How we got a great deal on airfare for our sabbatical

Going on a sabbatical is not inexpensive.  There is the cost of transportation, food and lodging, not to mention the opportunity cost associated with foregoing our regular paychecks.  We’re trying to look for ways to save wherever possible, including airfare (the cost of flights can really add up for a family of five).  We were familiar with most of the usual tricks to find low fares but during our search process we learned a new strategy that might help you as well!

Flexibility is Key

The key to getting the best price on airfare is flexibility.   Most savvy travelers know that fares are usually cheapest on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.  Often savings can be found by searching nearby airports (either at your departure city or destination).

Fares can change quickly.  One day a ticket might be $400, and the next it could be $1500.  This is why it is a good idea to set up email alerts.  One great site for this service is Google Flights.  Google’s airfare search tool lets you quickly search across multiple dates and destinations and allows you to track prices (you’ll get an email when the price changes).  Hint – you can enter multiple airport codes in the from and to fields, separated by a comma.  Also, you can set up an email alert and Google will notify you when the price changes.

In our case, we set up an email alert as soon as the search tool would let us (typically you can only search fares 11 months out, and our return flight is in late December).

Pro tip: Search Open Jaw fares

One strategy that travelers might not be aware of is searching open jaw fares.  An open jaw fare itinerary involves flying from a departure city “A” to city “B”, then from city “C” back to the original city “A”.  Another variation is departing from city “A” and flying to city “B” then returning from city “B” to city “C”.  This type of fare can be ideal especially in a scenario where you are planning to fly to a remote destination and explore several cities before returning home.

Google flights does not always do a great job in uncovering low cost open jaw tickets.  The best tool we have found with this capability is ITA Matrix.  To search for open jaw fares, select the “Multi-city” tab.  Then enter  airport codes for all airports near your preferred departure and arrival airports separated by a comma in the “Departing from” and “Destination” fields.  It is also a good idea to select “Plus/minus 2 days” to find lower airfares close to your ideal travel dates.


For this example search, a round-trip ticket from Houston to Frankfurt or Munich was only $563 per person!  This is a great deal!

In this example a round trip from Houston to Frankfurt was the same price as an open jaw fare from Houston to Munich then Frankfurt to Houston, but sometimes an open jaw is cheaper than a simple round trip ticket so it is worth it to search for open jaw fares.  This was the case when we booked our tickets to Europe; RT tickets to Munich were around $1200 but it was possible to fly into Munich and back from Paris for around $620 round trip.  Since we were departing in summer and returning right before Christmas, we felt like this was a great deal.

Do you have any tips for saving on airfare? Please share in the comments!