Last winter break I decided to start traveling, and picked Turkey for my first trip. I originally had hoped to go to both Georgia and Turkey, piggybacking onto a friend’s trip to Georgia, and then meeting up with a friend in Istanbul. My friend’s connection in Tbilisi turned out to potentially be going to Istanbul himself for New Year’s, plus flights to Tbilisi were looking rather expensive, so I decided to focus my search on Turkey itself.
I did not have flexibility of when to fly, since I wanted to maximize time in Europe, and I had commitments in the US on either end (Xmas, and a friend’s wedding). So I had to leave smack in the middle of one of the most expensive times to travel of the year.
This is where kayak.com is very handy. I used kayak.com and found that flights were much cheaper leaving from the NYC area rather than LA. I decided to do my flight search from there, which also allowed me to schedule an earlier flight from LA to try for a gig in NJ/NYC area to cover some expenses (fell through, unfortunately). I again switched off the button that says “hide longer flights”, and found prices that were a lot cheaper than the quicker flights. This also allowed me to visit Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Zurich “for free” (meals and local transport not included of course).
I booked this flight through expedia, which saved me about $300 than the next flight that could fit my schedule (albeit quicker). One thing to be careful about, that I learned on this trip, is to make sure your purchased flights will actually accrue miles for your frequent flyer plan. If you’re going to buy a flight, you might as well earn miles on it, right? Apparently flights have a booking code. This will be a letter, such as V, F, W, etc. You need to check this code on the airline’s FF site and see how much it will earn- some partner flights actually won’t earn any miles if it has the “wrong” code. I was about to put all of these flights (6!) on my US Airways account, but it turned out that some of my flights would not count for miles, but they would on United. So I put those miles to United, and the other flights to US Air. It can be a little tricky, but it pays to take the extra 5 minutes and look this up.
Also I was able to get extra miles by paying about $200 to use United’s Award Accelerator, which was offered to me at check in for my flight to Europe. It’s nice to take advantage of that, especially if your ways of acquiring miles are limited (like me, who doesn’t have a swanky job and can’t qualify for the CC’s that earn those large sign-up bonuses). Divide the price you are paying (ex: $200) by the amount of EXTRA miles accrued (ex- your flight is 4000 miles, you buy the multiply by 3 option, you will accrue 8000 EXTRA miles. Don’t do it by total amount acquired, ie 12,000) to give you price per mile. This example works out to 2.5 cents per mile, which is decent. It’s worth looking at if the price is between 1.5-2.6 cents per mile or if you need some extra miles soon to top off your account for an award.
Another interesting thing is that for many shorter flights you earn a minimum of 500 miles. I scored 4 cheap flights on Turkish Airlines (a fine airline) by using their international, rather than American website. The prices were listed in Turkish Lira, so it was easy enough to check the exchange rate on a currency converter. I did have to call to make my reservation rather than online, because I was using an American card rather than European, but I saved over $600 from kayak’s price, and more than $200 from the US Turkish Airline’s site!
Then I checked which program to accrue the miles to, and earned 500 miles on each segment, even though all of them were less than 500 miles.
Total miles flown to and from Europe: 11,816 miles
Total miles earned: 16,844
This got me almost halfway to my free ticket to Spain, so it was worth it to me.