A few weeks ago I started booking my flights for my annual trip from North America to Australia. Given I was leaving in 6 weeks time during peak holiday Christmas season, I expected the usual $1400 return airfare from LA to Sydney to be a little higher. Being used to paying $1800 to $2000 in previous holiday seasons, I jumped in the air in horror when I saw the $2400 airfare.

I prefer to fly direct if available to avoid the stress of changing planes and sitting around airports for hours just to save $100 or $200. However as I refused to pay $1000 more than I was used to (unless it was an emergency), I knew I had to be strategic in this case.

I also wanted to visit Asia on this trip as its close by (a 9 hour flight is close for an Australian) and to visit Kakadu National Park in Australia’s remote Northern Territory – a place I had always dreamed of visiting.

Here is how I went about booking the following trip for $2100

LA –> Bali –> Darwin –> Brisbane –> Sydney –> LA

Set your intention

Before finalizing your destination/s ask yourself why you want to visit each place. Are you visiting a place you feel connected to and always wanted to visit or are you going somewhere for the sake of saying you have been there? Although I started out my travels racing through countries (I went to my first 18 countries in 10 months) I realized that travel is about quality over quantity. I now choose to deepen my understanding of the culture and life in one destination versus hopping to a new country every few days just to say I have been there.

Having spent a lot of time in South East Asia in the past and even visited Thailand 6 times, Bali had been calling me for a while so I knew now was the right time to go. I had visited Australia quite a few times over the past few years and usually just went back to the same spots each time hanging out with family and friends. This time I wanted to be a traveler in my own country and connect more deeply to the land, animals and indigenous communities in a country that is always close to my heart. I decided it was time to fulfill my lifelong Kakadu dream.

Do research first

If you want to visit multiple destinations do your research and work out what the closest airport is to fly into and how easy it is to get to your destination. Once you have your list of airports and information ready you can start searching for flights. Some airports, especially in Europe may be cheaper to fly into but are a pain to get to your destination from. Stanstead airport in London is cheaper to fly into but has limited transport options versus Heathrow airport that has two good train options.

For this trip I worked out Depensar in Indonesia is close to Ubud where I wanted to go and I could easily get a bus or taxi to my destination. To visit Kakadu I saw that Darwin was the closest city to fly into and I could easily book a 3-day tour from there.

Use a good flight search engine

The internet is a simple and flexible tool to book flights instead of going through a travel agent. I like using fare comparison sites as they show me the best prices from a range of booking sites.

I personally found to fly from North America to anywhere else in the world and to fly around UK/Europe Skyscanner.com is the best. I also check Expedia and Kayak, however 90% of the time Skyscanner still wins as the site also shows budget airlines and charges no booking fee. For flying around Australia, I like to visit webjet.com.au and when in Asia I’ll check the websites of local airlines like AirAsia or Tigerair.

Look for one-way flights

The days of a one-way ticket costing almost the same as a return ticketare over, due to the introduction of budget airlines and travelers demanding more flexibility. It’s now common for two one-way flights to cost the same as a return flight. One-way tickets are great when you uncertain of your return date or you are not going back to your original destination.

It made more sense for me to book a series of one-way flights to Asia and Australia, then hop on a direct flight from Sydney to LA, rather than backtracking to Asia with two long flights. My other ideas was to get a return flight from LA to Sydney for around $1400 outside of holiday season then book Sydney to Bali for around $600 – $700 however then I would have had to book Darwin. As Darwin was on the way to Sydney from Bali one-way flights made more sense.

Use a nearby country as a base

Sometimes direct flights don’t exist between certain destinations. Airlines usually fly through their home destination first before reaching your destination. For example Emirates Airlines flys via Dubai from London to Sydney and Singapore Airlines will fly through Singapore between destinations. To fly to Bali from LA I could either fly with a Korean airline via Seoul or a Chinese airline via Taiwan or Hong Kong. I played around with formulas and worked out a one-way flight from LA to Bali via Taipei was better than getting a ticket from LA to Taipei and then Taipei to Bali.

A few years back I planned to leave Sydney to spend a few months in India then a month in Thailand. The direct Sydney to Mumbai flight stopped running so it looked like I had to stop somewhere before India anyway. I discovered it would be easier get a series of return flights – Sydney to Singapore, Singapore to Mumbai, and Singapore to Bangkok. I would stop at Singapore a night or two each time and use it as my base.

Be flexible with dates

If you must fly for example from Bali to Darwin on January 9 in the morning (and sometimes you must) then you don’t have much room to play with price wise. By being flexible with dates a few days before after can save you hundreds of dollars in some cases. I played around with my one way ticket from LA to Bali and it seemed flying late Christmas night was $200 cheaper than the next day, I would still enjoy Christmas in LA and have enough time in Bali to find something cool to do for New Years Eve. I had a day to play around with to fly from Bali to Darwin and chose a flight that was more expensive than other days that week so I could keep to my schedule further down the path.

Use points or miles

As I booked a series of one-way tickets, I used my Qantas Frequent Flyer points to book my flight from Brisbane to Sydney. Check what points you have available and see if you can pay for part of a more expensive flight or all of a cheaper flight with your points. Points are also good if you feel like upgrading your flight.