THE BEST WAY TO BOOK A FLIGHT
By Ian Robert Knight
So much has been written lately about the best way to book a flight. And there are countless theories about the best practices. So how can you know which theory to believe? That depends on plenty of factors, so there is no perfect solution for every flyer. But we can tell you what’s the best way to book a flight if you travel on a Photo Workshop Adventure!
First off, there are lots of variables involved when it comes to booking a flight. So in this article, we will try to cover some of the more common things that would apply to most people. These would be things that apply regardless of your home airport. For instance, flights to Paris from New York and flights to Paris from Chicago are pretty similar. So we don’t need to be too specific about that level of detail.
And secondly, airlines are constantly changing their marketing methods. What we write in this article in May 2018 may not be as accurate in May 2019. So keep in mind that this information is a general concept, and understand that things may change. Keep up to date with airlines’ current marketing schemes.
What To Know
Committing your vacation time to a specific destination can be very exciting. Thinking about what you’re going to experience when you’re on a new adventure can be a wonderful feeling. But that wonderful feeling can sometimes be diluted when the time comes to book your travel. Although it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are three things you need to think about when you’re starting to plan your travel bookings. Those three things are:
- Time of year you’re traveling
- Final destination you’re flying to
- Flight durations
When Are You Going?
Everybody knows that there are some dates you should simply avoid when you’re flying. Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are obvious dates when you should not fly if you can avoid it. It’s also good to know that flights are generally more expensive from May until the end of August, since more people travel during those months. Higher prices for travel during this period is unavoidable.
Also keep in mind that there are some holidays in your destination country that may affect your travel. China and India, for instance, have some holidays that see a billion of their citizens travelling one way or another all at the same time. So do your research, and be sure to include checking out peak travel periods for your destination too.
Where Are You Going?
Your destination will also factor into your decision process when you’re booking a flight. If your final destination is halfway around the world, your decisions will need to include layovers, comfort during the journey, and possibly multiple carriers.
But if you’re flying domestically, or country-adjacent, then you’ll have a lot more choices and flexibility. So the point here is that when you’re booking flights for long-haul trips, you can’t necessarily rely on your booking habits for short-haul flights. Booking those flights can be quite different from each other.
How Long Will This Take?
This last factor is more important with long-haul flights. If your flight will last more than 12 hours, perhaps you should consider travelling a day or two earlier than you need to. This will allow you to adjust to the new time zone. This is particularly smart if you’re travelling over the international dateline, and arriving the day after, or even the day before you leave. Give yourself some time to get used to your new time zone, so you’re ready to enjoy the adventure when it begins. And if your flight is delayed by a day because of weather, you have some available time to spare.
Also, long-haul flights require more comfort then short-haul flights. No one wants to be squeezed into a small seat for a super-long flight. So flight durations will definitely affect your decisions when you’re booking a flight. If you’re flying in economy, maybe you want to consider breaking the long-haul journey into a couple segments, so each segment isn’t too long. A stopover may not be such a bad idea.
When To Book
When discussing travel planning, the question of knowing when to book your flight is probably the most contentious. Countless studies have been done that purport to know the perfect date when to book your flight. But considering how many variables there are to every different person’s travel needs, these studies need to be looked at with some skepticism.
There are some things to understand about how airlines market their flights, in order to fully comprehend the best strategies. First off, the earliest you can book your flights before travel is normally about 11 months ahead of the date. And even that far out, the prices are not the best. So there is not a lot of sense considering booking a flight at that point.
Secondly, Airlines tend to adjust their flight prices many times over those remaining 11 months. There will be a wave of prices dropping, then increasing again, then possibly dropping again, and then climbing very high at the end. There are complex algorithms used by the airlines to maximize their profits and ensure the planes fly as full as possible.
The Sweet Spot
Because of these calculations, airlines don’t really have the complete picture about how full a flight will be, until about 6-8 weeks before departure. Up to that point, there won’t be too much fluctuation on pricing while they gather information on bookings. So unless you’re booking travel to incredibly unique destinations that have only one flight per week, you’re best to wait until at least 8 weeks before departure before booking. Past 8 weeks, you’ll start to see prices drop more and more while the airlines compete for travellers.
As the flight date approaches, prices will again begin to climb higher and higher, until they reach their most priciest just before the flight departs. You’ll notice this starting to happen about 2 weeks before departure. Business travellers often book last minute, and don’t have as much interest in saving money, so the airlines take advantage of this. If you need to book last minute, be prepared to pay the most.
Other things to keep in mind would be luggage allowances, insurance, change fees, and loyalty memberships.
Many airlines have stopped including free checked luggage in their airfares. This happens mostly in domestic flights, but can occur in some low-cost carriers when travelling internationally too. So be sure to check how much luggage is allowed, and what the costs are, when you book that fare that seems too good to be true. The savings you think you’re getting may be eaten up when you add the cost of checking your luggage.
And speaking of low-cost carriers, be careful about booking trips with small airlines – the type with only a few planes. These airlines are usually just flying domestic routes, but some fly internationally as well. If you book on a small airline, and they have an issue with a particular plane, your ticket may be cancelled completely, and you’ll need to book another flight in a hurry. Do your research, and if you do book one of these flights, it would be smart to buy trip cancellation insurance.
Travel insurance is a smart idea overall, really. For the reason stated above, you’d be covered. But also, if you have a medical emergency that prohibits you from travelling, you’d be covered for financial losses as well. Or if you arrive in your destination, but your luggage doesn’t, then you can rest a little, knowing that you’re covered. Insurance is really worth it, and none of us would travel without it.
Change fees and cancellation fees can also be costly. If you book the lowest fare, changes may not be allowed, or they would be very costly. It may require that you book another flight completely, causing you to abandon your original flight. This is a good argument for not booking your flight too far out, until you know for certain that you are completely committed to the travel plans. Plans change, so don’t commit too early!
And finally, airline affinity memberships might sway you towards booking with one carrier over another. But do yourself a favour and check out competing airlines. Unless you’re about to become a super elite level with the airline membership system, it may be hard to justify paying a higher fare just to get more points. Don’t pay too much just to gain status. Saving from 5 to 20% on the cost of a flight is certainly worth more than airline points.
Multiple City Flights
Very often, our travels take us to one city at the start, and then we return from a different city. That can certainly happen with some of the trips with Photo Workshop Adventures. For instance, in Vietnam we start in Ho Chi Minh City, and depart from Hanoi.
When this occurs, there are some things to keep in mind. First, it’s sometimes cheaper to book what is called an Open Jaw ticket, which is simply a flight that goes from Point A to Point B, and then returns from Point C to Point A. Most flight booking websites are capable of providing flights options like this. The alternative would be to book two one-way flights. But that can usually be more expensive for international flights.
If you’re able to fly from Point A-to-B-to-A, then you’ll definitely get the best flight prices. Getting yourself back to Point B and returning home from there may be worth your time to arrange.
Don’t Skip That Flight Segment
One important thing to be aware of when booking multiple city flights – is that you have to make sure you fly on each segment. If your ticket has 4 cities (say New York to Rome, then to Madrid, then Paris, London and back to New York), and then you miss one of the segments, then all of the rest of your flight segments will be cancelled. Airlines consider that if you’ve missed one flight segment, the rest of your ticket is no longer valid. If you miss Leg B, and try to fly on Leg C, you’ll need to buy a new ticket at the airport, often at a much higher price.
On a similar note, if you find that you can get a cheaper flight with a connection (point A-to-B-to-C), but you really only want to travel from points B to C – don’t do it. Again, if you don’t show up for flight A-to-B, then flight B-to-C will be cancelled. Airlines aren’t dummies. Those are called Hidden City Tickets, and airlines know all those clever schemes.
So the best advice for multiple city trips would be to book an Open Jaw round-trip ticket from A-B and C-A. And then for the shorter hops between B and C, book a cheaper regional one-way ticket. The only exception here is if all your destinations are within the USA, then it’s usually cheaper to book all one-way flights.
How To Book A Flight For PWA Trips
So the big conclusion? We recommend that you avoid booking your flights too early, for a few reasons. First, you won’t be saving anything if you book more than 2 months from the travel period. And second, your life circumstances can change unexpectedly, which you just can’t plan for. You can minimize that risk by booking your flights closer to departure.
Ideally, if you’re booked to travel on an Adventure with us, wait until the month before the trip is scheduled to take place. Start looking at flight aggregators like Kayak, SkyScanner and Momondo for the best options. Set alerts with these services to let you know when prices drop or increase. Be sure to check with the airline websites for prices too, as they are often as cheap or cheaper than aggregators. Book flexible flights that have low or no change fees, if available. And buy travel insurance that covers flight changes and cancellations.
At Photo Workshop Adventures, we want your travel to be as low stress as possible. We are available to help you with flight selections if you prefer. Reach out to us, and let us help you make the best choices so you can enjoy the most from your Photo Adventure Vacation.
I found it interesting how you mentioned that it’s a good rule of thumb to know the time of year you’re flying, where you’re flying to, and the duration of the flight. My wife and I are considering looking for an airport near her parent’s city because we’re thinking of taking a trip with our kids to spend time with their grandparents. It seems reasonable for us to contemplate booking a flight through a reputable source to help us fly where we need to so we can see family.