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5 Travel Hacks for Scoring Cheap Flights

International flights don't have to break the bank—even when your budget is zero

Cheap travel hacks for international travel (Courtesy iStock)
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International flights don't have to break the bank—even when your budget is zero

The skyrocketing cost of plane tickets—thanks in large part to the rising cost of jet fuel—can make or break a vacation before it even leaves the planning stage. But if your schedule and destination are flexible and youre willing to put in a little extra work, its relatively easy to snag a low-cost flight to just about anywhere in the world.

Score a Free Trip to Hawaii

Or anywhere 30,000 miles will get you. Most airline credit cards give you enough miles to book a round-trip flight from Seattle to Honolulu or Los Angeles to Cancun just for signing up. Depending on which card you snag, other perks can include extras such as no blackout dates, free checked bags, priority boarding, and discounts on hotels, car rentals, and cruises.

Play Destination Roulette

Plug your travel dates and home airport into Kayak Explore or Google Flights to find prices for trips to everywhere in the world. All you have to do is pick out a great deal. Last summer, we snagged $414 round-trip tickets from LAX to Barcelona. If your final destination isn’t cheap, try finding the closest inexpensive flight, then check rates for trains or cheap regional airlines like Ryanair to get you those last few miles.

Book a Long Icelandic Layover

If you’re flying out of Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Denver, or San Francisco to major European cities like Dublin, Paris, London, Milan, or Zurich, book with Icelandair for a free layover in Reykjavik, or the rest of Iceland for that matter, without any additional cost. Visit the country’s famed hot springs, geysers, and glaciers, or schedule an adventure like heli-skiing the powder-filled mountains of the Troll Peninsula. Bonus: Flights can be pretty cheap. We flew round-trip from Seattle to Zurich with a stopover in Reykjavik for just over $400 each.

Pay Your Dues

Charge everything you can to your airline credit card while paying off the bill each month and you’ll rack up miles without racking up debt. Big-ticket items like a new computer or sofa go a long way, but if you use the card for recurring bills like gym memberships and utilities, you’ll be getting free flights in no time.

Stay in the Loop

Sign up for alerts from sites like TravelPirates or Scott’s Cheap Flights, which scan the web for the cheapest flights, including mistaken price listings that airlines are forced to honor, and you’ll receive a daily email with some of the best deals around.

Filed To: Travel / Adventure / Hawaii / Iceland / Air Travel
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.


(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.

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