How To: Buy an International Flight

Buying an international flight can seem overwhelming.  I still sweat a little when I finally confirm a flight plan even when I’m satisfied with the price.  There’s something about hitting that buy button that makes everything seem so immediate and real.  It can be daunting to check different airports, dates and prices, but with a little bit of background knowledge, buying an international flight can be a satisfying experience instead of a nerve wracking one. Below are a bunch of tips that I always run through before purchasing an international flight.

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Utilize Price Alerts + Travel During Cheap Weeks

While it’s definitely helpful to have flexible travel dates, letting skyscanner choose the right time to fly is an even better deal.  If you are planning a trip, even if it’s two years from now, sign up for price alerts.  Skyscanner will send you an email letting you know when super low fares are spotted on the horizon making it a little easier for you to decide when to fly.  I like using price alerts for destinations I know I’ll be visiting often like Katie in Colorado or for places I really want to visit, but can’t justify at the moment like Jamaica. Price alerts are nice because you don’t have to waste time plugging in a bunch of dates or scouring google flights late at night (I used to be guilty of that) looking for a good time to fly, you can simply read the subject line of your email and make a more informed decision.

Join E-Mail Lists

Yes, airlines send you a lot of junk mail, but every so often the perfect flight at the perfect price lands in your inbox.  You won’t be grumbling about spam mail once you’re sitting on the beach in Spain.

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Travel During The Low Season

Sometimes you can’t dictate exactly when your trip will take place, but if you can, try traveling during the low season.  Make sure you check the weather and atmosphere of your destination during the low season first and if it all seems okay, skip the crowds and high costs of tourist season and go while the town is a bit sleepier.

Buy Early

Buy early, but not too early.  There are a whole host of articles and websites dedicated to finding cheap airfare. Most sites say that buying an international ticket 2-3 months ahead of time is the best way to go.  Whenever I’m planning a trip, I’ll consult my price alerts to get an idea of when to travel then I’ll search flights with flexible departure and return dates to get a better idea of approximately what day to leave (usually Saturday, Sunday or Tuesday) then I’ll have a better idea of what to shop for when I’m ready to pay for the flight. Once I’m ready to buy, I’ll usually search a few airline sites each day to get a feel for the price changes.  If they’re changing dramatically, I may buy immediately, but if prices are pretty stagnant, I’ll wait until I’m absolutely sure before purchasing.

Use Flexible Flying Dates

Unless your vacation days are set in stone, always use the flexible travel date option.  Seeing the different prices throughout the week will help you make an informed decision and could save you hundreds of dollars.  I usually determine my trip start and end dates solely by airline prices because the differences can be so drastic throughout the week.

Search Budget Airports

You may have to make an extra stop or two, but flying into secondary or budget airports could save you a chunk of change.  Smaller airports usually have cheaper landing fees, which translates to cheaper ticket costs.  Often times, airfare websites will give you the option to include surrounding airports in your search.  If you’re not picky and don’t mind driving another half hour or going to a smaller airport, look past the major airports.  On that same note, if you are using a secondary airport at your destination city, make sure you know how far you’ll have to travel to get where you’re going.  You don’t want to save $100 on the flight only to pay it in taxi fares once you arrive.

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Use Multiple Search Engines

This is especially important for expensive international flights.  Large search engines like Expedia and Travelocity won’t show budget airline alternatives since those airlines don’t want to pay a booking fee to the search engines.  Supplement your flight searches by using international sites that make money from advertising, not booking fees, like Skyscanner and Momondo.  There are plenty of flight search engines out there and while none of them are perfect, some are better than others.  One word of warning though, if you’re booking a flight with a budget airline you haven’t heard of or if the price seems too good to be true, google the airline and read the reviews so that you don’t get screwed over!

Pay Attention to Arrival Times

This is especially important if you are traveling with kids or on your own.  I try to avoid arriving at any destination during the night.  I simply feel better arriving during the day, being able to adjust to my surroundings and knowing if there is some type of mishap or long line, I won’t be stranded in the dark somewhere.

Direct Flights vs Layovers

Obviously direct flights are quicker and more comfortable, but that comes with a hefty price.  I’ve only taken a few direct flights in my life and while they’re wonderful, I really don’t mind having pitstops along the way.  If you are booking a flight with layovers, it’s good to make sure it is at least sixty minutes or longer that way if your initial flight is delayed, you can still make your second flight.  There’s nothing worse than waiting on the tarmac, trying to grab your luggage and knowing your second flight is boarding and taking off with out you.  The flip side is having a layover that’s really long, like more than six hours.  It can be a real drag, especially if it’s twelve hours or more and you aren’t allowed to wait in the airport.  That’s why it’s important to look at your intended flight very carefully before buying it.  Some flights, especially on budget airlines, are not able to be changed, which means you’re stuck with what you have, no matter what.

As my boyfriend would say, “There are a lot of ins and outs and what have yous.” However, if you do a little bit of prep work and research, you’ll find the flight that works best for you.  The overarching theme of flight research is to know yourself and how you travel.  All of these components are just that, they are as important as you perceive them so don’t stress! If you hate sitting in airports, buy direct, if you are pinching pennies, search out budget options, do whatever is right for you for where you are at in your travelin’ life.

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