With a Little Point Surfing and Travel Hacking, International Travel Can Win Out

Back in May, Heather and I sat plotting out our family summer vacation. Last year, she’d taken our oldest to Paris & London as a reward for earning an amazing college scholarship (another post for another time). And using a little point surfing (the act of browsing airline and hotel sites for the best utilization of accumulated award points), I cashed in American Airlines miles and Hilton points and took our son on a weeklong Montana hiking adventure at Glacier and Yellowstone national parks (again, another post for another time).

Why we chose Ireland over Oregon this summer

Knowing we’d just blown through years of vacation savings (and many of our reward points) on two big trips the previous year, and being a typical middle class family with a limited travel budget, an exotic destination seemed out of the question.  We figured we’d end up at our default family vacation spot (and one of our faves!)—the Oregon Coast, where I’d grown up.

However, these days it’s not uncommon to spend more than $500 on a flight from Kentucky to Portland. Out of nowhere my brain flashed to a news story I’d read about a budget airline, Wow air, that was blowing up the international airlines market by offering ridiculously low prices—as low as $79 each way to places like Iceland, England and Ireland. On a whim, I thought what the hell, why not check that out?

A Discount Airline Actually Helped Push Down Airfare on Other Airlines

A few minutes’ research revealed that Wow air flew out of the Cincinnati airport (actually located on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River and less than a 90-minute drive from our home). I’ve known people that have flown Wow. Given the right circumstances, meaning you have no more luggage than can fit in a backpack and have an extremelyflexible schedule, it can be a great value. However, my personal experience is that by the time you add in all the extras required for a normal person to travel in a normal way, the “out the door” price ends up quite a bit higher than the teaser rate shown online. And as a traveling family with active frequent flyer accounts on several standard airlines, we decided to give our regular airlines a shot by checking out their prices.

*Pro tip: Often, legacy airlines—think Delta, American, United—will price match low-cost carriers so it never hurts to try your old standby airline before booking a budget airline you may never fly again.

Iceland sounded cool (literally), and Heather had just been to England, so we scouted prices to Ireland. Low and behold, we found an American Airlines round trip flight from Cincy to Dublin for $720. For about $150 more per person, we could fly across the freakin’ Atlantic Ocean to Europe. Boo yah!

Figuring prices like this only come around once a blue moon, and typically only if you schedule way in advance (which we were not), we booked those puppies on the spot. In the end, we were able to take our son on his first European vacation for less than a lot of our friends have spent to visit Disneyworld. We all had a great vacation (several posts for other times).

The moral of the story? Don’t let imaginary walls limit your vacation options. With a little luck, some basic knowledge, a bit of research, and a small amount of point surfing, you can swap out a domestic trip for a once-in-a-lifetime international adventure to see coastal cliffs, historic castles and gorgeous countryside.

Are you hesitant to book international vacations because you think the airfare will be too expensive? Or is something else holding you back?