Firstly, unfortunately, unless your partner lives less than about 100 miles / 150km away then your best option for visiting them will most likely be by plane. Long distance train and car journeys often rack up quickly in cost (especially within Europe); obviously if you’re trying to get to the other side of the world, you have little choice but to fly!
Skyscanner.net is great because it allows you to check for the cheapest flights over a long time period (a month or a whole year) to find the cheapest dates to travel. KAYAK.com is great because the site is very easy to use and generally minimises hacker fares (two one way tickets with different airlines) unless absolutely necessary. Also, we generally find that KAYAK compares more airlines, but it depends on the route. Search around for the best deal, you may find it a lot cheaper than expected. Further minimise the time and cost by just taking hand luggage if possible (many US and low-cost carriers charge for baggage – check with the airline before booking).
2. Sign up to frequent flyer programs and earn miles on all flights you fly – they do add up. There are three main Airline Alliances: One World, Sky Team and Star Alliance. Miles earned within each alliance are normally redeemable across other airlines in the alliance. My personal favourite is the One World Alliance as the airlines within it generally have excellent safety records and good connections throughout the world, however they are often a little more expensive than other airlines. Take into account reward redemption availability and the routes flown. Use AwardWallet to track your earned airmiles.
3. Once you have signed up to your chosen frequent flyer program, try to earn miles whenever you can: travel, shopping, credit card spend etc. You will be surprised by the opportunities to earn. Look on the frequent flyer program’s website under “Earning Miles” (or similar). Also, most frequent flyer programs allow you to claim miles from flights taken 3-, 6-, or even 12-months before signing up to the program, so make sure you claim miles from any flights you’ve already flown!
4. If you are over 18 and have a good credit rating, get airline credit cards. Normally there are big sign up bonuses (often worth at least one European flight!) and good earning rates (especially on American Express cards). Also, it is not as hard as you may believe to be accepted for the cards. At the age of 18 and with zero credit history and thus a terrible credit score (of almost 0), I managed to convince American Express to give me a BA Premium Plus card (with a 19,000 airmile sign up bonus and a 1.5 miles / £ spent earning rate). I achieved the sign up bonus and with some clever (but very little) spending I had managed to earn 80,000 airmiles within 3 months of turning 18! I live in England and my girlfriend in Germany and British Airways runs several flights daily between our cities. London to Germany return on airmiles costs just 9,000 airmiles plus £35 in taxes. So that’s 8 trips to Germany for just £35 each!
IMPORTANT: Make sure to set the cards up on direct debit and to pay off the balance in full each month. Do not spend what you cannot afford.
If you want more help, or more specific advice, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.