Traveling Dutchie’s guide to booking a flight
How do I book an airline ticket? Where do I start? How do I find the best deal? If you are planning a trip involving one or more flights, you may have many questions. And finding simple, practical help and honest advice on the vast world wide web is not that easy. There’s a lot of myths and misleading information out there. But really, booking a flight is not as complicated as you may think. And Traveling Dutchie is here to help you and make things even easier!
Where to start?
If you have decided where you want to go on your (next) trip, and you’re flying to your destination, start by checking a search engine like Skyscanner or Momondo. It’s very straightforward: You just fill in your desired departure location, your destination of choice and the dates you want to travel, and the search engine will check multiple websites and provide you with the available options. Simple as that.
If you want, you can select direct flights only (leaving stopovers out of the results), set a maximum budget, choose your preferred departure time, include nearby airports or select preferred airlines. And you can sort the results by price or duration of the flight. Whatever your preferences, the search engine will find what you are looking for within seconds.
Now here’s a little tip: If the results include a flight that fits your preferences, look for this same flight at the airline’s own website. Sometimes the price of the same flight is different if you book directly with the airline. The booking fees may differ as well. It may save you a few bucks. For instance: there’s a Dutch portal that charges a 25 euros booking fee, while Dutch national airline KLM charges 10 euros for booking the same flight.
If you have found a flight that suits you, it’s no use waiting for a better fare. Ticket prices vary a little, but not that much. It’s no use to keep checking the next day, and the next. And it’s a myth that Tuesday is the most advantageous day to book. It’s not. Ticket prices are based on a lot of variables like demand (high/low), prices of competing airlines (better/worse), time of year (high season/low season) and complicated algorithms most of us don’t understand.
How to save money?
If you are flying to your travel destination, the price of your airline ticket is likely to be a significant part of your expenses. So it’s not surprising that you will probably try to cut costs by finding a good deal. There are many websites that cater to that. Just try and Google “cheap flights” and you will be offered a plethora of websites offering “the best value for your money.” Everybody loves cheap flights, right?
Websites like Secret Flying, The Flight Deal or Holiday Pirats promise to find the cheapest flight deals for you. They search the internet for cheap fares – just like you would – and publish them on a website full of advertisements and affiliate links. They are basically just search engines redirecting you to affiliate websites. Secret Flying tries to lure you in claiming you can save up to 90% – which only happens if an airline accidently makes an error publishing the wrong fare, but seriously, how often does that happen?
The thing is: Websites like these don’t offer anything you cannot find yourself. It’s not like they have some secret key to a hidden paradise of amazingly cheap deals. They are good at selling themselves, that’s all. They earn money by doing something you can do yourself, ain’t that clever? It sounds attractive, and you will probably feel you’ve found a great deal, but the truth is you will probably not spend much less than you would have done otherwise. Traveling Dutchie believes you don’t need these kind of websites, that is if you know how to find your flight deal yourself.
Airline tickets, especially for intercontinental flights, are expensive. That’s something we just have to accept. Does that mean there are no ways to save money on airline tickets? No, it doesn’t. There are in fact a few ways to get yourself a good flight deal:
- Keep an eye out for sale. Waiting for the next sale may save you quite a few bucks. In The Netherlands, for instance, national airline KLM has a biannual sale (usually in February and September) with a lot of good offers. If you have time to wait for a deal, just sign up for the airline’s newsletter to get notified about deals. But remember there’s no guarantee your preferred ticket will be part of the sale (if not sold out by that time).
- Be flexible. Sometimes changing the dates of your flights can save you a lot of money. Leaving on a Friday or Saturday is almost always more expensive than leaving on a Tuesday of Wednesday. So if your travel plans are flexible, you can save money by flying another day of the week.
- Try to avoid public holidays (at home as well as at your destination) and major events. You bet ticket prices to whatever city in the world will be higher around Christmas and New Year. If there’s a festival going on that is popular among travelers, ticket proces go up. Want to visit Japan during, let’s say, the Olympics? Ticket prices will soar. You can easily save money by traveling another time.
- The same goes for the peak travel season. Every destination has a high season, a shoulder season and a low season. Airline fares vary accordingly, so if you can, try to avoid the peak season.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to find a good deal. But remember: Your best option is not always the cheapest one!
When to book?
It’s an endlessly recurring question on the world wide web: When is the best time to book a flight? The answer is simple: Book your airline tickets as far ahead as possible. Because one thing is for sure: as the departure date nears, the ticket price will go up. The tempting phenomenon called ‘last minute deal’ does not apply to airline tickets. Do you want to save money on an expensive flight? Book far ahead. How far exactly doesn’t matter very much; as a rule of thumb: book 3 to 6 months before departure.
How about budget airlines?
There are a lot of budget airlines that are much more advantageous than the big carriers. Especially in Asia and Latin America these budget airlines offer regional flights that are quite cheap compared to European standards. Search engines like Skyscanner or Momondo will include these airlines in their results. Personally, I would not recommend budget airlines for longer flights (say more than 5 hours). They are often less spacious, there’s no free meals, and many budget airlines charge extra for everything from checked luggage to preferred seat to printing your boarding pass.
Direct flight or stopover?
A direct flight is more expensive that flights with one or more stops along the way. Consider for yourself if the comfort of going in one go is worth the extra money. Flying to your destination non-stop can save a lot of time. It also leaves you without the extra hassle at airports that a transfer brings and a direct flight means less chance of delays, canceled flights and/or missed connections. Of course if a non-direct flight is a lot cheaper, it may be worth it.
Baggage and fees
Be aware that many search engines and airlines show ticket prices without fees. Sometimes they are shown slightly hidden in a smaller font, or they pop up upon checkout. Also make sure that checked baggage is included in the ticket price – if you are bringing any. In the past checked baggage was usually included, but in the past few years , following the example set by budget airlines, more and more major carriers have started to charge extra for checked baggage.
Booking and check-in
So, if you have decided on your flight, you are ready to book. These days, the booking procedure is very straightforward. Select your flight(s), fill in your details, pay, press enter and your booking confirmation and e-ticket will be in your e-mail before you know it. You will receive a notification when check-in starts (usually 24 or 36 hours before departure) and after checking in online, in most cases, you will receive a QR code that serves as your boarding pass (or you can have your boarding pass printed at the airport). Enjoy your flight!