Flying home for the holidays is one of the most stressful, hair-pulling chores one can do, especially if they live abroad. It’s the same for me. I fly home twice a year – once during the spring, and once during the holiday season, and each holiday season it’s always a big chore simply flying home to visit the family. To minimize this stress and to keep your wallet from screaming at you, it is very important to plan these trips in advance.
I asked my other friends that flew home for the Christmas season last year what they did to schedule their flights. I got an assortment of answers, ranging from booking on the airline that they have a sizable frequent flier account with, using websites like to find the cheapest flights, or simply winging it by booking their itinerary a few weeks in advance. These aren’t bad methods to go by-especially if you’re one that likes to collect frequent flier rewards-but I’m going to give you guys my secret to flying on the cheap AND on a convenient route. It’s a pretty easy method, to be honest with you.
My itinerary was as follows:
12/22/2017 DL120 HND-MSP
12/22/2017 DL3281 MSP-CVG
12/29/2017 DL3407 CVG-MSP
12/29/2017 DL121 MSP-HND (arrive 12/30/2017)
This was a flight from Haneda to Minneapolis, a 2-hour layover in MSP, and then a connecting flight to CVG, and returning flight the same route- CVG, Minneapolis, Haneda.
The key to getting such a straight-forward direct route was planning far in advance. I knew when I was coming home and when I wanted to come back to Japan. I kept in mind my work schedule for December, which I finalized with my coworkers in June, and also made sure to return to Tokyo for the New Years festivities here in Japan. I knew exactly when I wanted to fly, so I immediately searched multiple websites for the best flights-Delta’s site, JAL, ANA, and United. I also compared those flights to Expedia, but in the end it was abundantly clear to me that this straightforward itinerary for $600 round trip was the best way to go. Mind you, I was booking these flights in June too. That was important.
If you’re going to be flying overseas in a given year and know exactly when you’re able to fly, I say immediately book the tickets. The risk of booking them too soon is pretty much the airline’s schedule for that month changes slightly and your layover times might be longer or shorter. That indeed happened with this itinerary: when I booked my flights, the layover in Minneapolis was 2 hours 30 minutes, but the connecting flight was changed so the flight left a little bit earlier. Delta sent me an email showing me the changes in the itinerary as well.
Sometimes though you do run the risk of having a layover change so it’s a very tight connection. With immigration and customs notoriously long in the United States, you have to keep that in mind when booking flights. I would never go for an inbound-USA layover for shorter than an hour and 30 minutes because of that, but again, sometimes airlines change their schedules and you might be put in that situation. Luckily, on transpac routes, going to the USA often results in the flight landing earlier than scheduled (as did my flight in December, and my more recent trip to the USA in May), but in the case of a very tight connection, I haven’t once seen an airline NOT helping passengers speed their way through customs or slightly delaying connecting flights to accommodate the delayed international passengers.
So in conclusion, the risk of booking too early is very miniscule. If you know your schedules well in advance, shop around and book the cheapest flights you can find that have the quickest travel time. Don’t go for a $500 transpac flight with a 7 hour layover in JFK, spend the extra $50 or $60 to get you on a flight out of DTW or MSP or wherever the layover is a few hours max.
Thank you for reading! In the next installment, I’m going to write about my experiences flying back to Japan where my outbound domestic flight to Detroit was cancelled, and I was forced to rebook my flight to be able to return to Tokyo.