After settling the budget, the next thing I did was research airline ticket prices. I went to the usual online suspects, Kayak, Trip-advisor, Orbitz, etc and looked them up. Right off the bat, I found a problem, you couldn’t pre-order tickets further out than 330 days. So I decided to do the next best thing, research ticket prices this year for the end of March and early April. I quickly found out that day to day, sometimes even hour to hour the prices changed. My otaku spirit was lit, it was time to research.
The lowest price I found was China Eastern. The prices ranged on average from $490-$650. The downsides were immense. You had to fly to Shanghai, have a 12-24 hour layover and change airports to PVG before taking a 4-hour flight to Japan. The return trip was vice-versa. Total time taken on each trip was 36-48 hours. No, just no.
Usually, the 2nd best flight I could find was an Air Canada flight for about $1020-$1200. It wasn’t too bad, it usually had a 2-4 hour layover in Vancouver and the flight was only about 23-24 hours total. I still wasn’t satisfied and continued to search. Partly the problem I was running into was that airline’s were a law unto themselves. They decided when and how much they would discount their flights. There was no Groupon for 20% off, no 3rd party they would partner up with to give special ‘airfare only’ discounts. To get around this problem, travel agents and places like Kayak would offer package deals with discounted hotels and other perks. My problem was, I lived in one of only 3 states in the US that have laws against package deals.
Continuing my search, I then looked up the non-stop flight to see what its pricing was: Air Nippon(ANA) at $1800 was the cheapest I could find. It lasted just under 17 hours. Too expensive. I was hoping that with ANA being based in Tokyo that it would be cheaper.
Growing frustrated I decided to change tack and research what other people were doing. I found plenty articles and advice on what to do. Especially prevalent was the concept of Travel Rewards Credit Cards. After sifting through all the points, points and more points travel programs I finally hit pay dirt with an article I found on business insider. Scott Keyes aka ‘The Man Who Flies for Free’ gave an interview and recommended 3 websites, 2 of which were going to be a big help.
The first website mentioned was called TheFlightDeal.com. This website searches and collates the best discounts and even the mistakes made by airlines. This was perfect, instead of spending time obsessively researching prices and searching for a deal, I could just RSS feed it and have the work done for me.
The 2nd website was called Skiplagged.com. It is a very good website and one with an interesting premise. Namely, it can pinpoint layover city’s and use them to create a cheaper alternative. Example: I want to fly from Miami, Florida to Los Angeles, California. The ticket prices are $400 round trip or $200 one way. Using skiplagged your search would also show up a one-way ticket to Portland, Oregon for $130, but with a layover in Los Angeles. In other words, you just throw away your ticket when you do the layover at LAX and save $70. It’s even able to change carriers on returning flights to make it cheaper. Fly out with Delta, return on United for example. The only problem was Tokyo isn’t a normal layover city making skiplagged useful, but ultimately not what I was looking for.
The 3rd website was matrix.itasoftware.com and its the website everybody in the ‘travel hacking’ business, as it is called, swear by. This software powers GoogleFlights and several other websites. This is also the search engine TheFlightDeal uses to find its deals. It’s more complicated and harder to use than a normal airplane ticket search engine, but at the same time, it is much more powerful. The most useful feature was the monthly view. It’s able to show the cheapest airline tickets for each day while eliminating the riffraff like China Eastern from it. I had found my search engine.
This ITA Matrix search engine opened me up to the options of the travel hack without all the credit card point problems. I first tried changing the Source City option. Source City is where you are buying the ticket from and can be a valuable tool, although my experiments with it didn’t net me enough savings to make it worthwhile. Depending on what country you are in when you buy the ticket can actually change the price of the ticket. I changed my source city from the US to Japan and managed to save about $25 when I converted it from the yen. It wasn’t enough to make a difference when I had to to consider the currency conversion fee before I could buy it, but it can be a much more valuable tool for domestic air travel in foreign countries.
Routing codes are where I hit pay dirt. Think of routing codes as a giant spider web connecting to airports around the world. Input the right codes and you could program a flight itinerary just for you. The airplane carrier you wanted to use, the airports you wanted layover at, etc. All could be programmed in with flight codes. With a little knowledge and a lot of work figuring out on how to do this I was able to find things that normal search engines couldn’t.
One day on the theflightdeal I saw tickets to Tokyo were being discounted by United, but only for the Phoenix airport. I noticed that there was a required layover at LAX before flying out to Tokyo. I decided to see if I could use the routing codes given by theflightdeal and force myself onto that deal from my airport that was thousands of miles away from Phoenix. Using the routing codes, I specified that I wanted the plane from my airport to land in LAX and use a United plane from there to Tokyo. I succeeded, for only $20 more I forced myself onto the discounted round-trip ticket to Tokyo while flying from an airport that wasn’t supposed to be selling discounted tickets.
Currently, I still can not buy tickets to Tokyo for April 2017, but now I have researched and given myself the knowledge needed to buy a ticket at a reasonable price. I have found that Cathay Pacifica will be my default airline in case the other airlines don’t offer a discount in the timeframe needed for me to buy the tickets. CP regularly has roundtrip tickets priced at $750, with a little shopping around the layover in Hong Kong can be reduced to 2 and half hours or so and it’s a reasonable 24 hours flight time total.
Next time on the internet otaku, Travel Rewards Credit Cards.