Finding and buying cheap airline tickets for a large family to Spain was a thrill ride: nerve wracking at times followed by an exhilarating rush once the tickets were secured. With tickets in hand, it was super fun to ask people to guess how much we paid. No one guessed the answer: $600 for a family of eight to fly to Spain! Only $75/person!
Timing is Everything
My search for flights started nearly a year in advance. As I researched, I found some websites that suggested buying tickets between 90 and 120 days before our trip. I picked some arbitrary dates that fit our timeframe and started tracking them using Google Flights. The cheapest flights where at $408 (United, 1-stop) about 180 days before our departure date. After 180 days, the price jumped to nearly double and then settled into the $700 range for the rest of the summer, never returning to as low as it had been in March.
A Change of Embarkation Point
As part of my search, I also tracked flight prices from New York. I found direct flights as cheap as $240, even as late as 30 days before our trip. I pulled the trigger and bought tickets on Memorial Day when the price reached $250 (Delta, non-stop). Now we needed to find a way to get to New York but I figured I could keep that under $150/person.
Getting To (and From) New York
We researched several options for getting to New York to catch our flight: driving, bus, train, or hitchhiking. Okay, so I didn’t consider the last option. We ruled out driving our own vehicle because the expense of long-term parking for 12 weeks. Renting a vehicle large enough for our family was both more expensive than either the bus or the train. Plus, driving had the side effect of me being worn out from a four-hour drive (assuming no traffic) before a 7-hour red-eye. Bus seemed appealing but frankly wasn’t much cheaper than the train, which had both novelty and lower risk of traffic issues going for it.
So we settled on taking Amtrak and using NY MTA to get from Penn Station in NY to the airport. I bought tickets, almost exactly two months before departure, on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train for an average of $40/person. The subway tickets on both ends for added a total of $12/person.
Coming home will be a little different. Because of the variableness of timing through customs we’ve decided to rent a large vehicle and drive ourselves home from New York,. That will set us back about $56/person.
So for those playing along at home, the total cost of our travel to get to Spain totals $348/person at this point. But I’ve heard of these things called “airline points” and I’m wondering if they can help.
I don’t travel a lot for work and my primary credit card gives me cash back instead of points. But credit cards are always trying to seduce you away from your current card and they offer some pretty good signup bonuses to new card holders. So I decided to signup for some airline credit cards to see if I could reduce the cost further. I’ll cover the details in another post but suffice it to say that using the signup bonuses on from three cards, I was able to score and additional $1,400, bringing the per-person price to $172. If you don’t include the cost of getting to and from New York, it’s only $75/person (hence the title).
Travel Suggestion Aggregators: Early in my search, a friend suggested a travel aggregator that sent crazy cheap flight deals straight to your inbox. They had a premium subscription service for $36/year that allowed you to filter to your desired destinations and airports. My experience was that their “deals” were nothing more than recycled Google Flight queries, cherry-picking the cheapest flights. I was seeing exactly the same thing in my own Google Flight searches and it just didn’t seem worth it. My suggestion? Don’t subscribe to that kind of service, just do your own research.
Open Jaws: I learned what an “open jaw” flight is. Instead returning from the same airport you arrived in, you can schedule the return flight from an airport in the same general region. This is hugely more convenient than having to return back to your original city to make the return. We did an open jaw, flying into Madrid and returning from Barcelona. Bought together, the tickets are roughly the same price as a round-trip ticket.
Google Flights: I absolutely loved using this tool. The “Price Graph” feature allowed me to see when flights were cheaper, the “Dates” view let me further refine which travel dates were best, and the ability to set alerts kept me in the loop when the prices went up or down so I could track what was going on with the prices.
So that basically sums up my experience finding our way to Spain. Let me know in the comments if you have any additional questions about our search.
- Some friends of ours were planning a trip to Spain in late-August and bought their tickets at this sweet price of $407. They travel to Europe every summer and felt it was an awesome price.
- March was when the Boeing 737-Max crashes happened and I suspect, but don’t know, if that played into the airline pricing models