Back in May 2016, I planned an incredible trip, the longest one I’ve ever planned for. I was heading to Iceland, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, and ending in Milan and Lake Como, Italy. With every trip, we start off with a budget in mind and I always make it my mission to spend less than said budget. It doesn’t always happen and sometimes we spend way too much (no regrets), but this time I even impressed myself and spent a lot less than budgeted! I started dreaming the trip up 1 full year before, and after doing all my research and signing up for the best credit cards, I started booking in November 2015. It took me two and a half months to finish booking everything. The key to saving as much money as possible is to plan far in advance, here’s why…
Amsterdam canals, Netherlands (source travel.aarp.org)
Saving hundreds with credit cards
For this specific trip, I applied for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard because it gives me cash back. I’ve tried many cards that offer miles, but I don’t like the limitations they give you so I always opt for cards that offer money back. Now that it’s all said and paid for, I will be getting anywhere from $455-$500 back for my travel purchases. I applied for the same card in 2014 when I booked our Spain trip and ended up getting $575 back. However, points take time to accumulate so make sure you plan that way ahead of your flight booking. If you have great credit, try getting a hotel credit card as well. We have the IHG Rewards Club credit card, and have already received 3 free Holiday Inn stays with it! I love playing the credit card game, and by doing it right it’s helped me get excellent credit.
Prague, Czech Republic (source miriadna.com)
Flights are cheaper further in advance
Based on the trends I’ve noticed, it’s best to book international flights at least 6-7 months in advance. Research what the average prices are for your destination, then come up with your ideal number from there. I like using the Skyscanner and Kayak apps for flight tracking. Then I always double check on Google Flights and the specific airline’s website to make sure I’m getting the best deal. Go into your search with a budget in mind, and when you find a flight that fits that budget book it. Don’t wait, just book it! Flights change so quickly and you can end up paying way more than you wanted (I’ve been there).
But consider other routes
If all the flights still seem too expensive then consider flying into a cheaper country, and from there taking a local budget airline to your final destination. When we were doing our research, Denmark, Poland, and Iceland were some of the cheaper destinations to fly into. Luckily we were already headed to Iceland so that was a win. Flying within Europe is so much cheaper than flying within the U.S. An example: A flight from Amsterdam to Prague cost us $64 each. I can’t even fly from Chicago to Indiana for that price!
And mess with your itinerary
The more flexible you are with your dates the less you’ll spend on airfare. Sites like Skyscanner and Google Flights allow you to see the year as a whole, which is great when you’re trying to budget. Another thing I really love about those two sites is that they show you all the destinations at once, so you can pick and choose where you want to fly into. I messed with my itinerary A LOT to find the cheapest route possible between countries. Italy wasn’t originally on the list, but Milan was the cheapest to fly out of. We’ve been to Italy a few times, but never to Milan or Lake Como. Cappuccinos, gelatos, amazing pizza plus the cheapest flight home? YES PLEASE!
Lake Como, Italy (source flikr.com)
Airbnb’s get booked quickly
It’s never too soon to start booking accommodations. If you wait too long you’ll miss out on those really nice, central apartments at great prices. Nothing sucks more than knowing your place could’ve been that much nicer, that much closer, and that much cheaper if you would’ve just booked sooner! If you’ve never used Airbnb, you can read more about it and get a discount code on my previous post. When it got down to the last few accommodations, I kept getting notifications on the website claiming “only 10% of places are available for your dates” and this was in January! I saw that notification for hotels as well. How the heck did that happen? May was months away! Proof that many people are way ahead of the game, and if you want to save money you have to be ahead of those people.
Duomo di Milano, Italy (source hotelroomsearch.net)
first image: Blue Lagoon, Iceland (source whywasteannualleave.com)