How to Research and Buy Discount International Flights

Here's how to find the best fares in international first or business class

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Some people procrastinate by reading magazines or shopping online. My way of taking a mental time-out involves trying to find airfare deals including discount international flights.

This is how I wound up doing my Christmas shopping in Seoul. I used the techniques I’m about to outline below to score a business class international flight from San Diego (via DFW) to Seoul that was about the same price as an economy class ticket to Asia can be.

Why There Is No Need to Pay Full Price

With airlines tightening mileage ticket availability, redeeming mileage to fully purchase or upgrade flights is becoming increasingly hard to do. Miles, in my opinion, also have a dollar value. If an economy or business class ticket is at a low enough price point, it may not make sense to use them.

The lack of premium seat mileage ticket availability used to mean that we’d buy business or first class tickets through the airlines, but there is a better way. An entirely different option involves purchasing unpublished fares that the general public does not have access to without going through an authorized agent, which I’ll detail below.

There are plenty of services that have access to these fares but it incredibly important do book through a trustworthy agent who isn’t a reseller of mileage tickets (a service that isn’t technically allowed by many frequent flier programs).

Where to Research Discount International Flights

I am a huge believer that knowledge is power though. You need to feel good about the price you pay no matter where you buy or what class of service you book. This means that you need to do a little legwork. I am overly-obsessive about researching airfare so here’s what I do.

Check Prices on Google Flights

In my opinion, Google Flights is the best way for the average person to research airfare. Take a few minutes to learn how it works because it can perform several helpful tasks from monitoring flight prices (and emailing you when they change) to showcasing destinations on a map with pricing from your home airport on specific dates.

The latter is helpful for people who want to travel but don’t know exactly where to go. It’s called the Explore Destinations feature. For example, I randomly plugged in business class flights from San Diego to Mexico and this is what popped up.

The Explore Destinations feature on Google Flights

You can also scroll through an entire year’s worth of airfare on your preferred airline so that you know when the cheapest time to fly to a preferred destination is.

This short video is a little cheesy but showcases how Google Flights works.

Google is not a travel agent so they’ll send you directly to the airline for booking if you click on a link. I read that the only airline not represented is Southwest because they do not allow external programs to access their ticket pricing information.

Google Flights can send email alerts when prices rise and fall. This service is invaluable since, for example, business class flights from San Diego to Shanghai have risen and fallen between $1800 – $4500 per person over the last few months that I’ve been watching them.

Other price comparison sites like Skyscanner, are less reliable than Google Flights (in my opinion) because some of the airfare discounters they populate in their results (usually the cheapest ones) do not display real-time price fluctuations. This means some of the data may be old. And, they show results from lesser-known travel sites some of which, when you dig deep, have significant online complaints.

Read FlyerTalk

Bookmark the premium class thread in FlyerTalk thread. Here, members post premium class deals they’ve seen, booked or already traveled on. Usually, these fares are geared toward earning the most amount of miles per dollar spent. The threads look like this.

Find the best premium class fare deals on FlyerTalk

This is where I saw the Google Flights link for a deal on business class to Seoul, which I eventually booked.

Note that many FlyerTalk members are savvy flyers who are keen to see the world while maintaining frequent flier status and earning and many redeemable miles possible. You’ll see a lot of airline lingo. For example, it’s worth knowing what fare classes like “J” or “I” mean because this determines how many frequent flier miles you’ll earn.

Know Your Fare Class

Tip: I always, always know my fare class before booking a flight. I then refer to the American Airlines fare class chart (each airline frequent flier program has a similar chart) to see how many miles and elite qualifying miles I’ll earn based on the fare class I book.

When you buy discount business class tickets or discount first class tickets, these do not always earn miles and often times you won’t know if you’ll earn miles until after the trip is complete. Asking what the fare class is before you book will help eliminate the risk of zero miles earned.

Talk to Regal Wings

Regal Wings can find discount international fights that you'll still earn miles on.



Regal Wings sources heavily discounted international flights in premium classes originating and concluding in the United States or Canada. Basically, if you normally purchase first or business class tickets and are crossing continents, they can help and we’ve used their services personally. Regal Wings works with large blue chip companies, lifestyle concierges and travel agents. It’s their buying power that allows them to secure these NET fares.

The best way to book through them, and I’m saying this as a travel agent, is to work directly with them. I’ve partnered with Regal Wings so that you can do just that by submitting an online request. What you’ll save depends on the route, airline, and dates. Tickets booked with Regal Wings earn full airline mileage.

Try Regal Wings

The Bottom Line

In most cases, you do not need to pay retail price for airfare and you can find discount international flights in premium classes like Cathay Pacific first class and Japan Airlines business class.

How do you buy discount international flights?

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  1. Sylvia
    January 2, 2017 at 2:59 pm — Reply

    So useful! Dreaming of being able to do a trip soon! It’s been too long!

  2. Cathy Krasnianski
    January 1, 2017 at 8:30 pm — Reply

    I see no link or information to contact Sojourn. Would you be so kind as to provide it, please?

  3. January 1, 2017 at 2:15 pm — Reply

    Our daughter left SAN for NRT on JAL 1/1/17 in coach for $1174 RT. Sourced on Google Flights and purchased on 11/27/16 through AA. Best deal I found using only via Google Flights. PS The plane is half empty today and she has the row to herself! ? Happy New Year! ?

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