Buying Flights 101
How (and when) to book the best flights for your trip.
Dreaming about your next trip is fun. Obsessively planning all the things you want to eat, see and do is fun. Racking your brain for when and how to book cost-effective plane tickets? Not so fun.
Booking flights is a critical element of travel planning, so we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to help it all make sense. From best the days to book a flight, to making the most of frequent flyer miles—here's what you need to know to take the stress out of buying airline tickets and saving some money in the process.
TrovaTrip Travelers in Bali with Host @kelskiel, August 2022.
Plan when to book.
- Book at least 70-90 days prior to departure. (When traveling with TrovaTrip, make sure to book after your trip is confirmed). The best deals tend to happen early on when Travelers are not in a rush to book.
- Resources show that booking at an exact time on an exact day to get cheaper airfare is a myth. Airline flights fluctuate depending on a variety of economic factors, so there's no "perfect" time to book. Your best bet for low-cost airfare is to be flexible and persistent.
Know where to book.
- Do a quick search on Google Flights to view the various airlines and date ranges offering good deals. Google pulls available flight pricing and options for up to 11 months in advance.
- Use multiple 3rd party sites to research airlines and costs, like Scotts Cheap Flights. The mobile app Hopper is also a great way to find inexpensive flights and be alerted as soon as there is a price drop! Fun fact: The average Hopper user saves an average of $50 on domestic flights and $120 on international flights. Cha-ching!
- Once you find that great deal, go to the airline website and book directly. If any issues or cancellations come up, you won’t lose out on a transfer, can avoid 3rd party change fees and will receive priority customer service from the airline (compared to booking through a 3rd party site). Plus, if you book directly with an airline and have a frequent flyer account they are more accommodating if you request an upgrade at check-in. Lastly, companies like Expedia or Orbitz tend to overbook or sell flights that airlines cannot move—and nobody likes to plan for a flight they don’t get to take.
- Planning to fly internationally? Book with one airline if possible. This way, they know all your connecting flights and one flight delay won’t make you miss your transfers. If you can’t book with the same airline, leave a few hours in between flights just to be safe.
- Also, try to book round-trip tickets if possible. In addition to typically being more cost-effective, international round-trip tickets let you decide exactly when you leave and when you come home, allowing you to plan your adventure in between.
- Bonus tip: Planning to fly within your destination country? Research local budget airlines in the country for cheaper flight options. Some of these airlines may be in a foreign language, but researching and using Google Translate can help you find more affordable flights. Just be sure to read the fine print on baggage restrictions and change/cancellation policies as these vary by airline.
Choose the optimal days to travel.
- Sunday is the most popular day to fly, so booking a Saturday or Monday flight can help avoid lines and crowds by traveling on the week's busiest day.
- If locking in low airfare rates is most important to you, fly on a Wednesday—research shows that they are the cheapest days to fly internationally.
Set alerts to get the best deals.
- Set flight alerts to be notified of price reductions on a particular flight you’re watching, it will save you time from scrolling through airline websites and allows an automated system to do all the work. Plus, if you don't have date flexibility, flight alerts are a great way to know when the price dips.
- Websites like Google Flights, Hopper, Skyscanner or Kayak give you the option to customize the flight requirements and notify you when it notices a price drop. Click here for instructions on how to set up Google Flights and Hopper notifications.
Wait for holiday sales when booking flights.
- If it lines up with your travel-planning schedule, consider waiting until a holiday to book your flight. Some airlines like Alaska Airlines, New Zealand Air, British Airways and South African Airways have been known to list some flights at strikingly low prices as a promo for Black Friday. The best way to snag one of these is to sign up for their mailing list alerts, get up early and start booking!
Choose the best airline to fly with - based on what's important to you.
- Looking to fly on a budget? Maximize comfort? Have all the bells and whistles? This should be a deciding factor when choosing who you fly with. Airlines like Delta are known for taking care of their passengers, think higher-level customer service, better in-flight meals, etc.
- Airlines like Alaska are a great mid-tier airlines, offering Saver Fare as a booking option while maintaining high overall customer service standards and sustainable business practices.
- Budget airlines like Spirit or Frontier, for example, offer the basic service of getting you from point A to point B without all the frills and are often much less expensive. However, these airlines are known to nickel-and-dime passengers for bag fees, so be sure to take all fees into consideration before booking.
- Another bonus of budget airlines? Many fly into smaller airports closer to your exact destination. In addition to being more convenient, this could help you save money on post-flight transfers. It’s important to note that this is typically the case for European travel, but not always within the U.S.
- Flying alone? Take advantage of cheaper tickets if you don’t care where you sit on the plane. If you check in early and booked direct, ask for an upgrade. Sometimes the airlines are overbooked and they may upgrade you for a nominal fee.
Maximize your benefits.
- Always, always, always sign up for airline miles programs! Airlines love loyal customers and would be willing to upgrade and prioritize you when you are a member. But, you don’t always need to be a frequent flyer to get priorities. Just be friendly and more often than not, they are happy to help you.
TrovaTrip Host @glographics in Portugal overlooking the ocean.
How TrovaTrip can help.
Booking your flight for your next big trip doesn't have to be stressful, just follow these tips, plan ahead (when possible) and get excited that you get to explore somewhere amazing. If you’re planning to travel with Trova and have questions about your destination, check out our Trip Prep library to review everything you need to get prepared for your trip.
Still have outstanding questions about traveling on your TrovaTrip? Contact us and we’ll get back to you within 48 business hours. Happy travels!
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