How We Returned Home From Istanbul For $352.60

Once we decided to shake up our itinerary and head home for the holidays, we had to figure out how to actually get there. Luckily we hadn’t yet booked any onward flights from Europe, so we switched our focus from finding tickets from Turkey to Asia to finding tickets from Turkey to the U.S.

We had more miles in the American Airlines AAdvantage program, so we were focusing on awards using the Oneworld Alliance. There was nothing direct back to the US, so we started searching what our layover options in Europe would be. The easiest options routed us through London, but these seemed to have higher fees.

We then saw that one place were you could get a direct flight to the US with not too bad fees was from Dublin, Ireland. We were intrigued about the possibility of seeing a little bit of Ireland, so we arranged our flights to have a three-day layover in Dublin.

This meant that we actually booked two different award flights. The first flight used British Airways Avios to get us from Istanbul to Dublin (with a layover in London). These flights cost us a total of $110 in fees.

Enjoying a flavorful beer in the London airport... exciting after a few months of uninspiring brews!

Enjoying a flavorful beer in the London airport… exciting after a few months of uninspiring brews!

Flying British Airways into Dublin

Flying British Airways into Dublin

The second flight was then to get from Dublin to Dallas, with a layover in Philadelphia. We used AAdvantage miles to book this, but it was actually a combination of a US Airways flight from Ireland and then and American Airlines flight from Philadephia. These flights cost us a total of $242.60 in fees.

Enjoying a Yuengling beer and a cheesesteak in the Philly airport. Brought back good memories of the years we lived in Delaware!

Enjoying a Yuengling beer and a cheesesteak in the Philly airport. Brought back good memories of the years we lived in Delaware!

In the end, the fees to fly directly from Istanbul back to Dallas would have been less, but we thought it was worth it to have a chance to spend a few days in a new country!

How We’re Getting to Europe for $200

We’ve bought our second set of plane tickets for our trip! It wasn’t quite as cheap as our first flight, but we were still able to use miles!

The Africa leg of our trip will be concluding in Cape Town, and the next stop on our journey is Prague in the Czech Republic in Central Europe. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to search for award flights between these two airports.

As with our flight to Africa, the Star Alliance seemed to be the best bet for finding an award flight because they have the most members that fly in the region. It costs 30,000 United miles to fly from South Africa to Europe. Luckily, Della just got 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (transferable to United) from the Ink card, and Eric had just enough left over from his Sapphire bonus.

Award availability was good for the week we wanted to fly as well. For a while we just watched the flights and pondered which day of the week we wanted to leave. It seemed like the best bet was going to be on Turkish Airlines flights with a layover in Istanbul. However, by the time we got around to booking, that flight on that day had disappeared.

But… we noticed one of the other flights that was available had a 8 hour layover in Munich, Germany. Sounds like a good chance to add another country to the itinerary! Eric was especially excited when he found this well-organized guide to Munich layovers. It is always nice to have the options so well laid out, plus a chance to see the oldest brewery in the world is hard to pass up!

In the end, the fees were a little higher than the Turkish Airlines option: $100 a person. But, the departure date was right and the opportunity to (briefly) see Germany seemed cool too, so we went ahead and booked:

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How We’re Getting to Africa for $7

One of our first steps in planning the trip is to buy plane tickets. You may think this would be a big expense, but with a little effort you can get a ticket for really cheap. Like the title says, our main tickets to Africa from the US are only going to cost us $7 total!

Ticket Types

One of the early decisions we had to make was what type of ticket to buy. The big airline alliances do sell “round the world” tickets which allow you to group a bunch of different flights under a one fare. We looked into this, but in the end we decided it wasn’t the best fit for us. On one of the RTW tickets, you are only allowed a certain number of stops, and you have to plan out your dates far in advance. We want to figure out some of that as we go, so not exactly a match for us. Plus, we would have had to pay lots of money for that. But why pay money when you have miles?

Using Miles to Buy Plane Tickets

For the past few years, we have gone on many trips for very little money out of pocket.We do this by “paying” for the flights with frequent flyer miles.

We don’t actually rack up the miles by flying though. Instead, we get big chunks of miles by applying for credit cards with hefty sign up bonuses. It may sound risky, but if you are careful with how you use the credit cards (like we always are) then it can get you some great deals.

Getting credit cards is only a good solution if you are responsible with how you use them. Always make sure to pay off your balance in full every month!! You may worry about negative effects on you credit score, but in our experience our scores have stayed fairly constant.

For some of the cards, you only get the sign up bonus if you complete what they call a “minimum spend”. It’s usually a few thousand dollars within a few months. We don’t typically put that much on a credit card, so we’ve had to figure out some creative ways to do this. If you’re interested, let us know and we can share our strategies.

Getting to South Africa

Based on a variety of factors, we decided to start our trip in South Africa. We knew from research that the best miles to redeem to get to South Africa would be United miles. (We aren’t actually flying on United though. One other cool thing about miles is that you can redeem them on an airline’s alliance partners. United in in Star Alliance along with a few African airlines).

We also knew from the award chart that you need 40,000 United miles to get to South Africa from the US. Luckily, we also knew that the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offered a signup bonus of 40,000 United miles. We each got the card, completed the minimum spending requirement, and had our miles.

Then we had to search for the flight. Using the United website, we searched for award redemptions to Johannesburg from a variety of U.S. cities. Unfortunately, availability was a little limited so we didn’t have a lot of options. We were this close to flying via Nigeria until we read some horror stories about layovers there. On the other hand, we read some positive things about layovers in Cairo, so we ended up booking a ticket on Egypt Air. We should have time on our 12 hour layover to see the pyramids – pretty cool!

But, very little in life is free unfortunately. There are some fees associated with the journey: $3.50 per person. So, we can’t say we are flying to South Africa for free. It’s going to cost us a whole $7.

Screenshot from 2014-02-25 23:08:29

You may notice that we still need to figure out how to get to NYC for our flight. No definite plans on that yet, but we are hoping we can figure out a way to use miles :-).

If you’re interested in learning more about how to travel for cheap, here are some resources we enjoy: