Disclaimer: I am not a financial adviser. This blog post is strictly for entertainment purposes.
When one of our couple friends was getting married, they were trying to put together plans for a honeymoon in Europe. My husband said something like, “You should ask Julie. I don’t know how she comes across these flight deals. One time, she booked a roundtrip flight from LAX to Rome for $250 per person.”
One thing he failed to mention was that I did this on an impulse buy and it was about three years ago. This low-cost flight ticket was only good for late January to early February -which is low-tourism season. We have no school-age children or any kids at the time so we were able to go on this trip. Also, I review flight deals in my inbox every day. There’s no magic here, just diligence and the willingness to be flexible even if the weather isn’t optimal. Winters in Rome are like Southern California winters but we wanted to take advantage of this cheap flight to Rome to explore other parts of Europe — and the winters in other parts of Europe can be very brutal. After a day in Munich, my hair was completely destroyed. A haircut was needed as soon as I got home. To me, it was all good because it was a cheap flight to Europe!
Another part of the work I do in finding low-cost flights is first going to Google Flights. Its gives me a good idea of how much flights cost to certain destinations at certain times of the year and how long could we stay there. I would spend a lot of time on Google Flights planning for these hypothetical trips. The Google flights website gives me a good estimate of which destinations are the cheapest to fly to and from which air carriers. I prefer buying the tickets directly through the airlines because they tend to be cheaper.
It sounds exhausting thinking about it. And that’s just for airlines. Don’t forget travel planning also includes planning where to lodge too. There’s another madness to my method.
The other month, when preparing for our Seattle trip, we had to plan for where to stay. There were so many options. The first thing I do is look at a map of the places we would like to do in Seattle. When traveling, I prefer taking public transit or walking so I wanted a place that was convenient and was near public transit. It narrowed down my hotel choices and I then price-compared. I’ve learned recently to not look at the cost per night, but instead look at the total cost of the hotel because they may have tacked on surprise fees when you are about to check out. Initially, I almost went forward with a hotel that was offering a free night if we stayed for two nights. Intially I thought the deal would have worked out perfect because we were staying in Seattle for three nights. When I was about to pay for the hotel, the total cost did not make any sense. So I backtracked on my choices and ended up booking with another hotel. Hotel B may have not offered a free night and it seemed to have a higher nightly rate, but the total cost was still cheaper by $50 than my initial choice. It was a bonus that hotel B offered a generous cashback deal. (Side note: I don’t go out of my way to buy things if they’re offering cashback.)
Anyways, no, I don’t do any travel deal hacking or magic. Jokingly people ask if I would host a workshop or talk more about it. If I had a class, I would give you a daily assignment to look at your travel budget and planner. The next day we would meet and I would ask you to repeat the assignment for several sessions until you’re satisfied with the outcome. The work can be tedious and unappealing but really, isn’t that what planning and budgeting are?
The same exercise is happening again for our trip to France, but this time the added challenge is traveling in high season. No one wants to spend an exorbitant amount on flights and hotels. I’ve increased visits to Google flights from once a week to every day. I found a flight ticket to Paris from LAX at what I thought was a low price. I text people I know who travel in the summer if the price was a good deal. Short story: It was. One of them shared that his spouse is in Paris right now she paid far more than the price I paid.
Another dimension that is now in my travel planning arsenal is the use of credit card reward points. I am too new to the points game so I don’t have any tips or best practices to share at this time.
Personal finance wins from the past month:
– Buying clothes second-hand. I confess: I love clothes from Anthropologie but they’re very expensive. Thanks to Facebook groups dedicated to reselling clothes, I can buy Anthropologie for far below retail value.
– Canceled my kid’s membership at the dance studio. This one was hard to let go of because Lana has been going to the dance studio almost every weekend for a year. I really enjoyed my time there too. The reason why I had to cancel her membership was that her daycare was offering dance classes. I did not see why I had to pay for two dance class tuitions. Canceling her membership at the dance studio saves me $30 (plus some more since she loves going to the bakery next door and we always buy pastries after dance class). Since we already paid for the month at the studio, we have a few more weeks at the dance studio.
– Added “no takeout” on my habits trackers
– Found a retirement account from my old job from way back when. My next move is to roll it over. It boosted my savings by quite a bit. I am currently at 77% of my goal.
5 thoughts on ““You’re a travel deals wizard, Julie” (Personal finance journey)”
We once found 1/2 price flights from Rhode Island to Florida traveling mid-week on an off peak time. Deals are definitely easiest to find when you can be incredibly flexible. Once my middle son started high school (we used to homeschool so could vacation whenever we wanted) I really had to readjust my expectations on costs and traveling during peak times.
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I used to be a financial advisor (it’s a good way to starve, as it’s a commission only job). But you’re right, all financial stuff is about educating yourself and relentlessly looking for deals. No magic; just a lot of work.
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Oh wow! I had no idea it was a commission-only job! So that means your checks change every pay period. When I use to work in senior care, the sales teams’ pay was also commission only too.
Julie, you should be a travel consultant, for sure or a financial planner. I hope your day job pays you well because you seem to have your hobby fine-tuned to profit-producing enterprise (at least for you!)
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Aww you are too kind, Marsha!
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