The 7 Most Important Tips For Finding The Best International Flights

Finding the best airfares for international flights takes a bit of strategy. If you don’t know what you’re doing you’ll find the prices going up every time you look. Normally with flashing banners warning ‘only 3 seats left at this price!

As a professional traveler, flying multiple international flights per year, I want the best flight plan possible at the best price possible, and I’ve been able to figure out some good strategies along the way.

I have an entire chapter on how to get the best international flights and how to find the best international airfares in my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy. It’s well worth buying the book for that chapter alone, as it can save you hundreds on your airfare.

Today I want to give you 7 tips and strategies for finding the best flights and airfares for your international trip.

1. Use An Incognito Window

Always and only ever use an incognito window when looking for flights. Otherwise companies drop cookies into your computer, track you, and put the price up every time you look. This can impact the cost of your trip by multiple hundreds of dollars. Let the companies think you are a new flyer, every time.

2. Check The Consolidators To Find The Lowest Prices

With an incognito window now check the consolidator prices. I look at Google flights and at Priceline to see what the average low price is. This gives me an idea of where the market is. If you have any flexibility in your dates see what happens if you move back or forth a day or two. I normally avoid flying peak days, like Fridays and Sundays. Where possible I try to fly Tuesdays and Wednesdays as there seems to be a dip in prices on those days. If not, I’ll look for my preferred dates.


Flying over France last autumn

3. Look At Layover Times

My next strategy is to look at layover times. Not all of us are blessed with direct flights from our home town to the destination city. That means we either take a domestic flight to our outbound city, or that we fly to the first destination and then catch a domestic flight to the final destination.

For example, maybe your first flight is from your home airport to JFK in New York, and your second flight is from JFK to Paris.

Or, Maybe you fly direct from JFK to Paris but then have to catch an internal flight to Lyons. Or a trans Europe flight to Lisbon.

I recommend getting a 3 hour layover between flights. This gives you a little breathing room if your first flight is late, as well as giving you time to find a new flight if your first flight is cancelled.

Plenty of flight routes give you only 50 minutes to an hour to catch your connecting flight. You need to consider that international flights start boarding about an hour before take off, and they close the doors 15 minutes before pulling away from the gate. If your domestic flight is late even 10 minutes, you could miss your international connection. Also, with a layover of an hour or less the chances of your checked luggage not making the flight go up astoundingly.

There are plenty of U.S airports that require you to leave the secure area, go to another terminal, then go back through TSA security. This also can make you miss a tight connection.

If flying in and out of Europe, the first country you land in is where you go through passport control and immigration. You might be flying into Paris, then connecting to Rome, with Rome as your final destination. You won’t go through passport control in Rome, you will go through in Paris.

It’s the same with the return flight. The city you leave Europe from is the one you go through passport control. So if your flight is Florence to Munich, then Munich to Denver, you exit the EU from Munich, so that’s where you’ll line up to go through passport control.

It is well worth having a 3 hour layover in each direction.


4. Look At Total Travel Time

You may have found a smoking deal, but on closer inspection find you have a 12 hour layover in O’Hare, of that you fly to Helsinki, overnight for 22 hours, then fly on to Rome. (This forces you to pay for a hotel room.)

Or maybe that super cheap flight has your domestic outbound at 6am, which means check in at 4 am, getting up at 2:30-3:00 am, and has you completely exhausted when you arrive to your final destination.

Try to find a flight that doesn’t start too early, doesn’t have multiple domestic connections, and doesn’t have overly long and exhausting/expensive layovers.

If you can start your travel day with a 10 am flight you will arrive feeling so much less jet-lagged than if you start at 6am.

5. Check The Airline’s Website

Once you know the best prices and the best flight routes, now go check the airline’s website. Sometimes they have a better offer, but 9 time out of 10 they are more expensive.

I call the airline, speak to a human, and see if they can match the consolidator’s price. So long as it is the same airline, they frequently will match it, better it, or find you another flight plan that is even better!

If they don’t, just buy the consolidator ticket. I try where possible to buy through the airline itself as that makes it easier if anything goes wrong, but I won’t over pay for a ticket.


Leaving Christchurch, December 2022

6. Check Your Credit Card Portal

Most major airlines and many major credit card companies have their own shopping portals. For the benefit of having you click into their portal, then to the airline website, they give you extra frequent flier miles. If I am booking an American Airlines flight I will check the American Airlines shopping portal and see how many extra miles I get for booking my flights through there. Then I check my credit card portal.

I might get 3 miles for every dollar spent on American Airlines by using their portal, or I might get 5 miles or even 10 miles per dollar spent via my credit card’s portal. Or the other way around. Either way, I not only want to get miles for my flight, I want all the bonus miles I can get.

I explain how this works in detail on the Untold Italy Podcast episode #116. (The pod episode is on all major podcast platforms.) In that episode I tell you multiple ways I save money when traveling, and how I get at least one free roundtrip airfare to Europe or Australia/New Zealand every year. Most of it is through front end strategy, using tricks like this to earn enormous numbers of frequent flier miles every year. It is definitely worth a listen!

7. Prepare For An Upgrade

I get an upgrade approximately 1 in 3 international flights. Normally from an economy seat up to a business class seat.

In Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy I go into depth about how I get upgraded so often. I still use all the strategies in the book, but in the last 5 years have added another trick when I’m not flying the 3 major U.S carriers. (American, Delta and United.) The big 3 don’t participate, but many/most other airlines take part in Upgrade Auctions. You can either find the upgrade auction on the airline website after buying your flight, or there are third party companies that do them.

Premium Economy will almost always sell out, and much of the time regular economy does too. The class that doesn’t always sell out is business class. So airlines can fill their planes by upgrading lower classes and selling more economy class seats. One way to monetize this is to auction the empty business class seats to the highest bidders. When you go into the upgrade auction it will tell you the lowest you can bid (it typically starts around $300 – you can’t bet $10 and get into biz class. It may top out at $850 or $1400, or whatever they think they might get.)

In the 24 hours before the flight leaves the winner(s) will be notified by email, their credit cards will be charged, and they now get all the perks of flying business class. This includes access tot he club lounge at the airport, priority boarding, extra luggage allowance, and of course all the inflight perks from lie-flat seats, to better meals, real flatware and plates, complimentary champagne – the works.

*** Before you buy your ticket check to see if that airline has an upgrade auction and if they only open it to travelers who have bought through their website, or through that airline. I recently flew Air New Zealand from Los Angeles to Auckland, but had bought a code share ticket through United, which saved hundreds of dollars. I couldn’t go into Air New Zealand’s upgrade auction because the flight was purchased through United.

Hopefully you will use these tips to find amazing flight deals and the best flight plans for your upcoming trips! For more international travel tips and specialty Italy trip info, including my favorite secret towns and villages across Italy, join thousands of people around the world, and subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

One Last Thought

Always buy travel insurance for international trips. This covers you if anything goes wrong, from missed flights to luggage not arriving, to you getting sick while away. I normally buy my travel insurance from Travelex.

This blog post explains more about travel insurance. In a pandemic/post pandemic world you need to get Covid cover with your insurance policy. This is normally found in the Trip Delay category. Look for a trip delay of $2000. This covers accommodation for 10 nights should you test positive and not be able to fly home. At the time of writing this blog post no airlines/countries are stopping people testing Covid + from boarding flights, but between now and your flight home it could be reimplemented. Or, you could get sick while away and not be able to fly home.

It never hurts to be prepared…

5 Essential Items To Always Pack In Your Airplane Hand Luggage

Whether you’re flying for business or for pleasure, you should always apply some strategy packing your carry-on bag.

Your checked luggage could go missing, (happens more often than you’d think) or your plane could get delayed on the tarmac for hours (also happens more than you realize). Then there are situations where your plane has to be diverted to a random airport and gets stuck there for hours with no food or drink available, and very limited access to phone charging stations.

As a professional traveler racking up multiple international and domestic flights every year, I always follow these rules:

1. Pack 3 Days Worth of Clothes

image via

When airlines lose your luggage they typically have it back to you within three days. But that doesn’t help you when you arrive to your destination, especially if there are no shops around to buy emergency clothing. If you are heading out on a tour or a cruise your missing luggage could be disastrous, so you should always pack 3 days worth of clothing and underwear, something to sleep in, travel sized beauty products and a mini makeup kit. Think of everything you would need for 3 days, and pack that.

2. Always Have A Fully Charged External Phone Charger

You should always board your flight with a fully charged phone as well as a fully charged external power bank. Quite apart from not arriving to your destination with a dead phone, should your flight get re-routed to a random airport (like when there are mechanical or medical problems) you can find yourself stuck for hours with no way to charge your phone.

Your plane can be stuck on the tarmac for hours – recently passengers were stuck on a plane on the tarmac for 13 hours. (See this article)

Although some planes have USB charging ports in the setback in front of you, half the time they don’t work, or are very slow to charge. You can’t rely on being able to charge your phone in the plane.


3. Snacks

Sometimes your flight will run out of food that you can eat, only having options not suitable for your palette or digestive system. Other times there’s just not enough food – a few years ago a 12 hour flight from Europe to Los Angeles only served economy passengers the equivalent of a lunchables snack pack! Then of course you have situations where your plane is stuck on the ground for hours on end and no-one is allowed off (see previous linked article). No food is served and no drink is available.

Always, always pack snacks in your carry-on bag. I recommend protein bars, packets of nuts, candy if you eat it, packaged muffins – anything that will tide you over if something goes wrong. If you don’t need it, it’s no big deal. But should you be stuck in an unplanned situation you will be glad you have supplies on hand.

I always buy a large bottle of water before boarding my flight too. (Or fill up a water bottle) Again, you may not need it, but you don’t want to be stuck on a plane or anywhere else with nothing to drink.

**Sliced fruit and unsealed foods can be problematic when flying into some countries, like Australia and New Zealand. Check ahead what the laws are for the country you are flying into.

4. All Prescription Medicines You’re Traveling With

Always pack all prescription medicines in your hand luggage. If your suitcase doesn’t arrive with you you may not be able to get replacement prescriptions at your destination.


5. Something Warm

It can get really cold on planes, so it’s a good idea to have either a warm top/sweater/hoodie to wear when the temps drop, or to have a pashmina to wrap up in. International flights typically have blankets, but you’ll often find they’re not clean or have moth holes in them.

Other Carry On Tips:

  • Get a carry-on bag that has wheels. Some airports require very long walks to get to your gate. For example Rome Fiumicino takes 20 minutes from security to international departure gates for direct flights to the U.S.

New Zealand’s Auckland airport took 25 minutes walk from security to the gate when I was en route back to the U.S.

Los Angeles LAX airport can take more than a half hour walk from a domestic terminal through security and on to your gate.

When you have a long walk to get to your gate you’ll be wishing your bag was on wheels, especially if it is heavy or unwieldy. Get a rollaway back that can sit on top of your suitcase so you’re not trying to wrangle two wheelie bags.


  • Keep all cash and credit cards with you, ideally in your handbag at your feet. Once you land, split your cash and cards between your handbag and your carry-on bag.
  • Put your carry-on bag in the overhead bin opposite your seat rather than above it. If anyone is rifling through bags during your flight you’ll be able to see if they’re messing with your bag. This happens on planes more than you’d expect, especially on long flights when passengers are sleeping.

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8 Important Things You Must Never Pack In Your Checked Luggage

2022 was a nightmare year for airlines losing checked luggage. Some airlines lost as many as 10% of the suitcases that had been checked in!

On top of that, checked suitcases are subject to thieves. Even locked luggage is vulnerable.

Regardless of what the travel year is looking like and how reliable you think the airline and its baggage handlers are, here are 8 things you should never, ever pack in your suitcase when you fly:

1. Prescription Medicines

Always pack prescription medicines in your hand luggage. Always. Also any meds you could potentially need on arrival, from pain meds to allergy meds. If a medicine is going to be or could possibly be needed before you return home it must be in your carry on bag. Suitcases get lost all the time, and should your prescription glasses or life saving meds be in that lost bag, you can find yourself in a world of trouble!

2. Electronics

All electronics with lithium batteries need to be in your hand luggage for safety reasons. Your non-lithium battery electronics can get damaged when bags are thrown around, and are hot ticket items to potentially be stolen from your suitcase.

3. Cash and/or Credit Cards

Never put backup cash and/or credit cards in your checked luggage. If anyone sneaks into your luggage once you’ve put it on the conveyor belt, your cash and cards will for sure be taken.


4. Any Travel Documents, Or Documents You Don’t Want The World To See

Everything from your travel itinerary to hotel reservations, to any documents you don’t want the world to see, all need to be in your carry on luggage.

5. Lithium Batteries

Some lithium batteries with restrictions are allowed in carry on bags, but not in checked luggage. If your smart bag with lithium charger gets checked, be sure to remove the battery and bring it onboard in your hand luggage.

6. Electronic Cigarettes and Vaping Devices

E-cigarettes are banned from checked luggage, but you can pack them in your carry on.


7. Matches and Electronic Lighters

You can bring one pack of safety matches in your carry on, but no matches are allowed in your checked luggage. Strike-anywhere matches are prohibited on planes, in both carry on luggage and checked luggage. Electronic lighters are also prohibited on planes, but you can bring disposable lighters. Zippos without fuel are allowed to be packed.


8. Jewelry and Valuables

All valuable jewelry should be packed in your carry on. Even items that could be perceived as being valuable should be in your carry on.

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