Nine Days in Portugal for $1525
flight deals portugal travel travel-hacking
Getting Cheap Tickets
The first trick was of course getting to Portugal. Flights direct to Lisbon run about $1200+ per person for a round trip ticket. Instead of booking that way, we decided to work the system a little bit.
I had discovered, through the great resources at The Art of Non-Conformity, that the various airlines offer deals to select destinations on their websites. These deals don’t come up on the flight search engines like Kayak. So we simply waited until the week before our trip to see what American Airlines would offer.
Sure enough, an offer for a $250 one-way trip to Barcelona came up. Total round trip fare with fees and taxes: $625. That’s a bit more than half the usual fare on Kayak or Orbitz.
Of course, now we had to actually get to Lisbon. Also thanks to AoNC, I had learned that Europe has really good budget airlines. So I booked a flight on EasyJet.com from Barcelona to Lisbon for $50. I was pretty astounded at the prices for those flights, but it wasn’t a deal or anything.
The one thing I think that really helped with planning this was our relative flexibility. Because we didn’t have any specific dates - just an approximate week-long period - we were able to take advantage of AA’s fare special and any deals that might come up with the budget carriers. Of course, we shopped around, but the only other airline with cheaper fares from Spain to Portugal was RyanAir, and sometimes, I’m willing to pay a bit extra for better service.
Thanks to my American Express Starwoods Preferred Guest credit card, and the points I’d accrued on it, we were able to spend two nights at the Sheraton Lisboa for the cost of my points plus $60/night. That turned out to be less per person than it cost to stay at the hostels. The Sheraton was our cheapest accommodation.
Incidentally, it was also the least welcoming or comfortable, but that’s life I guess.
Generally, of course, hostels are a better deal than hotels, so we saved a bit of money that way. The only way we could have done better is to have used Couchsurfers.com. As it was, we relied on a friend of my sister’s, whose family hosted us for two nights in Peniche.
Other Tips and Tricks
Some other ways we saved a little cash:
- We made our own food at a hostel one night. This came out to about half the cost of a restaurant meal, and provided food for our next two meals as well. Also included a bottle of wine.
- Used our student cards to get into some museums.
- Took the bus instead of the train. This didn’t save a ton of money, but it was a little cheaper.
- Stayed with a friend’s family in Peniche. This saved us food costs as well as accommodation, and also helped us put our incidental money to best use because they were able to recommend the best activities in the area.
- Traveled really light. EasyJet charges for any checked luggage, so we only carried backpacks. This gave us more flexibility, less to worry about, and less to carry around. We didn’t miss anything (other than my laptop, which I replaced with my iPad, which explains why I didn’t post much…sorry).
- Stayed off the beaten track. Generally, we tried to eat away from the tourist areas, which wasn’t always possible or practical. If we needed basic sundries, we went to the supermarket, where we could get a 2L water bottle for .90 euros, instead of for 3.
- Skipped Meals. We actually didn’t intend to do this, but because of messed up sleeping patterns, we missed breakfast our first two days. The result was that we only ate two meals for several days we were traveling. I think we ended up compensating for this with lots of pastries, but that’s not really necessary either.
- Used public transportation. Don’t use taxis. We used one once. It was a mistake. Public transportation is so much cheaper. Just make sure to take time to understand where you’re going and budget extra time for navigating.
- Used the day passes. Porto offered a tourist card that provided free public transportation for one day. Lisbon also offered a day pass for her public transportation system. Just two round trips made these cards worth it, and it saved us the hassle of digging through our pockets for change every time we needed to go somewhere.
The biggest thing I learned from this trip was that travel is relatively affordable if you do it right. The travel industry tries to make it seem like it is necessary to spend a lot of money (probably because most of that money ends up in someone’s pocket), but you can do pretty well without worrying about all the extra stuff.
So if you want to travel, there really is nothing stopping you.
Also, a big thanks to Chris Guillebeau and his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. I got 80% of my travel tips and hacks from various of his articles and ebooks (sadly, I’m not an affiliate, so I don’t get money if you buy any of them, but they’re still really insightful and useful).
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Travel, Brave Warriors!