How to get a free holiday: have two trips for the price of one
I’m all about finding new ways around the old booking processes. I’m constantly looking to find the new routes or service providers that can not only save me two thirds of my travel budget but can also offer me two or three holidays all rolled into one. If I can save a dollar here and a pound there, I most certainly will, as long as I’m not worse off. But is it possible to get a free holiday? How do you save money with airlines? Where can I find the cheapest flights? Am I paying too much for my flights or accommodation? Stay with me as I will reveal my secrets and give you real examples of how I got two holidays for the price of one without compromising on quality. This is the story of our project “free holiday”.
Two holidays for the price of one – our Christmas trek across the entire Europe
We reside in Malta at the moment. Malta is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea, close to Sicily which belongs to Italy. Our close neighbours are Libya and Tunisia in Northern Africa. You can imagine that booking Christmas flights for two people almost all the way up to the Arctic Circle in Northern Europe can be a scary prospect especially if you left it last minute. As we all know, airlines charge at least double for Christmas flights, especially if you leave it too late.
We started booking our flights only three weeks before our planned departure date. You can also imagine that to save money, we would have to fly at awkward dates way too early around mid December. Well we arrived in the cold Finland on 22nd of December. We even managed to squeeze in a trip to Berlin, with a stay in a lovely hotel suite. But the trick is that we did not have to pay any extra money for our holiday in Germany nor the suite, which means that with a little research, we were able to arrange ourselves a “free holiday”. How did we manage to pull this off right before Christmas? Here’s how.
Project “Free Holiday”: Know your flight route options
Over the years I have accumulated years and years of experience on the airlines operating within Europe. In the past, I used to pack my bag and go if I had managed to save extra 200 euros. Over time, I have become familiar with Europe’s low cost options, whether it be airlines, hotel stays or free accommodation options.
The first thing that you need to do, when selecting your route, is to get the best price possible for a direct flight or with one, reasonable change. In this case the flight was from Malta to Helsinki, Finland. The Finnish national carrier, Finnair is known to be one of the safest and most punctual airlines in the whole world, so I can recommend them to you any time. You can click here to search and book Finnair flights. Unfortunately for us, they were not the cheapest option this time around. I suppose we had to take the blame for this one, as we had left booking the Christmas flights way too late. Many flights were already fully booked when I started browsing. Better act fast and grab the least awkward flight option. Right?
No. Keep searching. Keep fighting for “project free holiday”!
Once you have established the ball park of the price for the best flight available, you start comparing. I run searches on these favourite travel comparison sites:
So the search results for our Christmas flights started coming in and my mood lifted as the prices kept dropping. Sure, some flights would have 30 hour + durations. For most people a 35 hour duration would be a huge turn-off but I felt like I was about to hit the jackpot. Why is that, you ask?
From direct flights to a mini-holiday
When the travel comparison sites like SkyScanner give me a long duration with only one stop, I’m about to hit the jackpot. What do I mean, exactly? My plan is to intentionally split one leg of the journey into two. If you don’t take a direct flight, you can get two holidays in a short space of time. How do you do this in practice then? You leave your luggage with the airline at the city of departure, they will make sure your bags are carried all the way to your destination.
This means that you are free of dragging that suitcase around and are completely free to leave the airport in the layover city (just get a visa if it’s required). As long as you re-appear for your connecting flight the next day, you have a whole city to explore while carrying only a small bag on your back. You can even plan for a working holiday in a new country, if you wish. I have sat next to my boyfriend in a hotel lobby in Gdansk, Poland, working away during our flight layover. If you are able to work remotely, why pay the full price for a direct flight when you can enjoy a second holiday for free?
Do flight comparison sites give the best deals?
Flight comparison sites are not know-it-all. However, I personally love using flight comparison sites, like SkyScanner or eDreams. You can set price alerts, which notify you if the price of a flight drops. Roughly 60% of my flights are booked through these two sites, especially to more exotic destinations. But they don’t know it all. Flight comparison sites don’t just roam the internet and give you the best price which is the truth, nothing but the truth and so on.
Comparison sites are a form of affiliate marketing, which means that they need to first partner up with the airlines they want to promote. And to promote an airline, the comparison sites need to get compensated properly for their marketing efforts. The unfortunate truth is that if we pay very low fares for low cost airline tickets, the low cost budget doesn’t allow for high affiliate marketing fees. This is the reason many low cost airlines are left out from the comparison sites. So now that we have a comparison site result which we could happily settle for, how do you get even a better deal or even a free holiday? Read on and I will tell you.
Know your low cost routes
Now that you have managed to drop your flight quote from a direct flight to a one stop flight with the help of a comparison site, the work really begins. This is the tricky part, as finding the best deals may require some stamina and patience. At this point I usually crack open both the Ryanair and EasyJet apps. I also go through Jet2 fligts but as they focus mostly on holidaymakers from the UK, Jet2 wasn’t going to help us get in the right direction, towards Finland. I searched for routes that would take us as far up North as possible. Stockholm in Sweden came up, but as I’m careful about my travel spending, I knew the city’s price range was going to eat most of our budget up. Our operation “free holiday” was at risk. Therefore I had to find another solution.
When times are hard, you often end up with something completely surprising. The most exciting city Ryanair flew to was Berlin and the price was well below 60 euros. But from Berlin there would only be expensive connecting flights. At this point I had also exhausted a few of my favourites, Norwegian and AirBerlin. I ran searches on Google Maps to see whether the nearby airports could offer any relief to the pickle I found myself in. We had great flights at our fingertips but needed to get home for Christmas.
And just before I was ready to call it a day, I remembered a fantastic airline from the Baltic Countries called AirBaltic. I had flown with them before and thought the quality of the service was absolutely brilliant. There it was! With a 45 minute transfer time in Riga, Latvia, we were able to continue our journey to Finland for about 25 euros.
In the end, we arrived in Berlin in the afternoon. I had found a great hotel deal in Berlin through Hotels.com, which is the only hotel booking site I use these days. We even got a very reasonably priced suite for the night. I will tell you more of my secrets on finding great accommodation deals and even free nights in this blog. But this will have to be another time.
Over all, we spent around 120 euros per person on flights from one of the most Southern countries in Europe to the Northernmost country and even had a holiday in Berlin, including a hotel suite stay. To keep in this budget, we used the local transport and Uber as much as possible (use the promo codeks1k1ue to get your first Uber ride free). We left the travel arrangements until 3 weeks before Christmas and arrived in the destination on the 22nd of December.
Did it work? Did we get two holidays for the price of one? Yes we did. Only because we arranged for a second holiday in Berlin, we were able to save hundreds of euros. I consider this a free holiday.
Any other important lessons I learnt from this process?
We could have saved much more, had I booked our bags at the time of booking the flights. AirBaltic charges you a higher rate even if you pay with a credit card through your profile well before departure. We could have also saved money by sending our luggage directly to the final destination through SendMyBag. Their international luggage courier service is often cheaper than paying the airline luggage fees.
Here’s the airlines, booking sites and other services I recommended in this post:
Price comparison & booking sites