Make Your Long Layover Its Own Vacation –
Make It A Laycation
A while ago, Dave wrote about how he got to Europe for under $30. In business class, no less. Color me jealous. Unfortunately, I’m not as quick with my mileage accrual as is Dave (no miles-earning credit cards in my wallet), so I have to pay a fair bit more for my trans-oceanic journeys. There’s a positive in all this low-fare hunting, though; in my attempts to save money, sometimes I get to finagle two vacations into one. All that’s required is a little flexibility in your schedule and a tiny sense of adventure.
First Things First: Where the Heck Should We Go?
For a yearly no-holds-barred vacation, a friend and I bandied-about Iceland, Europe, South Africa, and Asia as possible destinations. I know, I know; we totally narrowed it down to a theme or region, right? Yeah…not at all. Anyway, after much deliberation, we finally settled on Asia. Or, more specifically, Thailand. Having lived and worked in Asia for a few years, I’ve been to Thailand multiple times for both work and vacation. I’ve found Thailand to be one of the most welcoming locales in the world, both in terms of climate (its winter is warmer than most other places’ summers) and the genuine, caring nature of its people — and don’t get me started on its history, beaches, islands, and food. Seriously, I can’t recommend Thailand enough.
Getting There is Half (or One-Third) the Fun!
While living overseas, I managed to accrue a decent frequent flier status and about 140,000 United MileagePlus miles as a result of travel for my job and to see family and friends. Knowing that I’d have a pretty rough time maintaining that status now that I’m back here in the United States permanently, I decided to cash in all my miles for two, one-way tickets returning from Bangkok. We had to use the miles on the return flight as the outbound flights were seemingly non-existent during our travel days, or were on…ahem…”less than reputable” airlines. Either way, that left us with the sticky wicket of getting to Thailand — and having to purchase a one-way flight, which can often be costly and require awkward, out-of-the-way routing.
Pricing It Out – The Real Leg Work
My initial searches for one-way airfare from Los Angeles to Bangkok showed few direct flights, and those were prohibitively expensive. Alternately, flights with stops were significantly cheaper but often added nearly a full day of travel by having ridiculously long layovers – some upwards of 10 hours or more. This may sound like an opportunity to go exploring the layover city, but there’s only so much you can do in 10 hours when you have to account for transit to and from the airport, time to hang out in the boarding area, and all the other fudge-factors. In the end, you’re left with a scant three hours or so in this new, unexplored city. And, well, it’s really not worth the rushing around and anxiety of maybe missing your flight. So how do I propose we get around this? We make the layover an integral part of the trip!
For price comparison, I rely on Kayak.com, a search engine that searches search engines. Confused yet? It’s like that movie ‘Inception’, but for flight, hotel, and car deals. It’s great. Plus it lets me filter search results so I only see Star Alliance carriers to help me earn miles. It’s an amazing site to have in your online tool belt.
Turn a long layover into a good thing, and save money
Since direct flights were costly and flights with layovers ended up wasting a day in transit, this is where it paid to be flexible; I began looking at other metropolitan Asian cities that had more (and cheaper) direct flights, or flights with shorter layover times AND could eventually get us to Bangkok. Using Kayak, we settled on an Asiana flight to Hong Kong (another one of my favorite cities in Asia – it’s like London, but with Chinese flair) via a short, 3-hour layover in Seoul. That’s just enough time deplane, hang out in Asiana’s lounge, then get to the next flight without having to rush or having to keep my slight-case-of-adult-ADD at bay. Whether we got a special fare or simply that the fares on that Asiana route are always cheap, I don’t know.
The end result, though, was a flight to Hong Kong at about 2/3 of the price to get all the way to Bangkok, and if you’re willing to explore some terra incognita, it’s a great way to add another stamp to your passport and broaden your horizons.
Sometimes Good Things Come in Big Packages
With the first leg of the outbound trip booked, I needed to focus on getting to Bangkok. To make things fun, we decided to look at one-way flights from Hong Kong to Bangkok departing at least 36 hours after our arrival.
After a quick search, neither Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific nor Thai Airways were the cheapest. However, since both my partner and I are airline aficionados, we were thrilled that the most inexpensive carrier on that route happened to be an airline that has won several awards and one we’ve both been wanting to try out: Dubai-based Emirates. Plus, we’ll be flying Emirates’ Airbus A380 – that really big plane. It’s a great deal all around and worked out sublimely since the cost of both this flight and the flight to Hong Kong essentially closed the 2/3 cost loop.
How does a Middle Eastern airline get us from Hong Kong to Bangkok without going through Dubai, you ask? See, airlines can negotiate for “Fifth Freedom” rights that, simply put, allow the carrier to transport passengers or cargo between two countries other than the airline’s home nation. For example, Cathay Pacific once operated a “milk run” that flew Dubai, Bombay, Bangkok, Hong Kong – and vice versa. For the passenger, this means more choices for travelling between countries, more competition for routes, and ultimately lower fares.
In the end, we paid about the same amount (within a tolerable +/- dollar figure) as a flight directly to Bangkok, but with the added luxury of a mini vacation en route. Few airlines allow multi-day layovers as part of an overall itinerary without seemingly exorbitant costs on standard, revenue tickets (though, if you’re interested in going to Europe via Reykjavik, Iceland Air has reasonably priced stopovers), so this worked out perfectly.
This was a win: my friend and I spent no extra cash to turn a single destination trip into a mini-tour. If you don’t mind spending a few hours at the computer and deviating a bit from your original plan, you can toss in a nice little side excursion at little-to-no additional travel cost.