Category: Cheap flights

Brexit means it’s a really good time to buy a flight

Brexit means it’s a really good time to buy a flight

Regardless of your personal feelings about whether #Brexit is a good idea, one thing is clear: After the pound fell to its lowest level since 1985, this is a great time to buy that flight you’ve been putting off for a while in the hopes that the price will fall lower – if done correctly.

As I wrote about in this blog’s very first post, a great way to save money on flights is to try booking in different currencies. In other words, if you have the chance, book your flight in British pounds.

While this will vary airline to airline (and not all of them will allow you to do this), most airlines with a strong international presence will have this option. For example, I just now looked up a roundtrip weekend flight on United from Boston to San Francisco, a route I fly quite often. It priced out at $478, pretty typical for a trip with such short notice:


But after I switched the top from “United States” to “United Kingdom”, it yielded the following:

:picture 2

Based on the current low rate of 1 GBP=1.35 USD, this translates into $438, or a $50 savings, though you’ll want to make sure you book on a card with no foreign transaction fees.

Now, when I checked just an hour ago, the rate was a little higher, at 1 GBP=1.43 USD, so it’s very possible that it could continue to fall as the night goes on. But I wouldn’t hold off too long!

Find a good deal on your flight because of this? Feel free to post in the comments or email me.

Fly to Iceland from the US for just $99!

Fly to Iceland from the US for just $99!

Budget carrier WOW Air has just released another round of $99 one-way fares (taxes included) to Reykjavik from select cities in the US. To be fair, you’ll probably pay a lot more coming back, but your overall trip still should not cost too much, around $400-$500:

wow boswow sfo

Cities featured for now are Washington (DC), San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston. As I mentioned when I reviewed WOW Air, it’s certainly not the most amazing flight you’ll ever be on, but it gets the job done for the price.

If you book after September, you might have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights, though regardless of when you’ll go, you’ll experience some great hot springs, including my personal favorite.

And of course, you can see (and eat!) beautiful horses.

How I saw the Northern Lights for under $400

How I saw the Northern Lights for under $400

Like most people I know, seeing the Aurora Borealis (more commonly known as the Northern Lights) has always been a bucket list item for me.

But given that seeing them often requires traveling pretty far north to remote areas of countries where things tend to be a bit more expensive, the cost was often prohibitively high.

Given that airfare tends to usually be the most expensive part of international travel if that cost can be reduced or even eliminated, the overall cost can be reduced significantly. That’s why when I saw a $400 roundtrip flight from Oakland to Stockholm on Norwegian (which I love), I knew this deal was too good to pass up. Of course, the name of this blog is Wicked Cheap Travel, not Cheap Travel. Why pay $400 when I could get it for free?

Note: Prices are even lower for this route this year, as the same trip is now $300!


Perhaps Norwegian is feeling the pressure from WOW Air and their $99 flights to Iceland

Knowing that there are several cards out there offering signup bonuses of $400 or more on travel, I used the CardMatch tool to see if I was pre-approved for any, and saw that I was indeed pre-approved for the Capital One Venture card, which offered a signup bonus of 40,000 points after spending $3,000 in three months, good for $400 when redeemed for travel purchases. Importantly though, I was able to make the purchase first, and then redeem my points to erase it later after I had spent $3,000.

Of course, that only covered my flight to Stockholm and back. As it is a major city (read: light pollution) at a lower latitude, that alone would not be enough to see the northern lights. Instead, I would have to go to the far northern part of Sweden to Abisko National Park, generally considered one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights.

Disclaimer: For this trip, I spent half my time in Stockholm, and half up north seeing the Northern Lights. This blog post will be written from the perspective of only going to Sweden to see the Northern Lights and nothing else so I can keep the title)

Given the Northern Lights’ unpredictability due to a number of factors, it is generally a good idea to allow yourself a few nights to see them. The higher you go, the greater chance you have of seeing them at least once. After reading some other reviews, I settled on three nights.

There are three ways of getting from Stockholm to Abisko: drive, take a train, or fly. Given that it’s a 15-hour drive or so, this didn’t seem too appealing. I figured I would mix it up and take the train up, and fly back.

To get from the Arlanda (Stockholm) airport to the actual city of Stockholm (where one can catch the train to Abisko), there is a very fast express train that will take you there for roughly $30 USD, or a taxi for $60 USD. As there were four of us, we opted for the taxi.

As is often the case with remote areas, we knew that food options would be super limited. Consequently, we stocked up in Stockholm on groceries, mostly getting a mix of bread, pickled/smoked fish, meatballs, amazingly cheap caviar, and fresh fruit, which ran about $20 per person.

I used the Swedish national railway site and saw that I could pay roughly $69 for a coach seat, or $87 for a sleeper. Given that this was an overnight train, I figured I would “splurge” on the sleeper, something which is much harder to do in the US with Amtrak often charging five times the price.


One of the many nice things about Europe is that unlike the US, there is a strong affinity for train travel. As a result, lodging is often set up along train routes so people don’t have to figure out how to get from the train stop to where they’re staying in areas that are often very remote with limited taxi service.

In what was unquestionably the biggest expense of the trip, my three friends and I booked three nights at the Abisko Turiststation STF, getting a cottage that sleeps four people for $688, which came out to $172 per person. Of course, this was located a five minute walk from the train station, and inside the national park itself, so we didn’t have to go very far once we got there. It was very cold and windy:


Once it got dark, we wandered out into the park in the freezing cold weather, and an hour later, we were rewarded with a sight that could only be the Northern Lights, and it was everything I hoped for (though they’re not as green in person, this is more how a camera captures them).

The only downside about being so far north is that there is not a whole lot to do during the day, so we explored the adjacent Kungsleden trail, one of the most beautiful hikes in the summer, but mostly just a pleasant walk through snowy woods in the winter.

We went out again the next night to see the northern lights, and they were even more impressive that night, moving in all sorts of different directions, and putting on quite a show for several hours (note that you will need a very good camera to capture them, if you don’t have one or don’t trust your skills, you can sign up for a tour where you rent a camera and they show you how to use it):

johann north

david north

The next day, two people went to the famous nearby Ice Hotel, while I and my friend did a day trip to Narvik, which included some beautiful fjords:


Along the way, we also saw quite a lot of reindeer:


And on the way back, we got a great shot of the Lapponian gate, the halfpipe-looking structure:


Photo credit: Johann Dong

Unfortunately, when we went out later that night, we were not able to see it a third night, and gave up after several hours being out in the cold and seeing nothing. Nevertheless, we were certainly not about to complain having seen them two of three nights, given how often people will not see them any nights.

The closest airport to Abisko is Kiruna (KRN), thought it is still a bit of a ways south. I had booked a $60 flight on Norwegian from Kiruna to Stockholm to connect with my flight going back to Oakland from Stockholm, but this too I eventually got for free, as the $3,000 I would spend to meet the credit card signup bonus requirements was redeemable for an additional $60 in travel.

Unfortunately, none of the trains or buses run early enough to the airport, so the options are either booking a shuttle with Lights over Lapland for $50, or a taxi for $200. As there were four of us and the price was essentially the same, we pre-booked a taxi with Taxi Kiruna. They came to pick us up promptly, and after the long journey to Kiruna, we caught our flight to Stockholm, then back to Oakland, where the weather was slightly warmer, but no more northern lights to be found.

Seeing the northern lights was an experience I’ll never forget, and one that I’m now trying to continuously seek out from different countries. But this doesn’t have to be an expensive trip. To review the essential costs (not including the Stockholm portion of my trip or the day trip to Norway):


Flights from OAK to ARN, KRN to ARN, and ARN to OAK: $460 originally, free with points from credit card signup bonus

Taxi from Arlanda to Stockholm: $15 (per person)

Sleeper train from Stockholm to Abisko: $103 (cheaper now with the kroner falling against the dollar)

Lodging in Abisko for three nights: $187 (per person)

Groceries: $20

Taxi from Abisko to Kiruna: $50 (per person)

Total cost: $375


Have you been to Abisko and have something to add? Questions about something I wrote? Feel free to e-mail me or post in the comments.



Northern Lights photos credit:  David Tse

How I not only survived, but even enjoyed my $79 nonstop flight from Boston to the French Caribbean

How I not only survived, but even enjoyed my $79 nonstop flight from Boston to the French Caribbean

Several months ago, low-cost carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle announce nonstop service during the winter from Boston, Baltimore, and New York to the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

I was already familiar with Norwegian from the $400 nonstop roundtrip flight I booked with them from Oakland to Stockholm, but didn’t really understand why a Scandinavian airline was starting service between the East Coast and the French Caribbean. I also wasn’t about to complain.

I had been constantly checking their calendar for a good fare on dates that worked for me, and when I saw this weekend, I jumped on it and booked it, for $209 round trip, though I got most of that reimbursed thanks to the benefits on my Citi Prestige card (which I’ll get into later).

Unlike my previous experience on Norwegian, the check-in area was practically empty (unfortunately, they do not allow online boarding passes):

After getting past security, I went straight to the gate, only to discover we were delayed 20 minutes. Luckily, thanks to my Priority Pass card (from my Citi Prestige card), I and my friend had access to the Air France lounge immediately downstairs, where we had an unspectacular yet filling (and more importantly, free) lunch:


The plane looked like any other 737, other than the bright red draped over each seat. Leg room was sufficient, but due to the plane being fairly empty, I got to have my own version of “first class”, an entire row to myself:


As Norwegian is a budget carrier, they partially follow the Spirit Airlines model of charging for everything imaginable: food, drinks, checked bags, seat assignment, etc. Of course, on a 4-hour flight, no food or drink is manageable, but you might want to make alternate arrangements for a longer flight on Norwegian. They did come around offering food and drinks several times, with soda starting at $2.50. I didn’t ask about the cost of food.

Importantly, the one service that I did not have to pay for was the Wi-Fi, which, although not super fast, was free and more than enough for a short flight.

The “barf bags” did have a rather amusing message:


As we began our descent with the sun setting, they dimmed the cabin for some more ambient lighting.


Four hours after takeoff, we were in Guadeloupe, and for less than the cost of a night out on the town.

Given how many people I’ve talked to who haven’t heard about these flights, as well as the lack of advertising, it doesn’t seem like they are doing a very good job marketing these flights, as the flight was only a little more than half full.

I hope that enough people can start taking these flights, as I’d hate for see for them to drop this service. And there are still plenty of low fares available, if you can leave in late March, you can fly for $49:



I’ll be writing more detailed posts later on Norwegian Air Shuttle as well as my trip to Guadeloupe, but if you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to email me or ask a question in the comments below.





Seven ways to find the cheapest flight

While I tend to book most of my flights by redeeming frequent flyer miles for awards, occasionally there are times when it makes more sense to pay for your flight (this is especially true if you don’t have enough miles to redeem)! The following is a run-down of the approximate process I use when I’m looking for a cheap flight:

1. ITA Matrix

Contrary to popular belief, the best flight search engine is NOT Kayak, Google Flights, Skyscanner, or some other site your friend may have told you about. Rather, it’s a relatively unknown (outside of the industry) site called ITA Matrix. Even if you’ve never heard of it, you’ve probably unknowingly used it before, as its algorithms power KAYAK and a variety of other flight search engines (including several used by airlines themselves).

So why haven’t you heard of it? Well, in addition to its very bare-bones layout and lack of advertising, you can’t actually book flights through it. That’s right, it will tell you the cheapest flight that exists for your itinerary, but all this means is that somewhere out on the internet, your flight exists at that price. It won’t tell you where. Obviously, if you can match this price on a competing site, you can just book it there. If not, you then need to use the routing codes that ITA Matrix gives you, and thenbook that flight on a site through which you can book flights, such as Hipmunk. This is a good explanation of how to do so.

Of course, the Hipmunk method isn’t guaranteed to match ITA Matrix’s price, but generally will come very, very, close. As you might notice though, more often than not, the difference between ITA Matrix’s price and conventional flight search engines is not too significant, so this is really only something for hardcore, budget-minded travelers who don’t mind the extra hassle of inputting routing codes into another site. (ITA Matrix is also very useful for extremely complex/customized itineraries such as booking certain airlines, stopovers, or fare classes, but that’s beyond the scope of this post). If you’re looking for a simpler, flight search engine that you can book through, Google Flights is probably your best bet (for what it’s worth, Google owns ITA, though that doesn’t mean the results are identical).

However, sometimes the savings can be significant. While I can’t imagine one-way flights from Moscow to Tulsa are in high demand, if I were to price this itinerary on KAYAK, it tells me that the cheapest flight is $1,346!

Screenshot 2016-01-02 at 10.30.15 PM

If I search for it on ITA Matrix, I can book a flight for just $668, less than half of what I found on KAYAK:Screenshot 2016-01-02 at 10.30.01 PM

That being said, ITA Matrix has gone downhill slightly in quality over the past few years, and while it’s still my primary go-to, it’s not perfect, and I would still recommend double-checking other sites. I have yet to figure out in which scenarios ITA Matrix yields the biggest savings (on my first try last year looking for a one-way flight from San Francisco to Boston, it yielded a savings of $100, but it took me 15 minutes to find a good example to use above, as KAYAK was matching ITA Matrix on all of my previous searches).

Also, I think it goes without saying, but always include nearby airports in your search if you have a way to get between them and your desired city. And while following the instructions above will usually result in you making the final booking at the airline’s website anyway, it’s always good to book directly with the airline than a third-party site if you have the choice.

2. Southwest

This is only useful if you’re searching domestic flights within the US (or as of very recently, international flights between the US and the Caribbean). But if you are searching for the cheapeast price on one of these flights, then you should absolutely not book anything until you’ve checked for it on Why? Well, every time a flight is booked through a third-party site (such as KAYAK), that site receives a commission from the airline (which cuts into the revenue the airline receives from that fare). Unlike just about every other airline out there, Southwest has decided that the cost of the commission they would have to pay outweighs the benefits of being listed on flight search engines, so they have made it so you can only book their flights on their web site. Whether this makes financial sense is a decision that Southwest has obviously considered very carefully, but they’re obviously doing something right, as they continue to be the largest low-cost carrier (LCC) in the world. While this isn’t always true, Southwest tends to be cheapest when booking non-stop flights and very far ahead in advance.

For example, if I wanted to fly from Boston to Baltimore (a major Southwest focus city), the cheapest result that ITA Matrix displays is $182 on American Airlines, and it’s not even nonstop (for which I’d have to fork out almost $100 more for JetBlue).

Screenshot 2016-01-02 at 10.05.55 PM

Southwest, on the other hand, offers nonstop service for $169:

Screenshot 2016-01-02 at 10.05.49 PM

One of the downside’s to Southwest’s site however is that you can not choose to include nearby airports in your search; you may only search for one airport at a time.

3. Booking in a Foreign Currency

Given that the US dollar continues to be incredibly strong against just about every other currency in the world, it’s often a good idea to check the price of your flight on an airline’s site in different currencies. Quite often, the ratio of different currencies available on an airline’s site tends to not reflect that currency’s most recent value versus the dollar.

By choosing to book my round-trip flight last year from Oakland to Stockholm on Norwegian in Swedish Kroner (SEK) instead of USD, I saved almost $100, as it came out to $407. Yes, it requires a little bit of effort to continuously re-search in every currency (which sometimes means switching languages/country) and look up that currency’s current exchange rate with the dollar, but more often than not, it’s worth the extra savings.

For example, if I were going to make another trip back to Sweden to see the Northern Lights again (an experience I cannot recommend highly enough), looking at one-way flights from Oakland to Stockholm yields significantly cheaper results when booking in Swedish Kroner (1559 SEK=$184.29):Screenshot 2016-01-02 at 9.49.01 PM

than in USD:

Screenshot 2016-01-02 at 9.47.32 PM

It’s also important to note that the cheapest currency often may not be the currency of either country; right now the cheapest flights on WOW Air between Boston and Reykjavik are in Canadian dollars. Similar results can also sometimes be achieved by tricking the website to make it think you’re booking from a different country than you are (often the foreign country you are flying to/from).

4. Piece it together yourself (or use a site that will do this for you)

Airfare search engines generally will not piece together flights on airlines that do not partner with each other (i.e. itineraries that require you to book two separate tickets). Therefore, searching for the individual legs yourself can be particularly useful as a way of saving money, especially when budget airlines are involved. It also may require having some advance knowledge of budget airlines, however.

For example, if I look for a flight from San Francisco to Guadeloupe on ITA Matrix, it will give me a routing that costs almost $500 and requires me to spend nearly 24 hours traveling (though to be fair, there are worse places than Montreal for an overnight layover):

Screenshot 2016-01-03 at 10.22.52 PM

However, if I already know that Norwegian offers super cheap flights from Boston to Guadeloupe, I can first book a flight from SF to Boston for $161 on American Airlines:Screenshot 2016-01-03 at 10.32.36 PM

and then book a separate flight for $69 on Norwegian:Screenshot 2016-01-03 at 10.25.33 PM

which reduces the total travel time, and also brings the final cost to $230.

A word of caution on this method, though: If you book two separate flights on two different airlines, you run the risk that your first flight may be cancelled or delayed at the last minute, which may cause you to miss your second flight. That is to say, if my American flight into Boston is delayed by several hours (or cancelled), I’ll miss my Norwegian flight to Guadeloupe (assuming it leaves on time), and given that this flight only departs once every few days, I’d pretty much have to cancel my trip (or pay a cancellation fee for the new flight Norwegian books me on, and book a very expensive same-day flight on another airline). However, if I booked the above itinerary on Air Canada and my flight into Montreal was late, they would most likely make an effort to get me to the gate as soon as possible after I got off the plane, and even hold the flight if necessary (and if not, get me on the next flight to Guadeloupe). And if that first flight were cancelled, they would rebook me on new itinerary to get me to Guadeloupe.

It’s also important to remember that you will need to claim and re-check your bags between flights.

As I mentioned earlier, this method will really only be useful if you have an advance knowledge of routes with cheap fares available. One way to do this is to look at what budget airlines fly out of your target destination’s airport, pick whichever route flies the closest to your city of origin, and then find a separate flight between that city and your city of origin.

But as I mentioned earlier, while this method can often yield significant savings, make sure to allow a very large buffer zone for your layover.

4a. Use an airfare search engine that pieces together flights from different carriers (EDIT: Skypicker has since rebranded as, with the same capabilities)

Just as I was getting ready to publish this post, I learned about Skypicker, which is essentially a search engine that does all the work in #5 for you. I’m a little hesitant to write too much about it as I have yet to use it to book a flight, and it has received mixed reviews, but its basic premise is that it pieces together flights on non-partnering airlines that a traditional airfare search engine would not find, as I detailed in #4. There are also several competitors springing up, though Skypicker seems to be the best one.

It’s also very much aware of the concern I expressed in #4 of the dangers of missing your flight, which is why it has a guarantee of re-booking and refunding you any out-of-pocket costs if your first flight is cancelled or delayed to the point that it affects your routing. So far, it seems like they are intent on following through with this guarantee, as they recently paid customers more than 100,000 Euros after low-cost European carrier Ryanair permanently cancelled one of their scheduled routes, which affected almost 400 passengers.

I gave it a try for some routes and was overall impressed at how well it pieced together different carriers. For example, if I wanted to fly from Buffalo to Reykjavik,a search on ITA Matrix would tell me that the cheapest flight is a whopping $720, flying JetBlue to JFK, and then Icelandair (who codeshares with JetBlue) to Reykjavik.


Searching for the same itinerary on Skypicker yields a savings of $300, also first taking JetBlue to JFK, but then flying WOW air to Reykjavik.


Why? Well, WOW air, a budget carrier, generally offers cheaper fares than Icelandair. But unlike Icelandair, WOW air does not have any other airline partners. Therefore, you’re not going to see results from WOW air on any traditional airfare search engine unless they fly out of both your origin and destination cities.

That being said, it still looks like Skypicker is getting some kinks worked out, as I wasn’t able to get it to replicate the San Francisco to Guadeloupe flight I detailed above. There are also more restrictions on change/cancellation policies on tickets booked through them (as well as reports of poor customer service), so for now, it might be better to use them solely as another method of searching for the cheapest airfare, rather than a site to book your itinerary through, despite the guarantee.

5. Hidden-city ticketing

First, let me say that I do NOT endorse this method of saving money on flights. It is expressly prohibited by all airlines. However, as this is a site about saving money on travel, I do feel obligated to mention it.

While in an ideal world, airline prices would be determined by things like distance and fuel, more often than not, they are based on demand between two cities, which is why a shorter flight between two popular cities may cost more than going from one popular city, connecting in another popular city, and then going on to a less popular city. If you get off at your connection and intentionally skip your next flight, then you’ve managed to get to your intended city for a lot cheaper than it would have been if you booked a nonstop flight.

However, there are a few issues with this (in order of severity):

  1. Airlines are only obligated to get you from your initial destination to your final destination. Therefore, if I saved $200 on my flight to Boston to San Francisco by booking a flight from Boston to Vancouver connecting in San Francisco (see image below), if my first flight to San Francisco is cancelled, then United has every right to instead re-book me to Vancouver on a flight connecting in Chicago (or somewhere else). In other words, be prepared to end up in your actual final city (not that I don’t like Vancouver, it’s one of my favorite cities), or to pay huge cancellation/re-booking fees.
  2. Every airline expressly prohibits it in their contract of carriage, and can take punitive measures against you for doing so. In particular, if you’re on a round trip ticket and you ditch the last flight on the first half of the ticket, they can cancel the second half. Furthermore, they can also take away all your frequent flyer miles if they catch you (and at the minimum, you won’t earn any frequent flyer miles for the trip if you don’t complete it). In other words, if you’re going to do it, book it as a one-way flight and don’t enter your frequent flyer number.
  3. You can’t check any bags (as they will end up in your final city).

How much do airlines hate this? Recently, an enterprising young software engineer named Aktarer Zaman created a site, Skiplagged, which specifically looks for hidden-city discounts, only to be sued by United and Orbitz for loss of revenue (Orbitz settled, while United’s claim was thrown out but only on a procedural matter). Of course, as often happens in these situations, it was a classic example of the Streisand effect, as Zaman’s site ended up getting an enormous amount of publicity from the lawsuit (I personally had not previously heard of it), which likely resulted in more bookings that denied revenue to airlines.

Again, though, as I said earlier, I only recommend this for very extreme, high-risk budget travelers. However, it certainly can save money:

Screenshot 2016-01-02 at 7.15.05 PM

6. Wait for a deal

There are some sites out there that are solely dedicated to finding good flight deals and sharing them with the rest of the internet. In particular, I like The Flight Deal, which recently shared an amazing deal for roundtrip service to Shanghai for $525. However, this is a very popular site, and deals can often be gone within hours of posts going up. If you’re looking for something more specific, KAYAK will allow you to set alerts to let you know when a fare between two cities drops below (or increases above) a certain level.

There are also a fair number of sites out there that attempt to predict the best time to buy airfare, the likelihood of it going up/down, etc., but so far, I haven’t found any reliable enough to recommend. The excellent data journalism blog FiveThirtyEight took a more advanced look at airfare prediction software and concluded while there’s often no harm in looking into these types of software, the benefits are not (yet) significant. While you may occasionally come across an amazing last-minute deal, a general rule of thumb is to book earlier than later.

7. Ask me

While I can’t promise that I will continue to offer this service for free (especially if this site starts to take off), feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you’re still not having luck using everything detailed above.