Skip to content

SIE – February 2016


This web page is a companion to a talk I gave to the Society of International Engineers at Iowa State University in February 2016.

Note to readers: I fully expect LOTS of questions and will try to answer as many as I can. If there is something that is not covered here, ask me in the comments and I\’ll do my best to update as quickly as possible.

Finding cheap airfares to interesting destinations.

First off, if you want to go to San Francisco for spring break this year and can only travel out Saturday and back the next week on Sunday, you\’re out of luck; I can\’t tell you how to get a better airfare.

If you want to travel cheaply, it\’s best to travel opportunistically. What does this mean? I follow a few sites that publish great airfares and, when one comes up, my thought process is something like the following:

  • Is this an interesting place and do I want to go there? (Usually yes.)
  • Can I make the time work?
  • Can I get to the departure city cheaply? Usually the best airfares are not from Des Moines or Minneapolis (where I live).

Using the above, I have been to Europe several times for $400 or less, Peru for $300, Japan for $300 (actually, this deal just came up again a few days ago), South Africa for $600, Singapore for $500, Anchorage for $250… you get the idea.

So what are the websites I use?

The Flight Deal and Fare Deal Alert are my go-to sites for finding cheap airfares. The FlyerTalk Mileage Run Deals forum is also good, but I rarely use that these days.

Best Airfare Search Engines

ITA Matrix is a fantastic tool that I use all the time, but I\’ve found that Google Flights is great when you\’re looking at highly flexible destinations or a range of dates.

What about frequent traveler programs/credit cards?

There are many, many blogs out there that will entice you to sign up for the credit card they are plugging by promising that, with the points you earn, you can fly around the world in the most luxurious first class seats, sip Krug champagne while taking a shower on the plane, and get chauffeured around the Frankfurt airport in a Mercedes. While what they are peddling *is* possible, it is a lot harder than it looks.

Frequent traveler programs and credit card signup bonuses used to be a great way to see the world on the cheap. Unfortunately, so many people have taken advantage of these that the banks and airlines have started tightening the screws, so it\’s much harder to take advantage of these programs.

Even for those who have other people pay for their travel, the frequent flyer game is mostly madness anyway.

If you still want to play in this game. Just know that there are a lot of pitfalls. You HAVE TO do your homework and the time that this takes will likely outweigh the benefits. Remember, these bloggers get compensated (I\’ve heard up to $400) per credit card signup. The banks aren\’t in this to give you free travel; they are in it to make money. Buyer beware.

The big blogs:

Finally, it very, very rarely makes sense to carry a balance on a credit card (and certainly never for earning travel points). If you can\’t pay off your credit cards each month, stay away from these programs.

Great websites/best blogs.

My friend Stefan\’s blog, Rapid Travel Chai, is one of the best. He knows his stuff and he is definitely willing to lend a helping hand if you have done your research. If you talk to him, tell him I told you about his blog.


The Man in Seat 61 is a must if you are planning on traveling by train anywhere. He has pretty much comprehensive information for worldwide train travel. I planned my Trans-Siberian trip using his page. London to India by train is on the bucket list.

Rental Cars.

Buyer beware with rental cars in other countries. Rental car companies abroad are some of the biggest scam artists in the travel business. Mandatory insurances, unexplained fees. Yuck. I got a rental car on Expedia for my trip to Costa Rica recently. Expedia told me that I was going to get charged about $200 for the week; the rental desk wanted north of $800 after trying to slam me with \”mandatory\” charges for insurance and miscellaneous fees. I was prepared and walked away with a car for the $200 I agreed to. Others weren\’t as prepared and walked away paying $800 for their car. Rapid Travel Chai\’s rental cars presentation is pretty good.


That\’s it for now. See something that isn\’t covered? Want more on something else? Disagree with something I said? Comment below.

Leave a Reply