Double Backing and The Art of the Cheap Flight

I recently booked a trip from North Carolina to New York City, then on to Barcelona, with a day in Geneva, including close to a week in Marrakech Morocco, and ending with 9 days in Spain. The total cost of all flights (round trips) came to a whopping total of $691. Normally such a trip would be over $2000 but by changing one’s approach to booking flights, one can cut down the cost significantly. The secret to all of this is a technique called double backing.

Let’s break down this trip first:

RDU → JFK (2 days in NYC)
JFK → RDU (back to North Carolina)

JFK→ GVA (1 day in Geneva)
GVA → BCN (1 night in Barcelona)
BCN → ZRH → JFK (1 night in NYC)

BCN → RAK (5 days in Marrakech)
RAK → BCN (9 days in Barcelona, but let’s be honest, all over Spain)

As indicate above, my trip was composed of 7 total segments, but of 3 distinct sets of flights. The first is a round trip between RDU and JFK. The second is a round trip between JFK and BCN with a stopover in Geneva one way and a stopover in Zurich on the way back. The third and final flight is a round trip between BCN and RAK.

Airlines generally charge significantly more for one way flights than they do for round trip flights and because of this, booking trips as a series of one way flights can be drastically more expensive. Case and point, I attempted at first to book a one way flight to Morocco and then fly swiss air home from Barcelona — Swiss air wanted ~$2700 for a one way flight from BCN to JFK. Not happening.

Instead one can save money by booking flights within flights. At the beginning and end of my trip, I have my most external flight which is my RDU <> JFK flight. Inside that, I book my second most external trip, and finally inside that I book my most internal trip. The result looks like a nested formula in Excel.

(RDU → JFK (JFK → GVA → BCN ( BCN <> RAK) BCN → ZRH →JFK ) JFK → RDU )

Planning such a trip can require a bit more effort and thought, but the rewards can be handsome. That being said, there are a couple of caveats to mention as there are risks associated with such a method of travel….

  1. Try to not have any checked luggage. If you’re doing a trip such as this and you have multiple airlines, you don’t want to have to recheck between every city. There’s a lot of variability that it is introduced with bag-check and it usually is just a waste of time when transitioning between airports
  2. You are responsible for getting to your flights on time. This may sound obvious, but since you are not taking one airline for the entire duration of your trip, any delays are on you. If you miss a flight because of another airline, you have to figure out how to fix it… This will often be complicated and costly — don’t miss flights.
  3. Strategize and then book. Take the time to make sure all of your round trips align and that you don’t have to make transitions that are not possible given the laws of physics.
  4. Give yourself ample time. Don’t forget about customs, security, and potential other time wasters.

Enjoy yourself. You have now probably saved no less than $1000 in booking your flights and that is a lot of food and drink that you can consume once you arrive at your destination.

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