I recently had the joyous opportunity to take my first flight in almost a year and a half. It wasn’t just the joy of traveling (which I do love), but the impending excitement of seeing family I hadn’t hugged for so long! I was a walking, talking example of “giddy” as I told anyone who would listen from the Alaska Airlines Lounge greeter to the TSA security officer how excited I was, where I was going, and why!
My flight planning was easy. I went into my cache of Alaska Airlines miles for the quick trip from PDX to OAK. But what about more complicated travel planning? If you’re planning your first trip of 2021 or thinking about 2022, you may be wondering about the best way to make those reservations so your time and money are protected.
I travel a lot (a couple of domestic trips every month and a couple of international flights each year), but I like to rely on the expertise of others who plan travel for a living.
Here are some tips I’ve collected from travel experts, as well as a few from my own experiences:
Be flexible on your dates. Contrary to past advice there isn’t one day of the week that’s best to buy your airline tickets. But if your dates are flexible, booking your travel to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday, may save you some money since those days typically have the lightest passenger count.
Set up alerts and search for deals. Subscribe to one of the air travel search sites, like Scott’s Cheap Flights or Google Flights to search for your favorite destinations. You can also set up alerts for places you have your eye on and get a heads up on great deals. Scott’s has a limited Free version and a Premium membership for $49 annually where they’ll send you deals more often, including airlines’ “mistake fares.” Other sites I’ve used to search for flight options and deals are
Kayak, Expedia, Monondo, Kiwi. Sometimes I use these sites to see which airlines are headed to my destination, then I go directly to the airlines’ sites and compare the routes and deals. I prefer to book directly with the airlines when I can because if I have to make any changes it is easier to deal directly with the airline than with a third-party booking site. Although sometimes the deals you find on Momondo or Kiwi are too good to pass up!
Consider alternate airports and one-way tickets. Sometimes you can find great deals booking in or out of larger airports. In addition to searching for flights from your home airport, look for flights from other major airports to your destination or even alternate destinations for great deals, then purchase separate tickets (or perhaps a train ride) to get you to your final destination. For instance, if I’m headed to Sicily and my home airport is Portland, OR, I might see a great deal for flights from San Francisco to Rome. If the deal is good enough, I would then buy separate tickets on regional airlines. Caution…there are some risks to this type of travel. I advise carrying on your bag or making sure you have plenty of extra time for connecting flights if you must pick up your checked bag. If your connection is on another airline, it could be in a different terminal and the airlines won’t watch out for you if one of your connections is canceled. This strategy is best for those who like to carry on their bags.
How far in advance should you book your flight? Although there aren’t hard and fast rules, experts like The Points Guy and Cheap Air recommend:
Work with a pro. Sometimes you need the peace of mind that comes from working with a professional travel advisor; your time is valuable and your life is busy (isn’t true for all of us?!). There are reasons to work with a professional in many areas of your life, from taxes to home repair. For travel, I highly recommend contacting Mary Cecchini and her team at Living Big Travel.
Protect your investment. Look for refundable flights which will be more expensive but might end up being worth it if your trip is canceled. Keep in mind that most “refundable” flights will give you a voucher for future travel with the airline, rather than cash; just be sure to read the fine print. But the best option, even when we’re not in the uncertain times of cancelations due to COVID-19, is to always purchase travel insurance. Most travel insurance companies offer a wide range of choices covering theft, baggage loss, flight delays, and cancelations. Some even offer the pricier option of “cancel for any reason” insurance. Here are two great resources – an article from Money.com recommending travel insurance companies and Travel Insurance 101 from Living Big Travel. Another great resource is a recent post about buying travel insurance in today’s changing market from Nomadic Matt.
I hope some of these tips get you where you’re going safely and efficiently, and that you have a joyous trip!