Last week, I introduced the concept of decompression layovers and why I think they are a great idea for expat families. But how do you go about planning one? If you’ve planned your own international travel for a while, some of these steps may be very familiar to you, though there are some important extra considerations to make when planning a decompression layover.
It’s best to start looking for tickets early for the most flexibility and the lowest prices. This is particularly true for (1) international flights, (2) traveling in the summer or near major holidays, and (3) booking multiple tickets, as for a family. Know what a good price is, and jump when you see it; prices tend to just keep going up.
How far in advance is the best time to book? Here’s a handy world map showing the ideal number of days in advance to purchase international tickets by continent.
Know your travel routes…
Most of us are very familiar with the available flight routes between our host country and passport country. Think about which hub cities you often need to make a connection in: these are good bets for a decompression layover location.
…But don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path
On the other hand, don’t limit yourself to just the routes you are most familiar with. Ask other expats, use tools like Kayak Explore, and look into airlines you might not normally use. This may save you a chunk of change, and also gives you the chance to see a city you might not otherwise get the chance to visit.
For example, we saved about $150 (USD) per ticket on a transpacific flight by going through Manila, rather than Beijing or Hong Kong (the cities we normally transit through). That may not seem like much, but for our family of four, it’s a savings of $600.
Inconvenient itineraries are your friend
Look for itineraries that require a long layover or even an overnight stay. These tickets are often cheaper because they are less desirable, making it a perfect situation if you’re planning a decompression layover.
For instance, the last time my family departed the U.S. headed for China, the cheapest flight we found required an overnight stay in San Francisco. The price difference was again about $600 total for our family of four. The flight times were horrible for anyone trying to get across the ocean quickly, but were ideal for a decompression layover. We spent the afternoon and evening seeing the sights, then got a good night’s sleep before boarding our transpacific flight the next morning. Even with paying for meals, hotel, and a few fun activities, we still paid less than the more direct itinerary, plus made some great memories to boot.
Take advantage of stopovers
Some itineraries will not charge you extra if your stopover is less than a certain length of time, usually about 24-36 hours. These can be excellent ways to add time in a city without adding cost to your ticket. This article lists airlines that offer free stopovers, and this one has information on great stopover locations, including a tip that Singapore Airlines is currently offering incredible deals for passengers stopping over in their “fine city.” (anyone remember that old joke?)
Mess with the itineraries
If you are a veteran at booking your own international tickets, this is probably second nature to you, but there are a few extra tricks you might not know. It’s worth it to spend time digging and searching, rather than simply going with the cheapest itinerary you find in your first search.
- Try booking the tickets as separate itineraries. (Be aware that this may mean you don’t get the same baggage allowance on each leg.)
- If your dates are flexible, absolutely check the prices on surrounding dates. Most websites make it easy to do this.
- Websites also often have a “multi-city” or “multi-leg” feature for searches which allows you to choose which city you’d like to have your decompression layover in.
- Look at prices on airline websites, not just on travel search engines such as Travelocity. Sometimes the prices are cheaper than the same exact flight found on travel search engines.
- Try different airlines and slightly different travel routes. Not every airline will show up on flight comparison websites.
While doing all this, be sure to search incognito or Use a VPN to keep fares from changing based on cookies or location. This article has info on clearing cookies and searching incognito, and introduces some flight search websites you may not know about, such as Skyscanner. This article gives an example of why using a VPN may get you a lower price.
Consider your rewards
Don’t forget to consider airline miles and other reward points as you compare options. Sometimes paying a little more for a certain hotel chain or airline is worth it if it means you’ll soon get a free night or free ticket.
Be aware that some rock-bottom ticket prices will mean you are not awarded your full miles, or possibly not any miles at all. The same may be true if you are purchasing humanitarian tickets, so check the fine print. Sometimes you’ll decide the cheaper fare is a better deal than the miles you would get, but it’s something to add into the equation when you are making that decision.
Choose a great location
Next week, I’ll finish this mini-series with an article detailing how to go about choosing the perfect location for your decompression layover.
Call in the professionals
My husband and I both happen to like looking at different flight routes and juggling things around to find a great itinerary, but not everyone feels the same. If this all seems overwhelming to you, don’t hesitate to use a good travel agent. The prices may be slightly higher, but for some, it’s worth it to turn the complex planning over to someone else.
Best wishes as you plan your decompression layover, and be sure to read the final post of this series, “9 Things to Consider When Choosing a Decompression Layover City”.