It’s been a while since I’ve written about travel hacking. However, I have not been bored with the subject, but instead have been utilizing my own methods. The next part of this series on hacking flights is to hack currency. This post sort of builds on the basics laid out in my past article, Travel Hacking 201: Hacking Airfare. In there, I gave an example called the ‘Reverse Check’, in which I explain how looking up one way tickets, each from the origin’s website (like a one way from Shanghai to New York on China Eastern Air’s Chinese site, http://en.ceair.com/, as opposed to their North American site). Using this method may have gotten you to dip your toes in the subject of buying tickets in a foreign currency, so here I would like to wade in further.
To hack flight fares via currencies other than your own, you need to get an updated currency conversion rate chart, unless you are a forex day trader and know this all by heart. I like to use XE.com, because they are always up to date, and it is the shortest domain name to type in of all currency converters! Google also works, but you have to remember the basic search term to get the right answer. Use Google Search by typing in the numeric amount of the currency, followed by the currency in question, the word “in”, followed by the currency you would like to convert to. So, if you want to know what $100USD is in Mexican Pesos, you need to type in Google Search this: “100 USD in MXN” (the quotation marks are not needed). Notice the 3-digit abbreviation, which you may not know for each country that you need to convert to, so type “Mexican Pesos” instead of “MXN”, and Google will understand.
Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter. Say I am looking for a flight from NYC (NYC is the NY metro area code for all 3 major airports: JFK, LGA, and EWR) to PVG (Shanghai Pu Dong Airport, China). As we learned in lesson 201, the first thing that we need to do is establish a baseline, or a ceiling, which is the price to judge all other prices by. I like to use Kayak.com for this, as they are a great way to find low fares to begin with, as they aggregate over 200 other websites’ prices into their own.
Sample Cites/Dates: NYC – PVG, 5/31/12 – 6/13/12, all nonstop.
A search of Kayak on these dates turn up this flight, on China Eastern Air:
As you can see, the cheapest that Kayak came up with was this nonstop flight, leaving JFK on 5/31 and arriving in PVG on 6/1, because of the time difference. This is an average price, as of 2012, for a peak travel period between New York and Shanghai, but let’s see if we can do better. Let’s try the ‘One-Way Hack’, to see if buying two one-ways will work out to be less expensive than buying both at the same time, though this is rare:
Well, that didn’t help us at all; the fares for the exact same flights purchased separately total almost $1400USD in all.
So, what do we do now? I will show you, but first I want you to notice one thing. Do you see the little blue links on the bottom of each Kayak quote? These links show you the three cheapest places that Kayak found to book the tickets. It seems that FlyChinaEastern.com, which is China Eastern Airline’s homepage, is the cheapest place to book that ticket. However, one thing that Kayak doesn’t do is tell you that this is the North American version of China Eastern Airline’s website. This is the site which is formatted for the best display in North America, but actually is a completely different entity than their real homepage, which is that aforementioned http://en.ceair.com/. This is a Chinese airlines, and so it makes sense that their real homepage is ceair.com, and it also makes sense that nothing on this page makes sense, as it is all written in Chinese. That is why they have a separate webpage for their English-speaking customers, FlyChinaEastern.com. However, you see that in my example I added the “en” before ceair.com? I found that this is the English version of their real website. So, let’s see if this website offers a different price for our trip to Shanghai.
First, I check the one-way fares, just to save the best for last. According to Kayak’s search of the North American version of their site, the one-way’s are significantly more expensive purchased separately than just springing for a roundtrip fare. Here’s what I got:
That was the exact same flight, leaving JFK at 4:35pm and landing in PVG at 7:30pm on 6/1/12. The price listed is in Chinese Yuan Renminbi, which we’ll get to in a second. This next photo is the return flight, also the exact same flight, leaving PVG on 6/13 at 11:30am and arriving at JFK at 2:15pm:
Yes, I see that some of the days surrounding it are cheaper, but that falls under another lesson, at another time. For now, let’s stick with this example. And yes, again, I know I haven’t searched the roundtrip fare from China Eastern Airlines, but I want to convert these two one-ways first. OK, so now we have our prices, albeit in CNY (Chinese Yuan Renminbi). Heading over to XE.com, and after plugging in these two numbers, I get this:
So, these two one-ways, purchased separately, add up to $1023USD, which is cheaper than Kayak’s $1038 price. Great, we have a $15 savings, but actually it would be better for you to book this at Orbitz if this was the end of the line, as currency exchange fees may total about $20, depending on your bank or credit card issuer. Luckily for us this isn’t the end of the line, and we can plug in that roundtrip query on ceair.com:
We can already see where this is headed. Again, just to confirm, these are the exact same flight numbers, times, and dates we’ve been using all along. So, what is the conversion of 3,860CNY?
“Holy Shit!” you say? I still say this every time I do it, because it doesn’t seem possible. Yet there it is. Now, let me swipe the rug out from under your feet. This fare, as opposed to Kayak’s fare, is listed without taxes and fees. Here is the price from Ceair.com, after the fees:
Which converts to this:
So, maybe it’s a mere $30 savings, give or take, but I am here only trying to teach you the strategy. Every time you look is a completely different scenario, and there is no telling how great a deal (or not) you may come up with. Keep in mind that whether you book on the North American version of this site or the Chinese homepage, there will be an exchange fee either way; you are paying a company that does business in China, therefore your currency will need to convert to CNY prior, and the currency exchange fees charged by your bank will be incurred, whichever site you use. Some of you may ask why I showed you the $611USD fare to begin with, if it was without taxes. Well, because there is a way to cut out the extra $400USD that the airline wants to charge for taxes and fees, but it is quite a bit more complicated. It is legal, and works in many countries, and involves requesting that money back as a refund, since you paid it to a government that is not your own. You must do this as you exit the country; hopefully I can talk about this some more in the future.
For now, be happy with this new trick. Take the extra 10 minutes and open a few extra browser windows, and who knows? It could save you hundreds of dollars on your next international flight!