I don’t blame you because I did it, too: When flight prices started to soar this spring, I narrowed the scope of my travels for 2022, focusing closer to home in hopes of saving. But after spending the last several months digging through thousands of fares to find the best deals, one clear trend has emerged.
The best value in travel right now is abroad, not closer to home. It seems counterintuitive, I know – why should longer flights be cheaper? But with $500-plus fares becoming the norm for simple domestic fares as travel demand surges, getting a good deal on a trip within the U.S. has become hard.
Yet there are tried-and-true destinations across the globe where you can still find cheap fares: Flights to Europe for $500 or less roundtrip, sub-$300 fares to Mexico and the Caribbean, $250 to Colombia and neighboring South American countries, and even flights to South Africa for under $600 total.
The ongoing requirement to get a negative COVID-19 test in order to fly back home from abroad has clearly spooked many travelers, keeping international travel demand at bay … and prices lower. While it’s still anyone’s guess when this requirement may end, we’re betting it disappears in the coming months – or just follow our tips to easily get the test you need to fly home.
So if you’re willing to stomach a return test, or anticipate (like we do) that the requirement will end soon, we think your best bet is booking those international flights instead of flying within the U.S. The value is there for flights to Amsterdam but probably not to San Diego right now.
Read more: Why Are Flights So Expensive Right Now?
Why Are Flight Prices Cheaper Abroad?
All the major U.S. airlines made a big deal about expanding transatlantic flights for this summer, including a bunch of brand new routes.
Yet it’s domestically (as well as to Mexico and the Caribbean) where travel demand has exploded. Clearly, international testing requirements and a desire to stay closer to home is hindering many travelers’ overseas ambitions.
So while travel demand within the U.S. is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels, international demand is lagging even as more seats are flying back and forth across the ocean.
So generally, the sweet spot for good airfare isn’t going to be between St. Louis (STL) and San Diego (SAN) or Washington, D.C. Ironically, it’s probably going to be better between St. Louis and Amsterdam (AMS). Let’s illustrate this.
Here’s a November fare between St. Louis (STL) and San Diego (SAN). It’s not pretty.
Here’s another example for our St. Louis friends out there to fly into Washington, D.C-Reagan (DCA). It’s cheaper than that San Diego fare, but by no means cheap.
So what is a St. Louis traveler to do about this problem? Look abroad instead. Just this past week, we found some cheap flights to both Amsterdam (AMS) and Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) from dozens of U.S. airports with American Airlines service, including St. Louis and many others.
For just a few more bucks than the one-stop flight to San Diego, you could instead book that dream trip to Amsterdam (AMS) on the same dates.
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Maybe Paris is more your speed. For just a few dollars more, a romantic getaway over Thanksgiving break awaits. A trip to Paris for a few bucks more than a simple domestic fare?
That’s just one example among hundreds we’ve seen recently where you can find better value by looking abroad rather than flying domestically in 2022. Whether you’re in New Orleans, New York, Fort Worth, or Fort Lauderdale, the best bang for your buck is abroad right now, not closer to home.
The Best International Destinations for Flight Deals in 2022
Not sure where to look across the globe to find the best deal for a trip this year? You’ve come to the right place.
We’ve got some ideas based on the flight deals we’ve been finding for our Thrifty Traveler Premium members. But if you’re just looking to go anywhere a cheap flight will take you, start by searching with Google Flights Explore. Plug in your home airport, set your ideal travel dates, and take a spin around the globe to find the best international flight deals you can.
But some destinations stick out more than others. Over in Europe, we’re regularly seeing flight deals to Iceland like this fare from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Reykjavik (KEF) for $410 roundtrip. That’s about what you’ll pay for a quick trip to Vegas these days!
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Portugal is another hotspot for cheap international fares through 2022 – and Lisbon is an incredible city, too. And it may seem unbelievable given what domestic fares look like, but even nonstop fares straight into Italy can be scored for $550 roundtrip … or less, like this fare straight into Rome (FCO) later this summer and through the fall.
As fares within the U.S. keep going up, flights down to some of the best gems in Central and South America seem to keep dropping. We’re loving some of the sub-$250 roundtrip fares to Belize (BZE) we’ve been seeing over the past few months … for a trip throughout 2022 and into 2023!
And while domestic fares seem to be hitting record highs, flights down to Colombia and Peru seem to be hitting record lows. We still can’t believe this $246 roundtrip fare from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Bogota (BOG) we sent Thrifty Traveler Premium members a few months back. And we keep finding cheap flights like that from airports nationwide, including this stunner from Miami (MIA) to Lima (LIM) for $222 for a trip in 2023.
South Africa is one of the hardest countries to reach on the planet, and fares are typically $1,200 or more. Yet we’ve seen a slew of roundtrip flights under $600, including this unbelievable deal from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) all the way down to gorgeous Cape Town (CPT) for just $592 flying Delta and its partners like KLM and Air France.
This is just the tip of the iceberg: Check out more destinations where you can find cheap flights right now!
A Trick to Score Cheap International Flights is Out the Window…
Getting cheap flight alerts from your home airport is doubly important right now, because one of our go-to ways to score cheap international flights is a no-go right now.
They’re called positioning flights, and they can be a godsend for travelers outside of major hubs like New York City (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), Boston (BOS), or Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to piggyback on cheaper fares. It works like this:
- First, you book a cheaper international deal from one of those larger cities or anywhere prices are lower.
- Then, you book a separate domestic flight to get you from your hometown airport to the international gateway and back.
In normal times, employing positioning flights can save you hundreds of dollars per ticket, easily worth the headache of having separate reservations and the longer layover times to ensure you don’t miss a connection.
But in many cases today, that simple domestic flight can cost nearly as much (or more) than the longer international fare. Plus, all the drama with flight delays and cancellations could ruin your trip in a hurry if you miss your international flight.
Plus, we’re finding incredible values on international flights all over the country. Let’s look at Traverse City, Michigan (TVC) as an example.
Thrifty Traveler Premium members in Traverse City might be accustomed to looking from Detroit (DTW) for cheaper international fares. Sometimes it works … and other times it doesn’t, as is the case with this $1,000 ticket to Amsterdam.
Plus the connection to Detroit isn’t terribly cheap, either!
Even flights from New York City (JFK) to Amsterdam (AMS) are looking more expensive at $859 roundtrip over that timeframe. Add in the $446 flight from Traverse City to New York and back, and it adds up to $1,300 total. Pass.
This is exactly why home airport flight alerts are so important right now. Instead of the positioning flight rigamarole, Premium members just had to check their inboxes. Boom: Traverse City to Amsterdam for $577.
Positioning flights are still a great way to save money. We’ll continue to use them when they make sense. But now more than ever, you need to do the math to make sure you’ll come out ahead – and that it’s worth the additional stress.
I know this may seem counterintuitive, but your best bet at booking a cheap vacation this year is increasingly by looking abroad, not within the United States as flight prices soar.
While demand for domestic flights has reached pre-pandemic levels, demand abroad has been slower to recover, meaning your best chance at getting a cheap flight is outside of the United States from your home airport this year.