Never Make This One Mistake When Booking a Flight, Experts Warn
You could be paying way more for airfare if you're not careful about this.
After a long year and a half of life under the COVID-19 pandemic, eager travelers are beginning to take to the skies again as cases continue to drop. Data from the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) shows that 1,525,948 passengers passed through security checkpoints on Nov. 3, which is nearly two and a half times more than the 636,533 passengers recorded on the same day last year. But as travel picks back up, experts warn it's important to make sure you're not making one major mistake when booking flights for your long-awaited trip. Read on to see what you should know before you jet off.
Be flexible with your travel plans when booking a flight, especially which airports you're searching.
Typically, searching for flights is as straightforward as looking for which flights are available at the nearest airport that can get you to your destination. But experts suggest that opening up your search to include other nearby airports both in your departure and arrival cities can be one of the easiest ways to save money off the bat, especially as many airlines have changed their service routes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of sticking strictly to one airport code, Phil Dengler, travel expert and co-owner of travel website The Vacationer, tells Best Life the best option is to search for all airports serving whichever you're flying to. "Google Flights allows you to select up to seven departure and arrival airports at a time. This is a powerful feature because nearby airports may have much cheaper prices," he says.
But while looking at alternate options nearby that could unlock cheaper fares, make sure you consider a few things before you book. "Whether or not using a cheaper airport saves you money depends on the particular trip," Dengler warns. "Just make sure to consider the additional travel costs to get to the airport as well as time," while also keeping in mind expenses such as parking at the airport and getting around in your arrival city.
Searching different dates can also save you money when it comes time to book your flights.
Just because you're stuck with a limited number of airports at home or your destination doesn't mean you still can't find a better deal on airfare. If you're able to be flexible with the date or time you fly—even a few hours or just one day earlier or later—experts say you might be able to save yourself a serious amount of cash, especially if you're flying over a holiday.
"Picking travel dates before looking at flight prices is a recipe for disaster," Dengler warns. "You should always decide where you want to go and then find the cheapest days to fly. You can save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, by being flexible on dates," adding that he recommends using the date grid feature on Google Flights to quickly see which days offer the best fares.
Experts also warn that you should avoid booking your flights on third-party apps or websites.
Besides being somewhat flexible about which dates and where you fly in and out of, it can also be just as essential to make sure you're booking your flights from the right vendor to begin with. "The number one tip travelers need to know is to stop using third-party apps like Expedia, Priceline, and Skyscanner as they do not save you money," Deanna Ford, travel expert and founder of The Detailed Traveler, tells Best Life. "You're not getting any deal you wouldn't otherwise get by booking directly with an airline."
Instead, Ford says she uses third-party apps and booking websites only as a search tool before using the information to book with the airline directly. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for a set of travel headaches if you run into any travel issues when it comes time to fly.
"If you encounter a delay or cancellation and you booked through a third-party website, airlines will not rebook or refund you directly, Ford warns. "You will have to go through the third-party website and work around their cancellation or change policy as well as the airline's cancellation or change policy, which makes the process that much more complicated. And in the era of COVID? Having your flight canceled is a huge possibility."
Don't make the mistake of booking a cheap fare only to be hit with baggage fees at the airport.
Even though no one likes to overpay for airfare, experts warn that price shouldn't be the only thing guiding your decision when it comes time to book your flight. "One of the biggest mistakes people make is buying the cheapest ticket without considering the trade-offs and extras like paid luggage, ridiculously long layovers, or ability to pick a seat," Denise Cruz, a frequent flyer and travel blogger at Wander Her Way. "I travel extensively for work and leisure, and I've seen people pay two or three times the price of the ticket in luggage fees. Some airlines charge $40 to $60 to check a bag each way, and that can easily make the cheap flight be more expensive than another seemingly more expensive option that allows you to check one bag for free."
Cruz also warns that the bargain fare you book might also leave you without the option of picking your seat. "[That] can work on short distances but may end up getting you stuck in the middle seat next to strangers on a 12-hour flight," she warns. "My advice is to look at the entire cost of the ticket and understand what you're giving up for the lower fare."