Guest blogger Alessandria Shen graduated college in 2011 and is happy to have found a job that allows her to pay the bills, buy the drinks, and see the world.
I am based in Atlanta and my fiance is in Frankfurt, Germany. We are both in our early twenties and neither of us have a ridiculous amount of reward miles or money to spend on flights. So in order to manage four to five visits a year, we needed to figure out how to find the cheapest tickets possible. Although this may sound daunting, here are some things that we found helpful.
Have a rough idea about when your visits will be, but also remember to be flexible. My fiance and I sit down every six months or so to plan and budget for our upcoming visits. It doesn't need to be detailed or set in stone at all, but at the very least it gives us plenty of time to start paying attention to deals and discounts. We also create price alerts on websites such as airfarewatchdog.com, which will send you e-mail alerts when the price drops for flights between your respective cities. (Airfarewatchdog is part of the SmarterTravel Media family.)
Sign up for frequent flyer programs. Being a member of a frequent flyer program has never been easier, as airlines don't even require you to have flown with them to sign up. With all the traveling that you're about to embark on, there's no excuse for getting on a flight without receiving reward miles that can go towards a future trip. But don't just stop at the programs for the airlines you usually fly. Nowadays, the majority of reward miles are earned through partnerships and promotions, and you never know when those miles will come in handy. Websites like awardwallet.com keep secure records of your log-in information, and even automatically update your account balances.
Know the major carrier(s) of your partner's country and its U.S.-based alliance airline(s). For example, Lufthansa and KLM are the two biggest international carriers for Germany. Lufthansa is a member of Star Alliance, whose partner airlines are United and US Airways. KLM is a member of SkyTeam, whose partner airline is Delta. This is often a helpful starting point when booking tickets, since these will provide the most direct and comprehensive routes between you and your partner's cities. In addition, if your search on a ticket booking site shows a KLM flight is "operated by Delta Airlines," that same flight may be considerably cheaper if you book directly through Delta.com.
Know the best times to book your tickets. Everyone knows that there is a "high season" and a "low season" for traveling. What many people don't realize is that it may be high season to travel from say, the U.S. to Europe, but it may be low season to travel from Europe to the U.S. For example, a round-trip ticket from Atlanta to Frankfurt is $1,031, but the same dates and same route originating in Frankfurt costs just $755—almost $300 cheaper!
Find a balance between time and money. Traveling for a long-distance relationship is unique because it requires a fair balance between time and money. If my fiance only has seven days off from work to come visit me, it's not worth it book a flight with three stops each way, even if it's less expensive. What has been the most helpful for us is to set a reasonable limit (usually $850) before we book that will also give us some wiggle room in our routes.
Meet somewhere in the middle. I recently spotted a last-minute deal from Atlanta to Madrid for $521 round-trip. Flights from Frankfurt to Madrid operate quite regularly, and are only about $50, so my fiance and I jumped at the chance and got an unexpected vacation together. Always look for ways to take advantage of your situation!
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