Traveling internationally & need to book flights? Read on for tips and advice!
Research Using Google Flights
My favorite tool for searching different flight options is Google Flights. You can put in your home airport & destination airport and it will show you all of the major carrier flight times and prices. It’s a great starting point, but when it’s time to book….
Book Directly With the Airline
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.
I also recommend signing up for the airline’s frequent flyer program, if you’re not already a member. If you have a Known Traveler Number (TSA Pre-check/Global Entry), you can tie that to your frequent flyer login, so any time you book with that airline your KTN is automatically attached to your ticket.
Basic Economy – Economy – Premium Economy
Who knew there were so many different kinds of seats in “coach.” All of the major airlines now have several different levels of “coach” seating. It’s important to understand some of the differences. 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 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. 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.
Additional Costs & Upsells
Pretty much every airline (except Southwest) charges for checked baggage these days. They also charge a premium for choosing an aisle or window seat in advance. Pay attention to weight limits on baggage, which is typically 50 pounds per bag. Although that’s not always the case, which brings me to….
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 less routes, which means if your flight is canceled then you could be stuck for days.
Nonstop/Direct vs Layover(s)
In my opinion, you can’t beat a nonstop flight when traveling internationally. It’s going to be a long day of travel & a layover will add several hours to your travel time. Don’t mistake a “direct” flight for being nonstop. A direct flight means you don’t change planes, but you WILL stop at another airport before reaching your final destination.
Of course, not all of us are lucky enough to have nonstop flight options available. So it’s important to give yourself ample time during layovers to make your connection. When returning to the United States, you’ll go through customs & immigration at your first stop in the USA. Then you’ll have to go through security again. This can easily take 90 minutes, so never book a connection of less than 2 hours when flying home.
Book Using the EXACT Name on Your Passport
When flying internationally, you’ll use your passport as your ID. This means your airline ticket must match the name on your passport. No nicknames. If you are married, but your passport still has your maiden name, then book your airline ticket in your maiden name.
Download the Airline App
Download the Airline App prior to your flight. When you log in (because you created a frequent flyer account, right??) 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.
When Is the Best Time to Book?
This is probably my most frequently asked question & the one I don’t have an answer for. If I knew when flights would be priced their lowest, then I’d probably be pretty rich because I figured out an unsolvable riddle. The truth is, nobody knows. Airline inventory is incredibly variable and can change at a moment’s notice. 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.
You can set up alerts to track prices for flights using Google Flights or Hopper. But my best advice is that 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 main airline carriers 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!