Updated: Oct 17, 2019
Learn how you can book to South Korea or other destinations on the cheap with proper planning and usage of various rewards points.
Yes, it's possible if you play your cards right to book travel at very affordable prices if you plan ahead and know what you are doing.
My wife and I always try to book our trips way ahead of time if possible. The more time you have to plan ahead the cheaper you'll be able to snag good deals.
Book your lodging using Hotels.com
One of the very first things I always do as soon as we have the travel dates set, is to book our lodging. I like using Hotels.com for a few reasons: 1) I like to choose just one platform, which helps you rank up fast with rewards and 2) It's mostly free to reserve your lodging (although just slightly more expensive vs. paying up-front)
Hotels.com rewards system is very straight-forward. They offer two levels: silver and gold. To attain silver you just need to book at least 10 days of lodging within a year. To get to gold, you need to book at least 30 days of lodging within a year. This is why I like to choose only one platform when booking my lodging because you can earn rewards much faster than if you were to use multiple platforms.
I have been a gold member for the past couple of years and the perks are nice. Not only do you get some VIP privileges like free Wi-Fi, a free room upgrade or early/late checkout at select hotels, but you can also earn a free credit (which is the average amount you paid for your past 10 nights). The free night or nights depending on if you like to save them are well worth the free membership of Hotels.com.
For our South Korea trip, I didn't use any of our free nights, but I did book ahead and was able to reserve many rooms without paying anything up-front since I choose to pay at the time of check-in. This strategy doesn't require any capital up-front, but you'll pay later during your trip.
I also need to mention that although I like to use just one platform, I do have a backup platform, which is Expedia.com. I remembered that I had a $50 credit I needed to use before it expired, so I booked a hotel which saved me half the price.
The totals for the two-weeks of lodging in Seoul, Jeonju, Busan and Jeju was only $972.45.
Book your flight using United MileagePlus miles and the Chase Sapphire Reserve points
United Airlines in my opinion has the easiest and best frequent flier program. Combine that with using the Chase Sapphire Reserve and you have a very winning hand to score cheap flights worldwide. Why? The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the best awards credit card out there for travelers, you get 3x points on dining and travel, plus free lounge access and other food/drink credits. It all adds up very fast. Once you get enough points, you can transfer them to your United MileagePlus account for a 1:1 ratio. So if you had 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can instantly transfer them to your United MileagePlus account.
When my wife and I did our research on flights, United wasn't the first airline we thought of using (they aren't the best for international travel due it's lackluster in-flight service and weak meals). We initially wanted to fly on Korean Airlines, but why pay $2,400 on two-round trip tickets when we could score two-round trip tickets using our credit card points, which we transferred to our individual United MileagePlus accounts (which we each had some residual miles ready to be used).
We did an award mile search using the United portal and found out that it only cost 70,000 miles plus a measly $46.33 fee for a round-trip ticket from SFO to Seoul. That was a no-brainer for us since, we are able to sleep most of the 10 hour flight to Korea.
The grand total for our flights to and from Korea was a mere $92.66. That's a huge savings of around $2,300 if we opted to fly on Korean Airlines.
Book at least 3 months ahead of your travel dates
Booking ahead really does pay off and you'll save a considerable amount of money. The other things we had to book to travel around South Korea was a rental car for exploring the island of Jeju and the domestic flights from Busan to Jeju and from Jeju to Seoul.
I used my backup platform, Expedia.com to book the rental car for 3 days, which only cost us $91.26. Also, we opted to pay at the time of the rental to avoid having to pay any up-front costs. We will also earn some Expedia rewards points, which is another reason why I like to use the same platforms over and over, you'll build up points and rewards fast.
The domestic flights in Korea were super-cheap. If you travel internationally often, you know first hand how cheap domestic flights are when you leave the USA. We booked two sets of one-way airline tickets using JejuAir.
The total cost of those flights were only $164.34 and that's for two people.
One caveat that I am missing is going to be the bullet train tickets to get from Seoul to Jeonju and then to Busan. Since this isn't our first time traveling to Korea, we know that we can purchase these train tickets as soon as we touchdown in the country or possibly a week before we get there. The bullet train system in South Korea is very easy to use, very fast and very clean. It's a very comfortable way to travel around the country.
So to recap the totals:
-Lodging Cost = $972.45
-(2) Round-trip tickets to Korea = $92.66
-(4) Domestic one-way flights = $164.34
-Car Rental = $91.26
Grand Total = $1,320.71
I hope this quick blog of how we planned our 2 week trip to South Korea for under $1,350 helps you with your future travels. Please keep in mind that we could have saved even more if we decided to use some of our free Hotels.com credits. The sky is the limit if you plan ahead and strategically. Happy travels!
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