I Flew to Japan for $499 Round-Trip

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I love to travel, but I don’t love over-paying for travel. So, when my friend Gabby called me up with the news that she had just found $499 round-trip airfare from Los Angeles to Tokyo during cherry blossom season, I knew we had to jump on it.

Japan had been on my bucket list for a long time. Gabby spent time teaching English there for a few years, so we knew we wanted to take a girls’ trip to explore the country — but with flights normally in the $1,000-$1,500 range, we wanted to be smart about getting a good deal.

Read More: I Spent a Week in Malaysia on Just $13 Per Day — Here’s How

Have Fun With Google Flights

Until someone told me, I didn’t realize that with Google Flights you could be broad in your search terms, such as: “NYC” to “Europe” or “LAX” to “Asia.” Gabby was searching for tickets for another trip in October when she stumbled upon an amazing deal for flights to Tokyo from LAX.

Pro Tip: Use an incognito window when you’re searching on Google Flights so that Google doesn’t track where you’re looking for tickets. Sometimes you’ll find the prices increase if you’ve been searching for the same flights frequently.

The problem was that the deal she found was for March and we wanted to go in April, as that’s typically when cherry blossom season is. We hoped that if we went at the end of March for two weeks, by the time we left in early April, we would catch the start of cherry blossom season. As luck would have it, cherry blossom season came early this year, and we caught the whole thing from start to finish. It was the most majestic experience of my life.

Make Your Money Work for You

Get Creative With Your Travel: Book Your Next Trip During ‘Shoulder Season’

Earn Frequent Flyer Miles

This year, I earned Silver Status on United, largely due to the miles I earned from my flights to and from Japan (13,628 total miles). Make sure that you sign up for all the frequent flyer programs that you can, so you never miss out on the chance to earn miles. These miles add up and can be redeemed on travel.

To put in perspective what you can do with 12,500 United miles, this is often enough miles to redeem for a one-way domestic flight. So, I earned enough miles flying to Japan to get a free flight somewhere in the U.S. But 30,000 United miles can be redeemed for a one-way flight from Europe to the U.S. — which is exactly how I redeemed my miles in September, when I decided to spend a few more nights in Lisbon and booked a last-minute flight home.

Sign Up for Discount Travel Newsletter Lists

A few of the best newsletter lists for discounted airfare are Scott’s Cheap Flights and Airfare Watchdog. Each week, you’ll receive amazing deals on flights around the world. Friends of mine recently booked $250 round-trip airfare from Dallas to Reykjavik, Iceland, because of one of these hot deals they received.

For deals that go beyond airfare, check out TravelZoo’s Top 20. I’ve found some incredible vacation packages, show tickets, hotel deals and cruises this way.

See: Want to Travel Cheap? Here Are My Favorite Money-Saving Travel Sites

Use Credit Card Rewards

If you use credit cards responsibly (paying your bills on time and in full every month), make sure you are using a credit card that offers amazing travel rewards. If you’re not sure where to start, The Points Guy offers a ton of great tips.

Make Your Money Work for You

I make sure that my business credit cards and personal credit cards use the same reward system so I can transfer my business rewards to my personal card. This way, I can get the tax deduction on any business-related travel expenses, but redeem my rewards for personal travel — like an epic girls’ trip to Japan.

Read More: It Costs Less Than You Think to Visit These Picture-Perfect Spots

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