I vividly remember the day I booked my first international flight. I literally cringed as I clicked the mouse on the “Book Now” button. So scary! Now that I have some international flights under my belt, I regret to tell you, it’s even worse because I know more!
Did I compare prices long enough? Did I compare enough airlines? Am I flying to/from the cheapest airports? Should I book through an airline or a travel site? Did I pick the right airports? (There are literally 6 airports that come up when you search “London”)! SIX! Do I really want to spend this money a flight? Did I account for my baggage correctly? Window or aisle???? Aughhhh, I don’t know! I can’t turn back if I do it – just gonna close my eyes and BOOK!
Oh my gosh…. I did it…. (Resume breathing).
Commence another 15 minutes of meticulously combing the confirmation email and fine print for any inevitable screw-ups on my part even though I’ve already looked over everything 327 times before booking.
I know this sounds dramatic, but the struggle is real, and I don’t think I’m alone. (Tell me I’m not alone)!
The good news is you can avoid any booking blunders by going in prepared. Here’s a list of 6 important things I’ve learned over the years when it comes to booking an international flight.
Book the Flight
Who to Fly
Any airline is fair game when I’m traveling. While airline points can be helpful to acquire, sometimes I just want the cheapest flight.
I start by using two flight comparison apps: Hopper and Skyscanner. Hopper is awesome because it takes your travel dates and constantly trends prices advising when it’s the best time to book. Skyscanner compares multiple airlines and gives you the best prices. It also has an “Explore” feature, which allows you to fly “Everywhere” at “Anytime,” and pulls up the best travel deals from your departure airport. For example, from Dec 1 – Dec 5, you can fly from Newark to Paris for $250. Christmas in Paris, anyone?
Another company I was fortunate to become privy to, is Scott’s Cheap Flights. You can sign up for free or pay a small yearly fee for all the good fares. Scott and his team scour the internet constantly for airline screwups and popup deals. He sends out emails routinely with cheap fares. In fact, I just received one for fares to Vancouver – $200s (RT, bags extra), September – February. That’s cheaper than most domestic flights! They’re excellent fares from a number of cities and they go fast. You have to be a bit flexible, but the savings are definitely worth it.
While these sites are my go-to’s, I still check alllllll the other travel sites, just to be sure. Some popular ones I use are Travelocity, Kayak, Orbitz, Expedia, Cheapflights – there are soooo many. Whichever airline has the best price for a good route wins my business. Once I find the best fare, I check directly with the airline. It the price is relatively the same, I’ll always book with them. It’s easier to deal with the airline in the event of a bobble, versus a travel site.
Budget airlines can also save a great deal of money. You will typically have to pay extra for bags and seats, but your end fare can still be cheaper than flying with a major airline. A budget airline that has demonstrated great fares is Norwegian Air. A quick search from New Jersey to Barcelona in mid-December shows a $200 savings on Norwegian Air vs. British Air, which is the cheapest fare on a Travelocity search.
Where to Fly To/From
Another thing to keep in mind is that many cities have multiple airports, as previously mentioned in my London example above. Thank God for Google. A simple Google search for “which is the main airport in [city of your choice]” will give you the main airport for that city. However, sometimes flying into a smaller airport can save you money. It might not be in the best location, but it could save you a good deal of money if you’re willing to take the subway or bus to your accommodation.
Just as flying into a smaller airport can save money, such is also true for flying out of a smaller airport. It’s important to know that many of the smaller airports can be quite a distance outside major cities. For example, Norwegian flies out of several New York airports, but Stewart (SWF) is about 60 miles outside of Manhattan. While the fares are much cheaper, sometimes the inconvenience of traveling in/out of the city isn’t worth it for me.
The Midwest Curse
Growing up a midwestern girl has had great benefits. I was able to afford a house right out of college; I get to experience all the seasons; a hurricane will never get me…
However, living in my charming little Kansas City has almost zero benefits for flying internationally. When I compare flights from Kansas City to London (1 stop), and New Jersey to London (nonstop) on Travelocity, I would save $642 on my flight if I lived in Jersey. It seriously sucks!
I’ve had to get creative, and while it’s a gamble, it has saved me quite a bit of cash. What I’ve done my last several trips is fly for “free” from Kansas City to the east coast by using my Southwest points. Then I book the cheaper international flight! (If you want to earn Southwest points, too, click the link and when you get the Southwest CHASE card, you can earn 40,000 points! In turn, I will receive 10,000 points. #winwin)!
When I search fares, I always compare fares flying out of the big east coast international hubs: Boston, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. Chicago has also helped me out in the past. The potential problem occurs if the international flight home gets significantly delayed or cancelled, which would result in a missed domestic flight back to Kansas City and no airline is going to help a sister out in that case. So far so good. (Crossed fingers and knocking on wood).
The recent arrival of IcelandAir and WOW Air to Kansas City and St. Louis, respectively, have significantly increased our options for international travel. With both airlines you can fly cheap(er) to your favorite European destination with either a typical layover, or up to a 7-day stopover in Iceland. Having been to Iceland myself, I highly recommend a 7-day stopover if you have the time. Iceland is one of the coolest little places I’ve ever visited!
By way of…
When searching your flights, you might see a super cheap fare. Make sure there aren’t 30 stops in between your departure city and destination. Jet lag is no joke. I’m willing to pay a little bit more to enjoy my first few days out in the city instead of recuperating in my hotel room. One stop is ideal. Nonstop is my fave.
I once traveled for over 35 hours to “save money.”
Chiang Mai –> Bangkok –> Singapore –> Seoul –> Los Angeles –> Kansas City
I slept for 3 days straight. I’m not even kidding. I must advise against it!
Delayed and Cancelled
It happens and it sucks for all parties involved. From a traveler standpoint, you want to get where you’re going because you have stuff to do and it’s not your fault the airline overbooked or they had equipment malfunction or the pilots went on strike. The airlines are having a bad day, too, because they have a lot of unhappy customers yelling at them, and they’re losing valuable profit by paying off people to give up their seats, book them on more expensive flights or to put them up in hotel rooms overnight. Nobody wants delays or cancellations to occur, but it is what it is. The sooner you take that approach, the better.
With the exception of getting to a dying loved one before they go, you can roll with the punches in most scenarios.
I was flying from Belfast, Northern Ireland to Cardiff, Wales. I was going to meet my childhood penpal from nearly 25 years ago. She and I wrote actual letters as kids. I know I ran to the mailbox every day to see if that red, white and blue lined envelope had made it’s long journey from across the pond; a journey that literally took 2 weeks. We had lost touch as we got older, but when Facebook became popular, I found her! We resumed our friendship and this was the day I was finally going to meet her. She had a big day planned for us… until our flight was delayed… and delayed again… and delayed again. We actually boarded and deplaned the aircraft twice. When it was all said and done, we finally flew to Wales on the least broken plane (encouraging) and made it to Natalie 6 hrs later than scheduled. Instead of an entire day, I had a measly 2 hours to spend with my long-time friend. Needless to say, I was devastated, but what are you gonna do?
We made the most of our time together and it was one of the best nights of my entire trip. The cherry on top was that European Flight Compensation Regulations ensured my monetary compensation of €350 – well over what I paid for the flight.
Look at those smiles. Genuine happiness.
In the event you absolutely must get to your destination in a timely fashion, it helps to be aware of airline alliances. A recent Airfare Watchdog article describes an incident where an American Airlines flight was delayed, but the writer was able to book an even better flight with British Airways, an airline within the same alliance. There are three airline alliances and it can be helpful to know about them in the event you find yourself in a similar situation.
This is just part of the adventure. It doesn’t do you any good to get all worked up and stressed out. It will sort itself out. I recommend journaling your trip to help you pass the time in the airport! 🙂 Post up at an airport lounge or bar, have a few drinks, watch a game or make friends with the person next to you. Sometimes unexpected circumstances have great rewards.
I hope the information provided here will help you when you’re ready to book your first (or next) flight, whether it be domestic or international. Booking a flight is often one of the biggest expenditures when planning a trip, and knowledge is money when you know how to research and book a flight wisely!