Our individual trip packages like honeymoons, anniversary trips and family vacations include everything you need: Airfare, transportation, hotel and insurance. However, there are a few times where clients may book their own flights. For example, if you are a destination wedding guest using a group rate, you will probably book your own airfare. While booking air is very commonplace these days, there are some tried and true tips from experts like myself. Even if you are an expert traveler, you may learn a thing or two! Read on to learn more!
booking flights for international travel? Read more for expert advice!
1. use google flights for basic research, but don't book there.
My favorite tool for researching different options is Google Flights. Google Flights is simple tool where you enter your home airport, your destination airport and your travel dates. This is a good way to simply research the routes and major carriers for your destination. Without committing, Google Flights makes it easy to see different times, connections, connecting cities and airlines.
Some airlines are better suited to some locations than others. For example, American is one of the most common carriers to smaller islands in the Caribbean, but nearly every airline flies to Cancun several times a day.
You can enter your home airport & destination airport and it will show you all of the major carrier flight times and estimated prices. Beware, these prices are typically not the "Final" pricing, but it will give you a rough idea of what different times and connections will cost. When it's time to book, DON'T use Google Flights for booking. Head on over to...
2. book directly with the airline, not a discount site
If you are booking a honeymoon or an individual trip where you purchase a package, you don't need to worry about this.
However, if you are a destination wedding group guest and you are buying your own air, it makes sense to book directly with the airline. Avoid third party sites like Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, Booking.com, etc. Why? If there is an airline schedule change or if YOU need to make a change, you typically cannot modify your flights easily on these third party sites. This means calling Expedia, calling Orbitz, etc. and sitting in the queue for long hold times. Budget third party airline sites like these also sell extremely restricted tickets with minimal changes allowed. Booking directly with the airline offers more flexibility if you need it.
You will have a lot more control over your reservation when you book directly on the airline’s website. When you book through a third party (such as Expedia), you often cannot modify your flight on the airline’s website. Instead you’ll have to call Expedia & then have them make changes. This can mean a lot of time on hold & lots of frustration. Do yourself a favor & book direct.
3. understand the different fare types
It used to be so easy! We had First Class & "coach" and that was it. Today, we have all kinds of new fare categories .... Basic Economy – Economy – Premium Economy and more. It can be confusing if you're not well versed on the basic fare types.
Regular Economy Class Ticket: This is what people will call "coach". It's the regular main cabin (not first class, not business class). For all airlines but the discount carriers, this ticket comes with a seat assignment, a carry on bag and the ability to check a bag (for a price)
Sub-Economy Ticket: Literally means "Below economy" and airlines may call this different things: like "Basic Economy", "Economy Basic" or any other term. It will depend on the airline, but typically sub-economy tickets:
- May not include a carry on bag (really!)
- May not allow ANY changes (even if you pay, they may not allow it)
- May not include a seat assignment of any kind (even a paid seat upgrade). Instead you will just be assigned seats at random at the gate.
- Will be the last group to board
- May have limited options for re-booking if there is a weather delay or issue outside the airline's control (i.e. they will rebook all the other passengers first, then handle the Basic Economy people).
Discount Carriers like Frontier, Spirit, Allegiant, etc. are closer in comparison to a Sub-Economy or Basic Economy ticket on a major airline.
"Premium Economy" Ticket : As airlines try to make more money, some offer a "premium" experience. This isn't First Class or Business Class, it's sort of in between. This could be called Comfort Plus or Main Cabin Extra on some carriers. Premium Economy seats are usually located right behind First/Business class and have a bit more legroom, dedicated bin space & often include alcoholic beverages and upgraded snacks.
I personally never book basic economy, as it’s a very restrictive ticket. Typically non refundable/non changeable, you’ll be the very last to board the plane (good luck finding overhead bin space!), and you cannot select your seat in advance (hello middle seat).
Main Economy is the better choice, which gives you a lot more choice and flexibility.
4. beware of upselling and extra costs
Nearly every airline (notable exception: Southwest) charges for checked baggage these days. Many airlines also charge a premium for choosing an aisle or window seat in advance.
You'll also want to pay attention to your baggage... your luggage, that is. For a regular economy seat, the weight limit is typically 50 pounds per bag. However, this is changing as fuel costs go up. That brings me to....
5. know that a low cost carrier isn't always low cost
Airlines such as Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant are known as ‘low-cost carriers.’ Their basic fares may be less expensive, but watch out for their added costs. They may charge for both checked AND carry-on bags. The weight limit may only be 40 pounds. They charge for refreshments onboard. They have a lot fewer plans and more limited routes, which means if your flight is canceled then you could be stuck for days.
6: navigating nonstop vs direct vs connecting flights (yes, there is a difference!)
Obviously, nonstop is the way to go, if you live in an area that offers it! Only navigating one flight can shorten your travel day and limit your stress.
Don't mistake a "direct" flight for being "nonstop". In the airline world, these are two different things. A direct flight means you don’t change planes, but you WILL stop at another airport before reaching your final destination. A nonstop flight means exactly that, zero stops.
and 6A: watch those connection times if you have a layover
Of course, not all of us are lucky enough to have nonstop flight options available. If you're like me and live in a city where connections are often the norm, brush up on some basic connecting flight tips:
- Try to leave on the first flight of the day, it is less impacted by crew and weather delays
- Allow ample time for connections. You don't want to be running through the airport ,sweating a 42 minute layover if you don't have to!
- When returning to the United States, remember to leave time for the re-entry process. This means Customs & Immigration and re-checking any checked bags. When you enter the US by air, you must clear customs & immigration at your first stop in the US. This typically means waiting in a long line. After you're cleared, you'll have to grab that checked bag and re-check it again for your final destination. This entire process can take as long as 90 minutes. When I fly back home, I always look for a MINIMUM 2 hour connection time to navigate this.
- Traveling in the winter months? I have even more tips linked here: 3 Mistakes You’re Making When Booking Winter Flights
7. Book using the -exact- name on your passport
When flying internationally, your passport is your ID, not your drivers license. This means your airline ticket and international hotel bookings must match the name on your passport. ID. First. Middle. Last. No nicknames, no exceptions. Failure to follow this rule can result in costly change fees or even denial of boarding.
Newlyweds: You need to book your trips under the name that will be on your passport at time of travel. For those changing their name, this typically means booking your trip in your maiden name.
8. get cozy with your airline - apps & clubs!
I always recommend signing up for the airline’s frequent flyer program, if you’re not already a member.
Make sure to fill out your profile completely, including day of contact information. This is how the airline will find you if there is a change or an emergency.
If you have a Known Traveler Number (TSA Pre-check/Global Entry), you can attach those numbers to your frequent flyer login. This way, any time you book with that airline your KTN is automatically attached to your ticket.
I also suggest downloading the Airline App prior to your flight. When you log in, all of your booked flights will be loaded on the app. It will alert you to any delays or changes. It can also be handy for tracking your checked baggage or using their in-flight entertainment.
9. when is the best time to book?
This is probably the single most frequently asked question I get from wedding groups. It's also the hardest question to answer because no one has a "perfect" response to this.
If I could predict the cost of air, I promise you I would not be planning weddings for a living. LOL! I'd be living on my private island, dreaming of all the ways I could spend my millions!
The truth is, nobody knows. Airline inventory is incredibly variable and can change at a moment’s notice. Fuel costs, crew shortages and international transit laws also impact flight availability and costs.
You’ve probably seen advice such as ‘book your flight on a Tuesday for the lowest rate,’ but in my nearly 9 years of working in travel, I haven’t noticed this to be true.
What I do know: Use tools like Google Flights or Hopper to set up flight alerts for your potential trip. Watch prices over time and get a feel for what is "high" and what is "Low"
That said, my best advice is this: If you see the flight at a price you’re comfortable paying, go ahead and book it.
If you are traveling during a high demand time (such as over holidays or during Spring Break), book your flight as soon as it becomes available.
The major airline carriers (Delta, American, United) typically release their flight schedules about 11 months prior to departure. Southwest has a shorter lead-time, usually about 6 months in advance.
I hope this advice helps you book your next international flight with confidence!
i'm prepared to travel, Let's go!
If you're prepared, ready and waiting to travel, let's chat! Schedule a free consultation with me by clicking the link below. I can't wait to get started!