It stands to reason that the more unusual the destination, the more expensive and difficult it is to get there. Gone are the days of looking for cheap flights on the back page of the Sunday newspaper and talking to a travel agent. We’ve come to trust computers so much, that we fail to realize that they aren’t really computing the best trip they can for us.
Expedia never asks you if you’re cool with spending the night in an airport or if you mind taking 50 hours to get somewhere. So, when the flight search results appear on your screen, we either decide to NOT spend the money, suck it up and get a more expensive flight or … (cringe)suffer through through the inconvenient stopovers and timetables of a cheap ticket. Computers know best, right?
Do you have to do that? No.
Take control of your stopovers and set yourself free. What does that mean? Let’s look at booking this ticket to West Africa from Houston and I’m going to take you step by step to show you how I hacked my latest trip.
I’m headed to West Africa and at first glance things look grim. To fly to to Conakry, Guinea- prices start around $2000 from Houston. That’s not cheap by any stretch, but it gets worse. With the cheapest fare, the flight arrives in New York around 10pm and leaves before noon. There’s no time to visit the city and choices consist of spending the night in the airport, or booking a hotel (which is not cheap in NYC). Then you’re off to Morocco the next day, arriving at midnight. The flight to Guinea leaves late the following evening.
So let’s look at the bright side of this itinerary. You just got a free trip to Morocco. Many people might perceive this stopover as an inconvenient delay, but let’s stop and smell the roses.
First, Morocco is inexpensive and fun. Casablanca will only cost you around $20 for a taxi to your hotel at midnight, and you can get a nice hotel for under $40. Then you’ve got free breakfast and a whole day to run around town, eat couscous, shop the Medina and rock the casbah. This stopover is twice as long as you’d get to stay if you were on a cruise ship. So we can live with that. Yay! However, the New York stopover is still not a good option and the price of the flight is too expensive. Even with a free day in Casablanca.
It turns out that we can fix both issues at once by taking out the Houston-NYC segment. What if we left a day or two early maybe, stayed in New York, saw the sights, then took our flight from New York to Guinea direct? Guess what happens? $1000 falls off the price. Your computer didn’t tell you that, did it? So now the ticket is less than $1000, but we’re not finished. We still have to get from Houston to New York and back, plus there’s one other variable. On this trip, I’m going overland from Guinea through Sierra Leone and Liberia. So, I need to do a big circle or fly back to Guinea for $400.
Guess what? It’s almost the same price to fly back home from Liberia if you play it right and then you don’t have to backtrack. Air Maroc doesn’t fly there every day so we have to fiddle with the dates a little, but after a little searching, we basically have a free trip to Liberia because we don’t have to buy that one-way ticket. Flying back to New York from Liberia gives us two cheap options. One puts us in New York at night (another expensive hotel), the other gives us another free day in Morocco and we arrive in New York on the following morning. If we want to try a new city, Rabat is super close.
So, to recap: for $890, we fly from New York to Morocco, then Conakry, then from Liberia to Rabat and in to New York. There’s no inconvenient stopovers or miserable airport overnighters. Yay!
Now we just need to figure out the New York part. Spirit airlines offers a flight for less than $100 from Houston to Newark. Sold. I set it up so i can arrive 2 days before the international flight to Africa, and I book a nice airbnb for $50/night near Hoboken NJ. A Frank Sinatra waking tour has been on my list for some time and I’m walking distance and a 20 minute train ride to NYC. Perfect. Then I’ll have a full day to run around the Big Apple. The secret to not spending a lot of money in New York is to stay in Staten Island or NJ.
There’s one last missing segment. Getting home. Coming back from New York to Houston requires either another night stay in NYC or an expensive afternoon flight. The cheap flights are all early in the morning. So i start thinking: What if I flew somewhere else? Las Vegas? Chicago? Fort Lauderdale? That actually works out cheaper and I could go to Key West, maybe the Bahamas . Nothing is sparking my interest, so I look at another option: Chetumal.
Chetumal is on the Belize border and is one of Mexico’s most underrated tourist areas. Bacalar, Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye are all relatively close. Get this: The ticket from JFK is $100 cheaper to fly there than a fare to Houston and leaves from JFK (so I don’t have to go to Newark). Diving the Blue Hole has been on my list for years, and I might just use my free trip down there to cross that one off.
After all this, I still need a flight back to Houston. There’s a $125 flight back but it’s got an inconvenient late night in Mexico City. So, back to the hack. Flying to Mexico City is only $50 and there’s lots of choices. If I stay in Mexico City for a day or two, I can enjoy that great city and then catch a United flight back to Houston for $100. Here’s the best part: I have an unused flight credit for $100 from United I thought I could never use. It worked perfectly.
So, here’s how the flights work out: Houston-Newark, New York- Casablanca, Casablanca- Guinea, Liberia-New York, New York-Chetumal, Chetumal-Mexico City, Mexico City-Houston.
7 countries, 6 completely different adventures, and zero inconvenience. No sleeping in the airport and all the flights cost $1340 total. Compare that to our first price that offered just a trip from Houston to Africa for $1908 plus $402 to get from Liberia back to Guinea. $1000 saved!
Disassemble your flights. Put together adventure modules and don’t be afraid of embracing a good stopover that allows you to visit a destination.