.

I will certainly be back!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Two Days in Santiago

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


The flight from Rio de Janeiro to Santiago was relatively uneventful.  I had a standard economy seat on a TAM Airlines A320.  The legroom was quite restricted, and it was not the most comfortable 4hr45minutes of my life.  But I dealt with it like a champ.

Notsomuch legroom on my TAM flight GIG-SCL

Notsomuch legroom on my TAM flight GIG-SCL

The highlight to of the flight was the meal.  While it was only a standard economy meal, it was very different from any economy meal that I’ve had.  I chose the chicken pie, and it was very good – probably one of the best tasting economy meals I’ve had on any flight, actually.

Chicken Pie... seriously... it was good!

Chicken Pie… seriously… it was good!

I also recall the catering from my flight from Rio to Orlando last March to be quite good too, so maybe I’m having luck with the catering out of the TAM Rio de Janeiro station.  It’s much better than what I’ve had from JFK.

I arrived in Santiago just around 7pm on Friday night.  Before the authorities were able to process me through immigration, I had to pay the reciprocity fee at a very clearly labeled kiosk.  This reciprocity fee sets Americans back USD$160, but is good for multiple entries for the life of your passport.  Credit cards are accepted as a form of payment for the fee.

After passing through immigration, I headed to the taxi stand inside the terminal where they advised me of a rate of 19,000 (~USD$38) Chilean Pesos for a cab to my hostel in the Bellavista neighborhood.  This was a bit high, but after traveling for the previous 24 hours, I went ahead and went with it.  For what it’s worth, most in Santiago advise not to pay more than 15,000 pesos (~USD$30) for a cab to the airport.

I pulled up to a non-descript entrance on a dimly lit street in Bellavista after about a 30 minute ride from the airport.  After buzzing the gate, I proceeded through the front door of the La Chimba hostel.  I had decided against staying at a chain hotel like the Grand Hyatt or one of the many SPG properties simply to save some money on this two-week trip.  The place was an eclectic little hostel with a main common area and several dorms that house anywhere from one to four.

La Chimba Hostel hallway

La Chimba Hostel hallway

La Chimba hostel common area

La Chimba hostel common area

I pre-booked a single dorm with a shared bathroom for the princely sum of USD$30 per night (4 person dorms were available starting at USD$16 per night).  The room was small, but was all I needed.  The bed was a spring matress with plenty of bedding to keep me warm during the cold nights.

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Without a doubt, the highlight of the property is its location.  It is situated on E. Pinto Lagarrigue in Barrio Bellavista, which is one block off of Pio Nono – the primary restaurant and entertainment artery in the area.  Furthermore, it was less than a ten minute walk to the heart of downtown at Bella Artes and less than fifteen minutes from Plaza de Armas.

Barrio Bellavista

Barrio Bellavista

Bellavista at Night

Bellavista at Night

The location of this place alone made the $30 per night a no-brainer.  I really cannot imagine a much better location for touring Santiago and for being in the middle of the action.

After checking in and taking a much-needed shower, I met up with an Australian friend who I’d met last March while staying in Buenos Aires.  A group of us went out for the evening to a couple bars – first, to Bar The Clinic (near Bella Artes) and then to Onaciu in Bellavista.  It was an extremely fun night out on the town where I was introduced to the national drink of Chile – the Pisco Sour.  Though it’s a little sweet for my tastes, I really didn’t have a choice but to try one (or two… or three…) of these things.

A Pisco Sour

A Pisco Sour

I awoke Saturday morning to a somewhat clear morning as the fog receeded.  The entrance to the funicular at San Cristobal hill was a whopping two blocks from my hostel, so I proceeded there and bought a 2,600 peso round-trip ticket on the funicular to the top of the hill.

Funicular up San Cristobal Hill

Funicular up San Cristobal Hill

Funicular from up top

Funicular from up top

The views from up here were awesome!  Unfortunately, the smog / fog held around a little bit too long that morning, and I was unable to see all of the the Andes mountains, but I was able to see some vistas of the mountains – the first time I’d ever seen the Andes!

Statue of Virgin Mary

Statue of Virgin Mary

Smoggy View of Santiago

Smoggy View of Santiago

Financial district in Santiago

Financial district in Santiago

My first view of the Andes Montains

My first view of the Andes Montains

Me atop the hill with Santiago and the Andes in the background

Me atop the hill with Santiago and the Andes in the background

After walking around for about an hour, I grabbed an empanada and a Gatorade and headed back down the hill on the funicular.

Jamon y Queso Empanada

Jamon y Queso Empanada

Llama!

Llama!

My next stop was Plaza de Armas downtown, where I met up with a free walking tour.  The group consisted of about ten tourists and our guide, Felipe.  Felipe gave a wonderful 3.5-4 hour, narrated tour of the city.  I feel like this tour enabled me to see all of the important landmarks in the city during my short time there.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

Former National Congress Building (the current Congress is in Valaparaiso

Former National Congress Building (the current Congress is in Valparaiso

La Moneda Palace

La Moneda Palace

Universidad de Chile

Universidad de Chile

"New York Street" in Santiago

“New York Street” in Santiago

The Santiago Stock Exchange

The Santiago Stock Exchange

Parque Forestal - The largest park in the city

Parque Forestal – The largest park in the city

Parque Forestal at dusk

Parque Forestal at dusk

One of the millions of "street dogs" in Santiago.  The locals care for these dogs, and they are very much a part of the city

One of the millions of “street dogs” in Santiago. The locals care for these dogs, and they are very much a part of the city

About two-thirds of the way through the tour, we stopped at a coffeeshop in the LaStarria neighborhood for a Pisco sour.  The tour ended up in Bellavista, about three blocks from my hostel.  Felipe gave me all sorts of great recommendations for dinner and for lunch the next day.  As with most “free tours”, the tour guides operate on a tips-only basis, and in this case it was well-deserved.  This walking tour leaves daily from Plaza de Armas at 10am and 3pm.  I highly recommend it for a cheap, easy, fun, and informative way to see the sights in Santiago – it would especially be a good way to orient oneself with the city on their first day.

Per Felipe and my Aussie friends’ suggestion, I had a late dinner Saturday night at Galindo in Bellavista.  This restaurant is well known in Santiago amongst both tourists and locals for its Chilean food.  I was starving after a long day of touring, and ordered the empanada a pino to begin, and the “Pastel de Choclo” for the entrée, along with a couple of beers to wash dinner down.

Empanada a pino

Empanada a pino

Pastel de Choclo -- Corn Pie made of mashed corn, ground beef, onions, egg, chicken, black olives, and raisins

Pastel de Choclo — Corn Pie made of mashed corn, ground beef, onions, egg, chicken, black olives, and raisins

It was fantastic.

Dinner no doubt left me in a food coma, so I back to the hostel and called it a night.

Sunday morning, I awoke in time to shower, re-pack my things and check out of the hostel.  I stored my luggage there and had them order me a cab for noon.  Meanwhile, I trekked to the Mercado Central where I intended to have an early lunch, and oh, what a lunch I had!

Mercado Central de Santiago

Mercado Central de Santiago

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

The Mercado Central is the main fish and seafood market in Santiago.  I really enjoy going to markets when I visit varous cities, and this was no exception.

Fresh Seafood!

Fresh Seafood!

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

I ended up eating at one of the many restaurants around the Mercado, and ordered the Paila Marina – a local specialty that translate literally to “seafood soup.”  It was amazing, and extremely filling.   This set me back only about 3,500 pesos.

Paila Marina for lunch

Paila Marina for lunch

According to Felipe, the many restaurants in the Mercado rotate chefs on a continual basis, so they all have basically the same food.  The restaurants on the outer ring of the Mercado are much cheaper, while the ones in the center are more expensive for essentially the same food!

After this amazing lunch, I walked 20 minutes back to the hostel, where my cab was waiting to take me back to the airport for my flight back to New York via Sao Paulo.  All in all, Santiago was a fantastic city, and my big regret was not spending another day here.  I usually like to spend three days in a new city, and this was no exception.

Simply put, I needed another day.