One of the most common questions I receive about my travels isn’t about a specific place or activity, rather what it cost to get there. More specifically, “how much did your year of flights cost?” with a side of ”how can you afford to do it?”
This, of course, is a valid question. Flights play a significant part in the allocation of travel dollars however with some ingenuity and a few travel hacks thrown in, it’s not as big of an allocation as one would think. With that in mind I will open up on what it actually cost me to travel for 12 months straight, starting with my year of flights. I will also share how I was able to keep cost down and stretch those travel dollars further.
After crunching the numbers my 12-month journey took me through 100 cities in 45 countries on 5 continents. Along the way I flew a mind blowing 125,854 kilometers (78,202 miles). That is 3.5 times around the world!
This was spread out over 65 flights, seven of which were business class or better, and equates to over a week straight in the air.
So what did it cost? Just $5,500 USD. Jaw meet floor.
Yup, all of that for a grand total of just $5.5K ($7,200 CAD) per person. This is the first time I have put this together and even I am taken back. I mean I knew I did a good job of finding the cheapest routes and taking advantage of the best travel hacks but putting together the distance and cost is shocking.
If these numbers are hard to wrap your head around, here is a fun infographic that presents it nicely!
Thanks to Jetitup.com I was able to record and track all my flights for the year and produce a whack of interesting stats, maps, lists, and charts. All I had to do was punch in my flight details and Jetitup crunched the numbers. I was already keeping track of this info for cost purposes in a spreadsheet and was even able to upload that as a .csv file. Easy peasy. This is a great tool for anyone looking to do the same!
How I did it
Now that the dollar amount is out there I will be getting more emails on the subject. Let me cut you off by sharing exactly how I was able to keep costs so low.
Hear me now, thank me later.
Keep an eye out for error fares.
What really kicked off my year plus of travel around the world was stumbling on a ridiculous error fare. For just $370 ($485 CAD) I was able to book a one-way flight from New York to Nairobi AND a one-way flight from Prague to Tokyo. That’s 2 long-haul flights for less than what one short-haul flight can cost within Canada.
What is an error fare exactly? Simply put, a mistaken rate applied to flights either by error or a computer glitch. Air travel costs vary wildly and the algorithms that calculate them are complex and massive. Naturally, mistakes are made. Often these error fares disappear within hours as companies find and correct them. The key to capitalizing on them is acting fast and being flexible.
For me, this ties perfectly into getting over the biggest hurdle when committing to long-term travel – simply starting. Most let their excuses get in the way. Having something booked and concrete can be a wonderful catalyst to get the wheels going. In 2006 when I traveled for nine months straight the catalyst was getting tickets to the Winter Olympics in Torino. This past trip it was this super cheap flight to Africa. Once that was booked the train was leaving the station and everything else (leaving my job, selling my house, purging possessions) fell into place.
Pretty simple that a $370 flight kicked this year of flights off, but that’s the point.
How to find Error Fares
These type of fares happen frequently and there are plenty of great websites (I use Fly4Free!) and chat groups dedicated to sharing them. Sign up for alerts from your local airport deal sites (I use YVRdeals) as well as sites like Mighty Travels. Remember, when you find a deal that is too good to pass up, book it. Don’t hum and haw. Even if it is a year away, you can sort out the details.
For more on error fares see this great write-up from Skyscanner.
Points, points, points.
With two major flights down I started to look at the other legs and how to best tackle them. For the major long haul flights I turned to making the most of my Aeroplan points. This made my trip from Auckland to Vancouver, the longest of my year of flights, cost just $95 USD ($125 CAD).
Then, by capitalizing on loopholes and loose rules found within the Star Alliance points system, I spent just $250 USD ($326 CAD) on nine business class flights.
Don’t forget the short hauls
Once I had the longer flights sorted I needed to start filling in the gaps. Most of my short-haul trips during this year of flights were booked backwards. What I mean by this is I looked at the cities I wanted to hit and then found the cheapest possible way to get there by looking at connecting flights with the lowest fares. Sky Scanners (insert city here) to everywhere feature is good for this as is Google flights.
Again, being flexible is key as routes will most certainly not be direct.
On the positive, these cheap routes got me to cool places I never intended on seeing. I spent a great layover exploring London because it was the cheapest route from Ireland to Serbia. Then there was a vodka filled 24-hours in Warsaw because it was $26 USD for a connecting flight to Norway.
Why only $26?
Discount airlines are your friend
In Europe and Asia there is an amazing system of discount airlines. Often in these regions my checked luggage was more expensive than my seat. Be sure to book early and avoid the add-ons…which is how these airlines stay in the air. Also, keep an eye out for sales and promotions. Sign-up for airline reward programs and watch your inbox for deals. In Asia I was able to book eight flights for just $160 USD all because of Air Asia’s flight passes. Upon reviewing it, I found it more restrictive than beneficial but still a great deal and served my purpose well.
Where I went wrong
Although 65 flights around the world for just $5,500 is nothing to scoff at, it could’ve been cheaper. As mentioned, the baggage fees on the discount airlines stung. At the beginning of the trip we said there was no way we could do carry-on only for 14-months but in retrospect, we could have and should have. Literally hundreds of dollars lost because of it. At minimum between the two of us we could have checked one bag for toiletries ect…
As always, my loss is your gain.
Then there was also a couple last minute flights that could have been avoided. Falling in love with Cape Town came at a price. We had no intention of staying for a month but loved it and had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit Namibia. This detour came at a cost as our flight to Europe turned out to be one of the most expensive of the trip, all because of spontaneity.
Still, totally worth it.
And there was flying in Central America. My God. This was at the end of our trip when 20-hour chicken bus rides sounded exhausting. In retrospect, I should’ve booked early for flights on points within Central America.
A Year of Flights Can be Cheaper Than you Think
There you have it. As you can see, a year of flights is not as expensive as one would think. With a little ingenuity, foresight, patience, and flexibility, deals can be found and lasting memories can be made. If you find this overwhelming and need a hand booking an amazing year of travel, let’s talk. I have helped many stretch their travel dollars and make the absolute most out of their Aeroplan points. You could be next.
What say you?
Thoughts on how I saved on my Year of Flights ?
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