So you’re finally decided where you want to go! Fantastic! Now it’s time to figure out how to get there. When it comes to booking flights, there are many many different options. How do you decide what the best deal or fit for you might be? Let’s break it down. I’m going to focus on international travel today.
The first thing you should always do it check what airlines fly out of your home airport. Is it a hub for a particular airline? A hub is an airport that serves as a major base of operations for one or more airlines. They control the majority of the available gates and thereby the majority of the flights into and out of the airport. Save this information, it will come in handy in a few minutes.
Tip 2: Take a look at the airports you are willing to fly into and out near the city of your final destination. Are there more than one? When I went to Athens, there was only one to choose from. Larger cities like London and Paris have several options such as London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Charles De Galle (Paris), and Paris Orly. The smaller airports are oftentimes much less crowded. They can also save you a lot of money if you are interested in using a low cost or smaller airline carrier. Regional airlines such as Ryan Air, Easy Jet and even the low cost carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle are example of airlines that typically only fly into the smaller airports.
Tip 3: Prioritize what is most important to you. Are you a person that wants a non-stop flight? Do you want to arrive at a particular time? Are you looking for the cheapest ticket? Do you want to splurge and fly premium economy or business class? This will greatly effect your plans. For me, I typically look at direct flights that arrive in the late afternoon. I don’t care about the cabin of class, but if it’s a long haul flight, I might splurge and book slightly nicer seats.
Tip 4: You have the basic information on hand! It’s time to begin comparing flights and dates. Are you flexible with your dates? Flying out on Tuesdays is usually less expensive than traveling on a Friday. The best tool I can recommend is using Google flights. If you are looking to compare prices for various days of travel, Google Flights has a fantastic calendar that will show you the cheapest fares. This tool also allows you to search by cabin class and will allow you search by airport.
Note: Just because a fare is listed does not mean it is available! Always wait until you are able to confirm the ticket on the carrier’s website. Also be aware that nothing is confirmed until you have a record locator or confirmation code from the airline itself!
Tip 5: After looking at Google flights, you should have a list of a few different times, and airline options for you to fly on. Now is the time to pull out the list of airlines form step 1. Remember when I mentioned airline Hubs? If you had an airline in your home airport that had a Hub, you might want to see if it is a member of one of the big 3 alliances: Star Alliance, Sky Teams or One World. Why? Flying airlines within the same alliance make your life easier if you have a connecting flight, are likely to have delays or other problems.
Airlines have what are known as interline agreements with one another. In layman’s terms, this means your bags will be checked through to the final destination.* (Always check if you have a connecting flight and are entering a new country if you need to pick up the bag before clearing border patrol or immigration). If your flight is delayed, has a mechanical issues or is cancelled your airline ticketing agent has a lot more options to get you to your final destination! The three big alliances want to make your trip as seamless as possible.
Let’s say I want to fly from Long Beach to London. Long Beach happens to be a jetBlue hub. It isn’t too much help to you domestically. There happen to be no direct flights. You know from your research that you can fly into London Heathrow or London Gatwick. Looking at where jetBlue flies, you notice New York is an option! New York is a major hub for almost all the major US carriers. You decide to purchase a ticket from Long Beach to New York and see that the lowest fare from NY to London is on United Airlines. You book it! The jetBlue flight happens to be delayed and lands too late to make your London flight AND you must pick up your luggage between flights. Because jetBlue isn’t in an alliance there isn’t anything they can do for you having missed your United flight. It’s a different carrier.
This scenario happens more often than you would think. If you want to save money by booking separate tickets, I’m not stopping you from it. Just be aware that when a problem arises it may be more difficult to correct and expensive than you think.
Tip 6: Always compare the prices for your flights on the official website of the carrier before checking other websites. Sometimes you may find a bundle deal and the flight on the official website of the carrier may not be as bad as you would think. Be careful with booking on Expedia, Hotwire, Orbitz and other 3rd party sites. It’s extremely difficult to make any changes to your itinerary once it’s booked and customer service can be a nightmare to get a hold of. Once you arrive at the airport 99% of the time, no modifications can be made to a reservation booked on a third party website.
Tip 7: Ensure the dates for your flight are correct! Be aware of the time change and day change if you are booking connecting flights on a regional carrier. I happened to book my flight a day earlier than I should have when I went to Japan. I was stuck in Tokyo a day before I could check in for my study abroad term and was forced to find a hotel during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year!
Tip 8: Consider the travel insurance at the time of booking if you think you may possibly have any changes to your itinerary. It will safe you a lot of time and energy!
Tip 9: Once your flight is booked, read the fine print! It will tell you if you need to pay for your checked bags, food, seat assignments or even if your light is a code share! We always had a lot of surprised people upset they almost missed their flight after waiting in line to check a bag when they realized their flight was actually on another airline carrier! A code share is when an airline will sell another airline’s seats to a destination under their name and flight number. It’s typically a large discount.
This list is by no means comprehensive, but I hope it will give you a start on what to be aware of when booking your flight. Happy Travels!