A few months out from my potential departure dates, I use the travel search engine http://www.Skyscanner.com, I also look at http://www.Hipmunk.com, http://www.Routehappy.com and airline websites but Skyscanner works best for me. I run tons of scenarios through the site to narrow down the cheapest carriers while looking for en route cities that are served by low-cost carriers.
While building my trip to Beijing a one way flight from Honolulu was $800 and a round trip was $1300. However, I found a one way ticket on United to Manila for $460 and when paired with a $140 fare on Philippine Airlines from Manila to Beijing it all made sense. To sweeten this deal even more I realized I had some reward points on a credit card that reduced the fare from $460 to $278. So roughly $420 gets me to Beijing.
Since I found myself going through Manila I decided to use the opportunity to work in a side trip rather than a 1 day layover. I had a few destinations in mind and I went to the websites of the low-cost carriers flying in the Philippines and searched. I worked multiple scenarios through Cebu Pacific, Air Asia and Philippine Airline Express. Eventually I settled on a 1 way ticket on Cebu Pacific to Palawan and a return to Manila on PAL Express for $22. All in for $70. Sweet, since Palawan is an awesome place to dive and for a mere $75 you can do a 3 tank dive….try to do that anywhere else!
The Beijing to Honolulu leg was a little tougher to find cheap seats but I found a ticket on Korean Airlines that I could purchase with 55K Delta FF miles. I adjusted my departure date to match availability and booked for $76 in fees. Last, I needed a round trip ticket from Hilo to Honolulu and considered dropping 15K FF miles on a Hawaiian Airlines RT. Luckily, I had just banked 45K FF miles on American Airlines from a credit card offer and booked a ticket for 10K round trip plus $5 in fees.. Yep, it was the exact same flight that Hawaiian wanted 15K for. American doesn’t fly interisland here in Hawaii, they codeshare on Hawaiian Air flights.
So to sum it all up I am in $575 RT from Hilo to Beijing with a side trip in the Philippines. Some folks call this travel hacking, I just see it as creativity and a few hours spent on the computer. Always book directly with the airline on their website rather than some of the vendors that pop up on the search engines. Direct booking usually offers guaranteed lowest fare, better seat selection and eliminates the middleman hassle if you need to modify your flights.
Now that we have got to our destination, where are we staying? For hotels I always use www.agoda.com. This site often has room rates cheaper than the individual hotel websites and their booking process is secure and straight forward. A really key feature with Agoda are the hotel reviews and destination tips left by travelers just like you! After Agoda helps me find places of interest, I then verify prices on the hotel websites, if they have one, and book the cheapest rate.
Since this is a solo trip for me I will likely use a hostel or a guest house as it is most cost effective. When hostels or guest houses are your preferred lodging choice the best sites are www.Hostelbookers.com and www.HostelWorld.com. I used both sites to book some $8-$10 hostel beds in 4 person dorms in China. Both sites charge 10% down to book, with the balance to be paid on check-in. These sites allowed me to get two weeks of reservations for a paltry sum of $20. More importantly, I needed to include confirmed reservations with my Chinese Visa application and these are perfect to use as a throw away. I am not sure whether I will actually stay in any of these hostels I booked as I like to stay flexible while I am traveling.
Certainly, none of this is rocket science. Like Emeril Lagasse says, “this ain’t rocket science, we’re just cookin”. I must add we are just travelin’. Hope you have found a few pearls in here to help you travel better and cheaper. See ya out there somewhere……the first beer is on me!