How I Traveled to Los Angeles, Taipei, & China for $4 [Travel Cheap]
In this post, I discuss how I was able to travel cheap to Los Angeles, Taipei, and Xiamen for less than a cup of Starbucks. $4 included flight, accommodation, and transportation.
I went to Los Angeles for a site visit for work, then to Taipei to visit family and see my dentist, and then Xiamen for a business meeting.
Yes, the itinerary is certainly going to involve points but it was very minimal.
I always start with the big 3 expenses in traveling. To travel for cheap, you’ll need to save on Flights, Accommodation, and Transportation. The better deal you’re able to find for all 3, the more money you’ll be able to save.
This begins to get pretty messy. For a lot of people, it’s probably not worth the hassle. For me, I love it. And believe me, I’ve had worse where I had to wear half my clothes onto a 14 hour flight (I did save a couple hundred bucks, mind you).
I started with an extensive search on Google Flights. Flying out of Dallas would have cost close to $1000 at the time for a crappy United flight.
The main airports flying with lower ticket prices to Taipei are usually LAX, SFO, JFK, HOU, and CHI.
Sometimes you can also snap super cheap tickets to HKG, BKK, SIN, PKG and then find cheap budget tickets around Asia from there.
When finding cheap flights, be weary of budget airline luggage policies, shady sites that have non-existent customer service, and weird transfers to other airports.
There are actually several other things to look out for to prevent you from having to go through hassles that aren’t worth a couple hundred bucks. And there are even some mistakes if you don’t know about can even backfire to where you end up paying more.
(Unfortunately I only know through experience. In the early days of my startup, I had to travel almost every week for meetings. We weren’t funded so I did whatever I could to save money).
Last thing is you always want to pencil in your trip in totality (at least the flight, accommodation, and transportation part of it). From start to finish before you book anything, you want to have all the pieces you need available and at a good price. Otherwise it’s going to cost you…
So after a bit of a search, I found a flight through LAX to TPE for $540. There was someone I was working with in LA that I needed to visit anyways so I could kill two birds with one stone.
LAX is notorious for poor TSA security and customs agents. However, the lounges are quite nice and the airport itself is quite comfortable, particularly if flying International.
It’s always risky to book separate domestic and international flights. I normally wouldn’t recommend it.
But in my case, I had some flexibility. I also checked flights from and back to DFW prior to booking my International flight and gave myself plenty of time on the transfers.
In these cases, lounge access does help quite a bit. That way you can shower, eat, and rest during the long layovers. I discuss how you can get lounge access in this post here.
From DFW to LAX, I found a $50 flight on American Airlines. It was an economy saver seat that normally allows you basically nothing but a seat and a backpack.
However since I was an AAdvantage Premium Card holder, it allowed me one check-in for free with priority boarding.
One luggage was all I needed anyways…
From LAX to TPE, I found a flight through Xiamen Airlines for $540. I’ve been to Xiamen a handful of times so I asked some people there about the airline. Overall, they had pretty positive experiences. And I could book directly through the Xiamen Airline site instead of some shady site. Good enough for me!
There was a layover in Xiamen, but it was perfectly fine too. I checked that I did have access to their lounges and could visit a manufacturer I’m working with in Xiamen.
Lastly, for my flight from LAX back to DFW, I found a cheap flight through Virgin airlines. I quickly checked my Virgin Elevate points balance against the cost to see if I could use points to save $70. I had enough to fly back on Virgin for a mere 2500 Elevate points plus $6 in fees.
Had I not had those elevate points, I would have definitely transferred my Chase Preferred Points over to snag the deal. Airline and Credit Card points are different. I discuss the difference in my post here.
My total cost from DFW > LAX and LAX > TPE, then TPE > LAX, and LAX > DFW with layovers in Xiamen so far was about $596.
I had found out a few months ago I had an old American Express Blue Sky card that had just over 45,000 points. The transfer value to cash was bad. But using it to reimburse travel credit was extremely valuable.
So the 45,000 points was just enough to cover all my flights ($600).
If you read through all of that, you’ll see how complex this quickly became. But for me, it’s become a pastime I enjoy. And I still think $1000 is quite a bit of money.
Plus, it didn’t take as much time as you’d think. I got to see more places, and do more things I needed to do.
(Where I live – Taiwan)
My parents have a place in Taipei so it was free.
Here’s a shameless plug: If you’re ever traveling to Taiwan after July of 2018, I know of a place here you can stay at for cheap.
Unlike the weird flights, the place will be pretty nice. It’s a newly built building by the beach in Northern Taipei with metro access to it by 2019.
The great thing about Taiwan is transportation is very convenient, easy, and cheap. You can get to most anywhere you need by the Metro Rail Transportation system (MRT). If you need to take a cab, it’s not too expensive.
At the airport, there’s a new MRT that takes you to the City. From there, you can take the MRT to wherever you need to go.
In Xiamen, it’s similar. Public buses are very convenient and cheap (around $1 a ride). Taxis are also very cheap to take as well.
In LA, public transportation isn’t as popular as driving. Note that I did rent a car for about $40 at LAX but I took advantage of a 5,250 points bonus offer with my United Card which has about a $70 valuation so I actually made money from the car rental. I didn’t include that in the travel cost.
Overall, I had a really productive trip. I visited a site I needed to visit in Los Angeles, I saw my family in Taiwan, and had my meeting in China… all for less than a Grande Latte at Starbucks!
Would I do it again? Heck yes! Though mileage may not always work out the way it did, there’s certainly a lot you can do with transfers and various policies of both airlines and Credit Cards.
What are some of the ways you’ve saved money on travel?