Embarking on a journey to the United States is a dream for many, but the cost of travel can often be a daunting obstacle, especially in the current economic climate – so how do you save money? It has been four years since we moved to Australia from the US, and now with a one year old, we knew it was time to head back to see family and friends. Adding to the challenge was that we would be travelling back for Christmas, one of the most expensive times of the year to visit the US. In our quest to turn this dream into a reality, we discovered a some savvy strategies and invaluable tips that made our American adventure possible.
Finding a Cheap International Flight
The international flight is arguably one of the most expensive factors in a trip to the USA from Australia. Flight prices are yet to return to pre Covid prices, especially around Christmas. To try to minimise the overall cost, we planned our trip as early in December as possible, and returning as late as possible after the New Year. This meant we could avoid the most expensive three weeks over the holiday period.
I also monitored flights very early on. Typically international flights are only available to book 10-12 months before your departure date. I monitored the major sites as soon as the flights became available and ended up booking about 11 months out.
We ended up booking with Fiji Airways who were the cheapest option by a couple of thousand dollars for all three of us. This is partly because their flights are not direct but include a layover in Fiji on the way to and from the USA. We were ok with this as we figured we would probably want to break the trip up into more manageable segments. One of the layovers in Fiji was for 16 hours, which would allow us to rest before getting back on the flight the next night. If you are flexible in your travel, this can allow you to find some decent savings.
Using Qantas Points
Where possible we typically try and save up airline points. This included getting a credit card that gave us a lump sum of points, while also adding to our points balance every month through our purchases. The credit card also had travel insurance and included some lounge passes (though we used those on a separate trip).
The points we accrued allowed us to book all of our internal US flights with very minimal additional cost (just airport fees). This probably saved us anywhere from $2,000-$3,000.
We were also able to use Qantas points to book many of the hotels we will be staying at in the US. If you plan ahead, and pay all your bills with a points earning card, you can easily save enough points to cover accommodation.
While I do have points accrued with other airlines, the Qantas points network still seems to provide the most diverse choice when it comes to how you want to redeem them.
We got a special travel debit card with Wise (formerly Transferwise) who have some pretty competitive conversion rates and allow you to move your money between different currencies if you are going to multiple locations. There is also a helpful graph right in the app to help you see if you are converting your money at the top or bottom of a trend. I also really liked that the money was available within Wise almost immediately after I transferred it from my bank. If you want a free transfer with Wise, feel free to use my referral code.
Stayed with Family & Friends
This isn’t usually an option if you are just visiting the US, but we were able to schedule to stay with family during our trip. Accommodation is a massive cost so staying with people you know can be a huge saving. This meant we could limit our hotel stays in the US to less than 7 nights.
Booked a Theme Park Accommodation Package
For the accommodation we did book, we looked at ways we could bundle it together and kept on the lookout for deals. Danielle was able to find us a package in Orlando that included 3 nights accommodation and access to a theme park.
Being flexible during the planning phase can allow you to save a lot of money. We had initially thought that a cruise would be a good idea, and cheaper than staying at a hotel. We had done a cruise previously at a really low rate. This time around, due to the Christmas break, it didn’t make financial sense to do another cruise. So that’s when we changed plans to a theme park package with accommodation.
How We Saved Money on our Car Rental
Renting a car has become one of the most expensive parts of a trip – and I still can’t figure out why? Yes, cars can be expensive, but the price of rental cars just seems ludicrous! That being said, we were able to get a better deal by shopping around. We found our deal through Kayak.com which gave us the best deal with Auto Europe. Looking around at different types of vehicles also helped. Though we originally started looking at SUVs, we found that a van would be much cheaper. I will add that one option might be the cheapest in one location, while a completely different option is cheaper in others. This was the case for us, in our second location, our best option was through Booking.com and it was an SUV so it always pays to shop around.
What About Staying Connected While Travelling?
Gone are the days of expensive international roaming when you leave the country. Last time I visited the USA I took a spare phone or bought a cheap one over there and bought a local Sim. Now they have e Sims so we are planning to just sign up with Airalo. This is an easy way to add data to your phone for a country you are visiting for an affordable price. Their more expensive plans also include calling and SMS if you require it. If you use my referral link to sign up, you will receive $3 of credit.
What are some ways that you have found to save when travelling to the USA or in gene