A lot of people are still convinced that booking a flight is something you should entrust to an agent because it is supposed to be too complicated to manage by yourself, especially if you are not a frequent traveler. I am not writing this post to convince you of the opposite. I just want to help those of you who have never done it before and want a few more answers before making the final click. And hopefully to save you some money, of course.
Choosing your final destination and airport
Obviously you know where you are going, however you might want to check if there are more airports in your final destination. For example New York has several airports in vicinity of Manhattan, and JFK isn’t necessary your cheapest choice. Usually all airports provide some kind of public transport to “major” cities so you might want to consider this combination if the price difference in flight tickets is substantial. After all, you will pay over 50 $ plus tolls and tip for a taxi from JFK to Manhattan (one way). So do the math, especially if you are not traveling alone.
Furthermore, if you are planning to rent a car and go for a road trip, it is sometimes useless to take the same road back, if you can drop off your car in another city and depart home from there. In this case you can chose “multi-city” option in flight search engines and there is a pretty big chance you will pay the same or similar price as if you took a roundtrip. This advice isn’t so much for saving the money, as it is to save you some time. If you are driving miles and miles through some deserted areas or endless highways, you will appreciate not having to go back the same way just to return the car. Plus, you can return your car earlier and save the day’s rent and the gas 😉
On the other hand you should consider departing from the airport closest to your home**, because you might be dead tired after on overnight and/or long distance return flight. Driving back home from the airport can be exhausting and very dangerous. (Trust me, this is not my mom speaking). Also, you need to pay a parking fee, tolls, gas… so again, do the math.
Checking different search engines
I usually find the best deals on Expedia and since they offer “Best price Guarantee” you have pretty much nothing to lose if you find a cheaper ticket within the next 24 hours. However, to match the offer you have to be careful and compare the exact airline, flight, timings and fees. To be sure, check their Best Price Guarantee policy. You also have an option of cancelling your flight within 24 hours with a refund, in case you change your mind or find a cheaper flight which doesn’t match the “best price” criteria. This cancellation option can come very handy if you want to double check later whether you made any mistakes (dates, number of persons…) after hours of research. Been there done that 🙂
However, Expedia works in USD currency so with Euro getting weaker you might get better offers on “European” search engines. Furthermore, they sometimes don’t get the same flight options in their search range. So my second choice to compare flight prices is Skyscanner. This search engine “scans” ticket agents’ web sites and offers you the best options. The difference here is that you don’t pay to Skyscanner as you do with Expedia, but to the ticket agent (Travelgenio, BugetAir, Airticket24, etc.). Theoretically Skyscanner can also lead you to Expedia, however that rarely happens because of different airlines and flight range.
After checking Expedia and Skyscanner I am usually convinced I got the best deal but just to make sure, I check Edreams (similar to Expedia, but European) and Vayama as well. However, in the end it usually turns out that you have to pay Mastercard or some other fee. That’s why I love Expedia: no hidden surprises.
Checking different flight days
If you are flexible for a couple of days, I highly recommend you to browse different departure and arrival dates. Usually flights which don’t last over weekends are considered as “business trips” and are much more expensive – so make sure your search includes at least one Saturday or even Sunday. Also, there are some low budget airlines which offer flights only 2 or 3 times per week. For example Aegean Airlines fly from Ljubljana* to Athens on certain days and on those days prices can be 50€ cheaper (sometimes even more), not to mention you get a direct flight instead of connecting via Belgrade (which is usually the case). Similar case is Flydubai which flies from Zagreb to Dubai directly 3 times per week.
Choosing the right time to book
It is hard to be smart in this chapter but so far booking a flight as early as possible has always turned out to be the best decision for me. Especially with low budget airlines like EasyJet or Ryanair. Unlike the hotels, flight companies hardly ever release those “last minute” deals to fill in the seats. They prefer to fly the plane half empty. As an economist, I will never understand why, but I am sure there is some “powerful” explanation behind this. If anyone who reads this knows what the catch is, please enlighten us and I will add your comment here 🙂
What is more important: don’t be scared when you refresh your search the next day and see the prices have gone up. This is usually the trick search engines use to scare you – so you would panic to lose those “last seats” and pay right away. They can do this thanks to the cookies, which remember your last search and offer you higher prices when you return back the next day. I suggest you search the flights on another computer or come back in a day or two. Somehow deleting the cookies or browsing in private with incognito mode never works with me.
At last but not the least: do pay attention to those “only 4 seats at this price” remark – it is usually true. Search engines either have limited number of favorable seats, or the flight might actually fill the seats due to popular flight route on busy dates. The problem is that you can’t always access the seat schedule to estimate how many are still available. In this case I usually risk and wait for a day or two, to see if they would really sell out. If they don’t, I just might get lucky and find a better offer. If they do, well… at least I only have myself to blame, right? 😉
Joining the loyalty program
If you are planning to travel a lot, then you might consider joining the loyalty program, where you collect flight miles. Almost all airlines (except for low budget ones) are a part of some kind of alliance where you can earn benefits with traveling. The catch is that you have to collect miles with the same airline to earn bonus flights. For example, if the airline is a member of Star Alliance, you better consider taking just one membership (for example Lufthansa) and upload every mile, flown with partner airlines, to this account. If you don’t do that, it will take very long to collect enough for those free flights. Also some credit cards enable collecting miles with every € or $ you spend – so check it out. In worst case, you will be able to choose between variety of meals (especially on long distance flights this is very convenient, because you get your lunch before other passengers and you can usually pick from kosher, seafood, vegan, diabetic meals etc.) Just make sure you update your preferences in your online profile, including preferred seats (aisle or window).
Still not sure if booking a flight via internet is a safe decision? Most of the online flight agents offer some kind of insurance fee (you can choose it in the final step of the booking and they will add it to your final price) which enables you a partial or full refund of the ticket under certain conditions. In this case I suggest you to read their insurance/refund policy very carefully… you know, it is like with all other insurances… they claim to offer you everything, but in the end you are usually left with peanuts. However, if your travel date is close or you are 100% sure you will take the flight, even with a broken leg, then you really don’t need the insurance. Also, make sure you know your passenger rights for example, if the airline loses your luggage you are entitled to a compensation by law, so don’t get mislead by those “protect your luggage” appeals. Furthermore, some airlines also enable a partial refund, if you are able to justify the reason of “no show”. I once had a very misfortunate case of sudden illness in the family and I wrote to Ryanair – they were very kind and understanding, and refunded my purchase in 100%. Respect and thank you again for that, guys!
And regarding payment safety… well, you know… can iPhones be hacked? Just kidding. Most of them offer payment via PayPal, so you are as safe as when you withdraw your cash from a cash machine… I guess 😉
One final advice after booking a flight
Once you have booked your flight, DON’T look back. Don’t check Expedia every day to see if prices might change. You did your best and next time you might do even better. What you CAN do is take a look at my Up in the Air photos on my Facebook page. Have a safe flight and enjoy your trip!
* I come from Slovenia (Europe), which is a small handicap because we don’t have a lot of direct flight connections with the world. So if we want to fly outside Europe we usually have to either drive to Italy, Austria or Germany and take it straight from there, or take connecting flight through larger airports like Zurich, London, Paris or similar.
**I am not sure how flight search engines work, but it usually costs the same price or even less if you book a flight from Slovenia (Ljubljana airport) with more stopovers, compared to what you would pay if you took a flight from let’s say Vienna, which is a much bigger airport and might take you directly to your final destination.