Long distance travel advice

Picking a destination

If you’re in a long-distance UK/USA relationship, the obvious destination is the UK or USA. It means only one of you has to travel, which reduces the financial (and environmental) burden enormously. Depending on your situation, it may also mean saving on hotel costs, which can more than halve the cost of the trip.

But being in a transatlantic relationship is also a brilliant excuse to see the world together. Why not decide to meet each other halfway?

Your incomes, expenditures, and available vacation time will be different. Try to share the load in a way that’s fair for you.

Bear in mind that flights tend to cost more for the American. Whether it’s taxes, or the exchange rate, we’ve found that a USA-UK-USA trip that costs over a thousand dollars can regularly be found in its UK-USA-UK equivalent for seven or eight hundred. Consequently, we did a bit more flying to the US than the UK.

Your mileage will vary considerably and literally, depending on if the American in the relationship is on the West Coast or East Coast, for example. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Boston is the cheapest destination to fly to from the UK: return flights can often be found for under £300, with no changes and taking about 7h 20m.
    • America was born here. Boston is steeped in history; following the world famous Freedom Trail is a rite of passage. Salem, with its fascinating and grim witch trial past, is a stone’s throw away. Harvard University is also worth a visit.
  • Miami is an exotic place to meet for some winter sun – and often has great flight deals.
    • I was able to fly from Stansted -> Cologne -> Miami, and then Miami -> Chicago -> Heathrow, for £350, in January 2018.
    • Finding an affordable hotel/AirBnb is harder. (We stayed at Fashionhaus, Miami Beach).
  • Toronto is well connected, and Air Canada offers great deals from both the US and the UK. The Toronto Islands are well worth a visit, and the Niagara Falls (one of the seven natural wonders of the world) is only a couple of hours away.
  • Other places we’ve nearly booked:
    • New York – easily reachable, and packed with things to do. Norwegian Air often has big sales.
    • Chicago – another world-famous place, with one of the world’s busiest airports. Easy for the American to get to wherever they live, as its the centre point of the US.
    • San Fransisco, Dallas/Houston and Seattle all have quite regular flight deals too.
    • Iceland – this was a popular stopover point between America and Europe when WOW air was operational (it had cheap, no-frills flights, but is no longer trading).

Watch out for online travel agents

‘Online travel agents’ – ones you won’t have heard of, unlike, say Thomas Cook or Tui – offer some of the best flight deals around. You can save enormous money booking through them, for the exact same flights.

However, some use questionable tactics:

  • I’ve been mid-way through an online booking before now, when I paused to think about it some more and then someone phoned me and offered me a £5 discount to complete the booking over the phone. I went through with the booking and everything was fine, but I’d have liked more time to consider my situation without being pressured.
  • I once booked a flight that looked like a great deal, went through the entire booking process only to find ‘there was a problem’. Was then phoned to say the flight is no longer available at that price, it would now be £x (I think around 10% more). It was still a lot cheaper than booking direct with the airline, so I went ahead and everything was ok.
  • I once booked a flight and then was phoned up by the agent to say it was no longer available, period. The agent then tried selling me all sorts of alternative flights, none of which were suitable for me because I had very specific times I was working towards. I had to put my phone on airplane mode (ironic) to stop them calling me, and firmly email them to cancel the transaction.
  • I had a small panic attack when I printed off my boarding pass at the airport and found it said something like “First name: CHRISTOPBENJAMIN” (a bastardised combination of my first and middle names). I think it must have been a limitation of the automated booking system the online travel agent uses to make the booking. It ended up causing no problems and I was able to board fine.

If the saving is big enough, I would definitely try using the online travel agent. But if there’s not a big difference in the cost, I’d book direct with the airline – at least you’re in for a less risky booking experience, and you can gain rewards/airmiles.

Booking cheap flights

Tips for getting cheap flights:

  • First, the hardest part: pick a date range and a destination. If you’re truly looking for a good deal, keep it flexible, e.g. look at multiple places, and try different dates.
  • Start looking at flights ASAP. This is to give you an idea of how much they will cost – and help you to spot a good deal when you see it.
  • Google Flights can give a useful indicator of the cheapest destinations and dates. Put in your ideal date and destination, and keep an eye on the price of the other destinations on the map.
  • Use a flight comparison site. We recommend Momondo for the cheapest deals, but it’s always worth checking Skyskanner too.
  • If you’re not in a hurry, check back the next day, then the next day, then the next week. Prices vary enormously. You want to catch it at the sweet spot.
    • For one of my flights, on the first day I was quoted £770. The next day, I checked and it had gone up to £800. I nervously waited another day – and saw it had dropped to £462!
  • Keep an eye on any hints on the website. If it says “Now’s a good time to book”, it’s probably mostly right, but take it with a pinch of salt.
  • Think outside the box. I once found, for exactly the same flight, it was cheaper to book two sets of return flights, but just using the outbound journey of the first set and the return journey of the second set (and then just throw the other two tickets away unused).
  • Some deals are too good to be true. Keep an eye on the layover time – some of the cheaper options require staying overnight in the airport for your connecting flight! And some don’t offer enough time to comfortable make your connecting flight – see ‘Travelling like a pro’ below.
    • Watch out for the luggage allowance: some airlines include a checked bag (big suitcase in the hold), others only allow a carry-on (small suitcase in the cabin with you), others still only allow a ‘personal item’ (handbag sized). Watch for this as you’ll have to pay for any extras.
    • Make sure what you’re booking is actually a flight, and not a bus. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

Travelling like a pro

Beware when booking your flights:

  • Some flights have too short a layover time. More than once, we’ve had to get through customs at Chicago O’Hare, pick up our bag, run from one terminal to the other, and go through security again to make our domestic connecting flight, in just 50 minutes.
  • (Basically, any airport you’ll be clearing customs at, you’ll want to allow a good 2 hours for any subsequent connecting flight).

Information about airmiles TBC.

If you travel regularly enough, one or both of you may consider getting GlobalEntry, which makes travelling into and out of the United States that little bit easier.