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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

How To Get The Best Deals On International Flights

Are you planning an international trip in the next year or two? Would you like to save hundreds of dollars on your international flights while still using your favorite airlines?

If you are thinking about traveling internationally in the year ahead then you need to read this post before you do anything else!

How To Get The Best Deals On INternational Flights! Learn how to save hundreds of dollars on your airline tickets while still flying the best airlines in the world

My secret talent in life is finding incredible flight deals and saving a fortune on international travel. I have an entire section in my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) on how to get the best flights possible for the least amount of money. Every hundred dollars you save on airfare is a hundred more dollars you can spend on shopping!

Some of my Glam Italia Tour travelers this past summer saved as much as $800 on their round trip flights using the tips in my book. By this I mean they were able to get the exact same flight on the exact same plane for $800 below price. If the book saves you even $100 on your flights then it was worth spending the $15 to get it! You can get a copy of my book here on Amazon.com

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I am a Sagittarian and I am a Kiwi, so it stands to reason that I have a heavy dose of wanderlust running through my veins. I am never happier than when I’m on my way to the airport about to embark on a new adventure.

The only problem is that I am also a single mom which gives me a different set of budgetary realities to deal with. People are always questioning how I can pull of all the travel I do on such a tight budget. Since 2010 I have flown to Australia round trip twice for free and to Europe five times for free, all using my frequent flier miles. This past weekend I booked a $1700 round trip trans world flight for free, using the ultimate travel hack. I have written about that in a separate post here: How To Fly Anywhere In The World For Free

Grand Canal venice in the late afternoon. If you could fly anywhere in the world where would you go?

The Grand Canal in Venice. If you could fly anywhere in the world, where would you go?

For those of you who are subscribed to my newsletter you will be getting the very specific details on how I do it in your inbox on Friday. If you are not already subscribed to my newsletter you can do so here.

Today I want to look at flight pricing and how to get the very best price on a great flight. There are important steps to follow and they work every time.

How To Get The Best Deals On International Flights

Step One: Go Incognito

Always and only ever look at flights on an incognito window. (Google how to open an incognito window on your computer).

Have you noticed that if you click on an ad or google almost any product these days your social media suddenly gets swamped with ads for that product? You open your computer and everything you try to read or look at gets riddled with ads for that product you only clicked on once???

It’s so annoying! Not only do companies drop cookies into your computer, they also drop Facebook pixels (and no doubt lots of other pixels too) that track you, collect data on what you look at online and change your marketing profile.

Most of the time it’s just annoying, but when it comes to searching for flights it can cost you hundreds of dollars. Now that they know what you’re up to they will keep upping the price of the flights you are researching. Then they start trying to make you panic by flashing “only 3 seats left at this price!” signs at you.

When you only look at flights with an incognito window, each time is the first time and you will see major differences in the price.

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Step Two: Check the airline website.

If you have a favorite airline or an airline you specifically want to use, you need to know what their price point is. My main airline is American Airlines, because that’s where most of my frequent flier miles are, so I check them first.

The airline website will normally show you the most expensive pricing you will find! But you need to know what the top dollar on this flight will cost. It doesn’t hurt to click around on their website and see if they are offering any specials, sales or big discounts somewhere else on the site.

Step Three: Check the consolidators

Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz etc will typically have the same flights for cheaper. The various consolidators have different airlines, so look across several of them.

Green Fiat 500 in Capri. Learn how to get the best deals on airline tickets. If you could fly anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Step Four: Separate off the junk.

You will find some amazing pricing with the consolidators, but know that there will be some junk routing you need to avoid.

Watch out for crappy airlines and crazy routing. When I was looking for my flights this past week and weekend there were some great prices but they had horrible routing. Instead of a 24 hour door to door some of them were as much as 41 hours! Sending me all over the place and giving me 13 hour layovers in places I didn’t want to be.

On top of that many of the airlines they were showing me were airlines I wouldn’t want to fly. Taking a long haul flight on a substandard airline is (in my opinion) not a great idea. There are plenty of great airlines out there, so if you are not familiar with a particular airline, check the reviews on it before you discard that flight option. If you see bad reviews, dig deeper – you may have a disgruntled customer who isn’t familiar with overseas travel, but if you keep seeing the same types of negative reviews run a mile!

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Step Five: Look beyond your home airport.

I live in Phoenix, which is an expensive airport to route in and out of, sometimes hundreds of dollars more than other airports. So although I do check pricing from Phoenix I also look at other airports not far from here. Tucson, Las Vegas, Denver and Los Angeles all tend to have much better pricing. Tucson is  only a 2 hour drive, and the other three I can get round trip flights to for $150 or less. I constantly save as much as $700 on a round trip flight by booking it from Los Angeles.

Step Six: Stick with it.

If you persevere invariably you can find something fantastic. Most airlines had my flight starting at $1700 and heading upward in price from there to more than $2400 for the round trip! Others were as low as $800 but the routes were just awful and on airlines with horrible revues.

After clicking around across a couple of days I found the perfect flight. It is direct, so door to door 24 hours (other side of the world), and is with one of the best airlines in the world. And it cost $958 round trip. I didn’t pay so much as a penny for my flights though – I used a frequent flier mileage trick that meant I didn’t even pay airport taxes. Normally if flying on frequent flier miles you still have an out of pocket cash cost on taxes. I am walking away from this with not one cent out of pocket. I have detailed it in this post.

Airline choice is a huge factor, especially on long haul flights. Little details such as seat pitch, food quality  and service are super important, and can mean the difference between arriving feeling sick and exhausted and arriving feeling great.

My book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) goes into depth on how I get all these flights, how I make sure my flights are fantastic, get upgraded much of the time, and avoid jet lag. Regardless of where in the world you are traveling you will find this information both helpful and cost saving. It makes a great gift for anyone you know who is planning travel to anywhere in the world, (not just to Italy). You can get it here on Amazon.com

Want more details on how I get the best flights for free? Subscribe to my newsletter here.

Staying At Yotel

I was super excited to be having a 12 hour layover in London on my way home from Italy.

London-morning
image via TravelandLeisure.com

I had all these fantastic plans to check my bags and take the tube into town and go hit my old neighborhood. 
I figured I would have time to hit the Kings Road and Knightsbridge, Kensington High Street and Notting Hill – being that I didn’t need to actually buy anything I could just walk and walk the streets and neighborhoods where my career started and where I kicked off my wild 20’s. Hell, I would even have time to swing over to Camden town. It was going to be perfect!

Right up until I actually looked at my ticket and saw that my 12 hour layover was from 10 pm until 10 am.

So now I had to figure out how to play it in one of the most expensive cities on earth. A cab ride and a hotel could be super expensive, but I wasn’t about to sit at Heathrow Terminal 5 for 12 hours.

Some international airports that have long layovers have hotels that you book by the hour, inside the terminal. So I decided to check out that option in case Heathrow did, and low and behold I found that they have one in Terminal 4.

Yotel is a fantastic concept for the long distance traveler. Instead of large hotel rooms that you book by the day, these are more like the berth on a ship or a large overnight train cabin. It’s a micro-hotel and it is everything the weary long distance traveler needs.

A Yotel room is super streamlined, pristine and very modern. You have a bed with a big fluffy duvet and a flat screen TV, a slither of a bathroom with a monsoon shower, a desk and a chair.
Everything you need to freshen up, get a few hours sleep and catch your next flight without dealing with traffic and a commute.
Your suitcase has checked through to your final destination, so it’s just you, your carry on, a hot shower and a good night’s sleep.

image via yotel.com

You book and pay online ahead of time so check in and check out are extra quick. From walking through the main entrance to walking into my room was maybe 5 minutes. No standing around in lines, no waiting for elevators and walking through mammoth hallways in a hotel with hundreds of rooms. 
Yotel is relatively small. I’m not sure how many rooms they have, but am guessing it is fewer than 100.

Yotel Heathrow is outside the terminal so you do have to go back through security before your flight, unlike the terminal hotels at Singapore’s Changi, which are enclosed inside the terminal. 
Had Yotel been inside Terminal 5 I would still own all my travel makeup, haircare and toiletries – can you tell I am still irritated at their version of TSA confiscating my things???

Regardless, Yotel was a fantastic experience. 
I had my room for 7 hours and it cost 72 Pounds Sterling, so a little over $US120. It was worth every penny.

One word of advice, book your Yotel as quickly as possible. While I was there it was fully booked, and the young man who checked me in said they are almost always at 100% occupancy.
The chances of you rolling up and being able to secure a room last minute are slim to none.

Book your Yotel at London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Amsterdam Shiphol or Hong Kong via Booking.com