Whether it’s your first time flying, or your five hundredth, chances are you want to avoid overpaying when you book your next flight. Air travel is expensive, and with airline fees growing and legroom shrinking more and more each year, every little saving can make an enormous difference to both your comfort and your wallet. Avoiding the most common booking mistakes can save you hundreds of dollars, leaving more room in your budget to do more of what you love.
When it comes to budget airfare, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Before you grab those tickets at rock bottom prices, read the fine print. You might end up paying as much—or more—in additional fees as you would for a standard price ticket. Often these flights are so cheap because the airline charges fees for just about everything else. Not only will you likely have to pay extra for basic refreshments and checked luggage, but the tickets are often nonrefundable. Some budget airlines even charge extra for a carry-on! Combine all that with cramped seating, and that low upfront cost might not seem so worth it after all.
While it’s always a good idea to plan ahead, believe it or not, there’s such a thing as booking your flights too early. If you buy tickets more than six months ahead of your travel date, there likely won’t be any deals or special offerings on the airfare yet. Resist the urge to secure upcoming flights too far in advance, and sign up for alerts from the airline instead. That way, you’ll be notified as soon as prices start dropping, usually about five months before departure.
Buying your tickets at the eleventh hour is one of the costliest mistakes you can make. Prices start spiking rapidly in the final two weeks before takeoff. It’s unlikely you’ll find any last-minute deals this late in the game because any remaining seats are now at a premium. The prime time to book? Between 112 to 21 days before departure.
It might not be pleasant to set your alarm before sunrise, but the money you’ll save—and stress you’ll avoid—by flying in the sweet spot between 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. can more than make up for it. The airspace is relatively clear in the early morning, so your flight is a lot less likely to be delayed. There are also fewer crowds, and therefore fewer lines to contend with.
Being flexible about the days you fly can literally save you hundreds. Often, ticket prices jump up and down dramatically from one day to the next. While it might be tempting to minimize your time off work and return on Sunday, you’ll be traveling on the most expensive day of the week. If an extra one or two days off work is doable—say, flying home on Monday instead—your savings could be substantial.
If you’ve been researching flights for an upcoming trip, it’s long been suspected that booking websites will increase airfare because they assume you’re likely to make a purchase. To ensure that your research remains under wraps, always browse and buy your tickets in a private browser, or “incognito mode.” It may or may not make a difference, but if there’s a chance you’ll save a few bucks, why not?
Booking your connecting flights too close together is a risky business. Sure, forty minutes seems like plenty of time to get from one gate to the next, but what if your first flight had a thirty-minute delay? When you’re flying internationally, make sure you also factor in plenty of time to get through customs and security lines. As a general rule, make sure to allow yourself at least one hour between domestic flights and two hours between international flights.
You might be tempted to book your flights on Saturday or Sunday while you’re chillaxing at home, which is exactly when everyone else is booking their flights too. Airlines cash in on this predictable weekend rush. The best deals for both domestic and international flights often pop up on weekdays to boost sales when people generally buy fewer tickets.
Despite what all those flight booking websites with their crazy promotions would like you to believe, it can actually be cheaper to buy your flights right from the source—the airline’s website. These external sites often tack on hidden fees for finding flights through their services. You’re also putting all your faith in companies that are one step removed from the airline you’ll be flying with to get all your details just right. Often, airlines offer deals directly on their websites that are as good or better than these flight finders.
Review all your info like your life depended on it. Once you click that “book now” button, there’s no going back.
Once you’re all booked, check your email for the confirmation, print out your documents, and keep them in a safe place. A few days before your trip, keep tabs on your email to see if the airline has made any last-minute changes to your itinerary.