I have many folks reach out to me because they need help booking airline tickets. Some of them are overwhelmed by the confusing plethora of choices available on the internet. Some have heard horror stories of flight purchases gone wrong and are hoping to avoid similar pitfalls.
Unfortunately, I can’t help you book your airline tickets. The good news is that I can alleviate some of the confusion about booking flights by giving you my best tips and advice. Here are my five top tips for booking your own airfare:
ALWAYS Book Directly with the Airline
This is the most important thing that I can tell you about booking flights. Always book directly with the airline. There are a TON of third-party ticket reselling websites out there. You should avoid them.
The reason is that when you book through a third-party website, you put that entity between you and the airline. If you need to cancel or make any changes, you will have to abide by the third party’s policies (which are usually hidden in fine print and are usually less flexible and more restrictive than the airline). Even if the tickets are cheaper, the hassles aren’t usually worth the money saved.
Don’t Book Basic Economy Tickets Unless You Don’t Care if you Sit Together
Those cheap tickets are cheap for a reason. They usually do not allow you to select until the day of departure. Some of them have you getting assigned seats at the gate right before the flight. Often, you can be assigned together, but it is not guaranteed. If everyone else on the plane paid more to get their seats together and you did not, you may be out of luck.
These tickets are also usually non-changeable, meaning that if you miss your flight or need to change, you could be buying a whole new ticket. I don’t sell these tickets to my clients and I generally advise that you not buy them, either.
Leave Plenty of Connection Time
The next big mistake that folks make? They book their tickets with too little time in between their flights, especially for international connections.
When booking your tickets, I always suggest a MINIMUM of 1 hour between flights. I know that this seems like a long time but let me walk you through a timeline of how someone misses their flight with a one-hour connection.
You get into the gate. You had a minor delay of 10 minutes waiting for deicing at your departure city. You are anxious to get off the plane because you are at the back, and it takes you 20 minutes to get off. You walk out into a HUGE terminal and discover that it is almost a mile between your gates. Rushing across the airport eats up another 20 minutes. It all looks good, until you get to your gate and realize that they have to close the gate at about 10 minutes to departure, so you just missed your flight (and you thought that you had PLENTY of time.)
If you are connecting to an international flight, I suggest going earlier than later and waiting in your connecting airport. Because many of these flights only leave once or twice a day, the chances that missing one will cause you to be stuck overnight are much higher. I would much rather see you get there and have time for coffee or a relaxed lunch than miss your flight and be frustrated knowing that you could have left a couple of hours earlier and be at your destination.
Make Sure You Have Travel Insurance
Will having travel insurance prevent flight delays and make sure that you catch all of your connections, ensuring a flawless travel experience? Well, no. What travel insurance can do is help smooth out any bumps that do happen.
Most travel insurance policies cover trip interruption, so you can be reimbursed for any expenses related to a flight delay (hotels, etc). They can also cover expenses due to loss of baggage, or missing nights of prepaid hotel/resort stays. Here is a link to my preferred insurance provider for myself and my clients.
Book Early Flights
Whenever possible, you want to book the earliest flights of the day. These are the least likely to be delayed. Because planes are scheduled back-to-back, a delay early in the day can cause a rippling string of other delayed flights. It is for this reason that airlines prioritize getting the first flights of the day out on time.
The crew and airplane are also more likely to have spent the night at the airport, so they will be waiting there for your departure, lessening the chance of you leaving late because of a previous delay.
If you were to miss your flight or one of your connections, there will be more choices of flights to get you to your destination early in the day as opposed to later in the day when options for rebooking are slimmer.
If you want upgraded tickets, book them that way!
So many people decide that they want to upgrade when they get to the airport. While this might work sometimes, those premium seats offered by airlines are a hot commodity nowadays. If an upgraded seat is a priority for you, the best time to secure it is when you book your tickets. Many times, on the day of departure, all that is left for upgraded seat space are middle seats.
As a travel agent, I can help you understand what your upgraded seat choices are on the airline that you are flying on and help you get the right seats for your needs on your flight.
Where to Find the Cheapest Fares
I often suggest that you search for flights on Google Flights. Other than looking directly on the airline website, this is the only other place that I point people to search for flights. This is because if you click on any of these flights, you will usually be taken directly to the airline website to book (which is a best practice for booking flights…see above).
You can even set up alerts on Google flights to alert you of fare drops or price increases on the destinations that you are interested in!
If you are really serious about finding great airfare deals, you can sign up for this service to get emails directly in your email box that are often as much as 50% off of normal ticket prices!