When planning a trip, one of the first things you think about is buying your plane tickets. Plane tickets can be expensive and often use a large portion of your vacation budget, so it makes sense to think about them first. Care should be taken when purchasing tickets, because mistakes can be costly.
Where should you start? How far ahead should you purchase the tickets? These are good questions – here are some answers.
Study your Itinerary
When you begin planning your trip, you usually have an itinerary in mind. Say, for example, you want to go to France, Germany and the Netherlands. There are several airports in these three countries, and it might even make make sense to fly into a different country altogether. If you look at a map, you can see that Belgium is located between France and the Netherlands. On one of our trips, the flights into Brussels were considerably cheaper that those into Paris or Amsterdam, so we flew in and out of Belgium.
It might also make sense to fly into one city and out of another. In the above trip, it might make sense to fly into Paris, then travel north to Amsterdam, east to Berlin, and back south to Munich, flying home from there.
In the past, it was often more expensive to fly out of a different city, but now there is little difference in the cost. This type of flight itinerary is referred to as an “open jaw.” There can be savings with this plan because you would not have to pay for transportation back to the city where you started.
As you are planning, look at all your itinerary options. Several months before your trip, look at the cost of flights to and from the possible airports. You may want to sign up for newsletters or alerts from sites such as airfarewatchdog.com, skyscanner.net or Google flights
Once you are familiar with the price of tickets, you will be able to recognize when a good price comes along. “Flash sales” – a sale price that seems to be much lower than usual and is only available for a limited time – happen now more than ever before. If you are prepared to purchase tickets and receive an alert for a flash sale, buy your tickets. In a recent flight purchase using a flash sale, I saved close to 50% off the price I expected to pay for my tickets.
Flash sales or other deep discounts may have restrictions or other limitations so look over the offer carefully. On my recent purchase, I was restricted to certain departure and arrival cities. The deal didn’t fit my itinerary exactly, but the savings made it worth the adjustment.
Other Ways to Save
There are ways other than flash sales that can help you save money on your flight. Flights during the week are usually cheaper than those on weekends. Booking months ahead or just a couple days before your trip can offer savings, but there can be disadvantages to booking early or late – too early and your plans might change, too late and you may have trouble booking a room. Still, booking early or late might work for your situation.
Look into flying into a nearby city (as we did when we flew into Brussels) or a lesser-known airport in the city you prefer. London has several airports, Frankfurt has a couple, and even Chicago, from which I usually fly, has a choice of two airports. Make sure you know exactly where the airport is located before you book.
It is nice to be able to fly non-stop to Europe, but adding a layover or stopover can have advantages. First, flights with one or two stops are usually cheaper than non-stop flights. Second – and even better – you might be able to build in an additional location by using a stopover to your advantage. On our flight to Venice, Italy, our flight stopped in Vienna, Austria. Although, in the end, we opted for a short layover, we could have stayed 8 hours or more. The heart of Vienna is a 15 minute train ride from the airport, so we could have spent several hours or even a day or two exploring an additional city.
You might be able to find a deal through Groupon, Travelzoo, or a similar site. These sites offer vacation deals that include a flight and hotels – at times with a significant savings over purchasing the flight and hotel separately. Once you have decided to travel to Europe, you can watch the sites for a deal.
Before you Hit “Buy”
Once you have decided to purchase – whether a flash sale, a different deal, or just a good price. – you need to actually buy the tickets. You can purchase from a site like kayak.com or expedia.com or you can go to the airline’s own website. Fill in all the necessary information – your name, the date you plan to fly, and your departure and arrival airports. Before you click the button to purchase, though, go through the information again. Read it out loud or have someone else look it over for you. Be sure there are no mistakes.
Misspelled names can be costly to correct. The same is true for dates. Changing a ticket usually costs around $250 – even for a small mistake. If four of you are flying together – well, you can do the math. I’m not trying to scare you, but just caution you to double- and triple-check to make sure you are purchasing what you want.
I’ve not made a mistake on airline tickets yet, but I have with train tickets. I thought I had everything correct until I later realized I was a day off with the dates. How did this happen? Sometimes European calendars start their week on Monday instead of Sunday. I chose the second day of the week thinking I was booking my tickets for Monday. I actually booked tickets for Tuesday. It cost me about $30 per ticket to change them, but I learned to be more careful next time.
Don’t Look For the Deal of the Century
At some point, you need to book the tickets – don’t keep waiting for the perfect deal. After you have purchased tickets, don’t look back – don’t keep looking for a better deal. If you find one, it will cast a cloud over your trip. Just get the best deal you can, when you can, and be happy about it. Then start planning the rest of your trip.
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