It’s official- he’s not even here yet, but as far as American Airlines is concerned he is. First trip with baby has been decided! Today, Laura and I put the finishing touches on our first trip as a family of three: Albuquerque here we come. Why Albuquerque?

1. The Balloon Fiesta. I could try to explain it at length, but suffice it to say this for now:

Just a typical October day in Albuquerque

2. Our first flight will be a relatively quick one: Under two hours. Poco a poco, we’ll do our best to build him up to even longer flights.

3. Oh, did I mention 550 of these taking off a day while we chow down on Christmas style breakfast burritos? 

But here’s the real kicker: Prices go sky high in Balloon Fiesta season in Albuquerque. So had did I get airfare, four nights accommodation, and a rental car all for under $900? A few simple tips can help you plan a trip like this, even during a cities peak travel season, AND save A TON of money. 

The Balloon Fiesta is really cool. There’s something awe-inspiring to 550 balloons taking off from the same park every day. Growing up, the Balloon Fiesta was a big deal, as in, we got a holiday from school big deal.

And so having Baby Furlong’s first trip be a mix of visiting home and one of the coolest events of the year was a no brainer. Not breaking the bank was a bit harder. I wanted to use miles and points but it was either not possible or the redemption cost because it is peak season to travel to Albuquerque was absurd. And so I’ll share how we saved hundreds below, with the hope that it can help other everyday travelers looking to do similar trips!

1. Airfare- Total cost for the three of us: $290.

To give some perspective, average airfare in a non peak travel week from LAX to Albuquerque is running $325 nonstop right now. So how did we get seats for $145 each roundtrip?
average airfare lax albuquerque1. Kayak and Hopper are your friend. We love Kayak alerts and when hunting airfare constantly set them. To do, just create an account on Kayak, search for airfare, and in the left hand corner you should see an option like this: Kayak Price Alert Some folks like Hopper on their phone but since we’re an American Airlines family and AA doesn’t show on hopper results, we don’t lean on them. But for a few weeks now, we’ve been tracking prices. When they dipped from $385 to $300, we pounced.

2. We always buy the Entertainment book. On top of some great coupons in your local area, it also comes with something incredibly valuable for travelers: Multiple discounts on American Airlines for $10, $20, or $30 depending on the price of airfare. Traveling as a family? Here’s the crazy thing, it can be used for up to 6 passengers on one reservation. There are embargo dates and yes, they’re the times people most often travel like Thanksgiving, Christmas, the middle of summer, etc… But it works great for a trip like this- that is peak season in Albuquerque- but nowhere else in the world and thus the coupons are valid. So those coupons saved us $60.

Right now: The book which usually costs $35 is selling on their website for $8! Go through the Upromise shopping portal for an additional 15% off.

3. We used our Citi Prestige card to buy the tickets. The Citi Prestige provides you $250 credit toward travel purchases each year. And so that instant discount coupled with the entertainment book promo and a cheap fare brought the price down to $145 per ticket.

Hotel- Total Cost for four nights at a Holiday Inn: $426.07 ($106.51 a night after taxes)

Hotel rates actually aren’t too bad in the area even if we were to book today. The Holiday Inn we’re booked at we could get for a total of $154.49 a night if we booked through more “traditional means.” But again, we turned to our trusty Citi Prestige. Not only did it get us $250 off our flights, but it got us one night at the hotel free! With Citi, if you book through their travel concierge for four nights, you get one night free. The prices they offered were the same as we found on travel websites and the hotel website itself, and we’ll also earn points for our stay while taking advantage of our elite benefits we have with the hotel!

Car Rental- five days: $156.18 (or $31.26 after taxes)

I’ll chalk this one up to luck. We found an incredible deal because we searched early on Expedia. We saved an extra $3 by going through the Upromise shopping portal to complete our purchase.

Grand total for flight, hotel, and rental car: $872.25! Money saved with the tips from above: $433.18!

The big takeaways?

1. Use alerts to track flight prices. Kayak is our go to and for those who want it on their mobile and don’t mind not getting American Airlines included, Hopper is pretty awesome.

2. The entertainment book can you save up to $180 on family airfare and at the very least provides coupons of $30, $20, $10- well worth the $8 cost of the book if you have travel this fall!

3. The Citi Prestige has a hefty annual fee- $450. But this trip alone almost covers that annual fee, and we’ll more than get our moneys worth on this card with other ways we’ve put it to use. So high annual fees can be worth it, if the circumstances are right for you and your family.

4. Every dollar counts. We saved just over $3 on the rental car. “Big deal” right? Upromise Shopping Savings Well using the Upromise portal (among other portals) has gotten me $949.15 BACK in my bank account over the past few years on purchases I was already planning to make. So yes, dollar by dollar, it can add up if you use it right!

I love our lives in LA, but I’m excited to return to the beautiful city I grew up in for the first time in years and just take in views like this: 

And while I would have loved to cash in and use miles and points, it simply didn’t make sense for this trip. So the next best thing was to trim $433.18 off our travel costs! The lesson: Travel on points and miles when you can, but don’t “discount” (get it?) old-fashioned bargain hunting combined with a bit of travel savvy fieldwork!

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