Planning that long-awaited winter trip to the Nordic highlands? Or, maybe you have your eye on an African safari. The first step to your big adventure, of course, is booking the flight.
If you're an experienced traveler, you probably know how to navigate the flight-booking process. However, did you know that any errors on your part, though unintentional, could cost you a premium in time and money? Here are five things you should never do when booking a flight.
Not Considering the Baggage Allowance Options
Many airlines now offer several ticketing options, giving you flexibility in what you pay for versus the number of benefits you'll get. Budget travelers can stick to the cheapest tickets by giving up perks such as free meals and legroom. On the other hand, travelers who want those extras must pay a little more.
It's a system that can work for everyone, but only if you're making the right choices for you. For many travelers, the most important perk involves luggage boarding options.
Many budget carriers offer discounted tickets for those packing only carry-on bags. If you need to check a suitcase or two, however, the cost of your ticket will spike. For instance, Norwegian's low-cost option allows only one carry-on bag. If you opt for LowFare+, the next level up, you get one checked bag (up to 44 lbs) for free. If you need to check two bags, you'll need the Flex option.
So, take a minute to decide if the LowFare or Lowfare+ option is right for you. If you opt for the first when you need to check a suitcase, will you actually be saving any money? Sure, booking online can save you up to 50% on bag fees; however, you'll still need to weigh your options carefully if you have at least two suitcases you need to check.
Not Checking on Visa Requirements
If you're traveling on an American passport, it's easy to assume you can get through border control without an issue. The American passport is one of the most powerful travel documents in the world, granting access to many countries. The Henley Passport Index places the United States sixth on its list of most travel-friendly passports.
Still, you'll need to know the visa requirements for each country you're visiting. Before you book your ticket, be sure to do your homework. The visa application process can take weeks or even months. You don't want to book an expensive plane ticket only to find out you aren't going to have the right visa on time.
If you're an American citizen, you can visit more than 150 countries without needing a visa. Only about 35 countries require Americans to get visas before they visit. Additionally, more countries have waived visa requirements for Americans: the most recent is Brazil.
Waiting Too Long to Buy
According to the Airlines Reporting Corporation's 2019 Travel Pricing Outlook report, the best time to book your ticket is about 21 days before you travel. Additionally, you can save up to 36% on your ticket by booking on a Sunday and up to 10% by choosing flights that take off on Thursdays or Fridays.
The report also highlights the fact that your return fare could be up to 25% cheaper if you include a Saturday night stay in your itinerary.
What about last-minute flights? According to a study by CheapAir, if you're purchasing a ticket in the same week you travel, you'll be paying on average $220 more than you would by booking ahead. If it's an emergency trip (or you're being reimbursed through your company's business account), you may just decide to pony up the cash. However, the practice of last-minute purchasing becomes less sustainable when your travel budget is small.
Entering the Wrong Name
Not only do you need to ensure your name is spelled correctly on your ticket, you'll need to make sure it includes your full legal name. Not doing so can lead to massive delays and a chance you end up missing your flight. Business Insider warns that you'll need to include your middle name, as well, or risk having to re-book your flight.
So, when you purchase your ticket, be sure that you know the legal name of every passenger you're purchasing tickets for. Your legal name can be found on your passport or other official government identification document. Whatever you do, don't try to travel under a pseudonym of sorts. Here's why: the TSA simply won't allow you to board your flight.
If you do accidentally put the wrong name on the ticket, most airlines will give you 24 hours to correct the mistake, without penalty. The 24-hour reservation grace period is mandated by the Department of Transportation’s consumer rule “Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections." It applies to all reservations made seven days or more prior to the flight’s scheduled takeoff.
Valuing Time Over Money
Many travelers look for the best deal possible when booking a flight. But, how good is a deal if you end up navigating long layovers and too many connecting flights?
For instance, a flight from Denver to London may only set you back $400, but you'll have to make two stops along the way. Because of this, your total travel time will be 18 hours. Or you could pay $600 for a direct flight and be at Heathrow Airport in just under 10 hours. The extra $200 is probably worth your time (and sanity).
Be sure to weigh the pros and cons of a cheaper (but much longer) flight. It could cut into your travel time, meaning you'll have less time to explore the destination of your dreams. However, if you're traveling on a tight budget, that cost savings could be worth it. Only you can decide how much your time is worth — and your tolerance for spending long hours in airport lounges.