Or, how to fly to a resort location in the Middle East for $210 (and earn miles on it. Got your attention?)
So, I was able to book a couple of really good fares for today. I’d been hoping to use the $500 United voucher I got on my last flight to get to Serbia this summer. I had been hemming and hawing about which flights to take as I waited for the rest of a check to deposit.
THENnnn, the night before it deposited, I realized that the voucher would not count because some of the flights I wanted were codeshares on United, operated by the other carrier. This is something important to consider when you are able to get those vouchers for volunteering to go on a later flight. With United, what you can do is go into “Advanced search” and click on search United flights only at the bottom. I ran into this problem when booking my flight to Panama originally.
There were no flights only on United airplanes, so I had to figure out how in the heck to get to Eastern Europe (or, Europe at all), on the tight schedule I had, for a reasonable price. I managed to shave off $200 of the cheapest price to Belgrade (closest airport to my workshop in Valjevo) by flying to Budapest and then taking the train (I have included the train fare in my cost calculation).
26 Euros round trip (about $40) for a train (8hrs each way) is really a steal, and supposedly goes through some great landscape. I won’t get to see it on the way down (taking an overnight train) but maybe on the way back. Note: I’ve read online that there are some sleeper couchettes available that one does not need to pay a supplement fee for, you can just get them on the train, they apparently don’t book up. I’m skeptical about this, but I will test it out. All of the miles luckily can be put towards my United account (the flights are Air Canada and Lufthansa).
So, what to do with my $500 voucher and $200 saved? Buy a ticket to the middle east, obviously. There are fares right now in the late fall up through next winter and maybe even spring for $710 RT. I read about this fare on a very interesting website for frequent fliers called FlyerTalk. I can’t say I love the attitude of everyone on the forums, but there is really a wealth of info there if you’ve got a few firing neurons to put 2 and 2 together.
This flight, which cost me $210, will earn me over 26,000 miles! I will have already earned silver status with the airlines, so this one trip will push me over into gold. Status is good- there are various perks like free luggage (I never check anything so don’t really care), upgrades (sounds cool!), lounge access (for gold members) and most importantly to me, extra miles earned on flights! Since I will already have silver status by that trip, and it’s a flight that doesn’t fill up, there is a good chance I could be upgraded to business class, which I have never flown before! It also will top me up for the trip I am planning this winter, whose flights should cost me $80 and 80,000 miles.
Bahrain looks interesting enough for a day or two (depending on the political situation, which is totally fine now), but I’ve found a bunch of fares that will credit to my account in the range of $60-120 each way. Oman is looking pretty good in particular (oh, man! couldn’t resist). It will be a test of my travel skills, especially as a single woman (which I likely will pretend not to be). The countries I want to go to are very safe, but still it will be harder, since I don’t know ANY Arabic (though there will be people around who speak English, certainly) and the cultures are VERY different (side note 1- this is why people travel. side note 2- there are so many mega malls in the mid-east, I’m curious to see exactly how different they are!). I am going to try hard on this trip to find a travel partner though I’m pretty sure I will be fine if I can’t manage to find one. Either way, yes, it will require some planning, but a good opportunity for me.
*Trick- I managed to get 2 extra segments (this goes into frequent flyer calculations as well as miles) and some extra miles (there is a minimum amount credited, 500, per segment, once I reach status) by noticing a stop, but not disembarkment, on the plane. I did this by doing a multi-city routing, and adding that segment in. It will require me to exit the plane and get back on again (I will have an hour and a half to do so, so no rush 🙂
I went back to FlyerTalk just to check what else was new and saw a great deal to Philly, where I need to go at the end of the summer, for a conference, and to see friends/family. I was worried because flights have been very expensive for the dates I needed. The trick was to book using the code for Philadelphia’s 30th street train station. United has a partnership with Amtrak and I guess sometimes they have to sell off extra tickets they’ve purchased? Fine with me- the train earns 325 miles (it’s a 73 mile trip) as well as an extra segment, and now I don’t have to pay Schlepta (I mean, SEPTA- Philly’s regional rail) an extra $8 to get into the city.
I got on the deal a little late- the fares from some other cities (San Diego for instance) were originally $80. At $180 in the summer high season, and perfect timing on the day I need (finish a final, head to airport) I think it’s not bad. Apparently these sales to Philly 30th street station rather than Philadelphia airport pop up fairly recently, so I’ll be sure to look for them in the future.
I am still not sure of my plans after my first few days in Philly (waiting on scholarship application to a Klezmer festival in Canada) so will hold off on the return. I’ve at least got some flexibility this time around.
Hope you learned some interesting tricks to save money on summer travel!