Part 1, Plan Your Dream Trip: Flights
Together we have traveled to over 50 countries. We have worked in quite a few, spent what would cumulatively amount to years traveling and somewhere along the way learned a few things that will probably be helpful to help you plan your dream trip.
This is the first in a series designed to help you plan your own dream trip to wherever that may be. It also is the official public announcement of the addition of Trip Planning Resources on Compass & Fork. As we travel and plan a trip we have a handful of sites we have used over and over again and have come to trust. We have put those all in one place for you to find and use as well directly from our site. It is the same functionality as going to the main site, but at Compass & Fork, we share our tips and tricks for using the site to find the best deals.
This What you Need to Know to Plan your Dream Trip series will focus on the practical aspects of planning your trip:
- Flights (this post)
- How to find the Perfect Accommodation
- What You Need to Know about Using AirBnB When You Travel
- What you Need to Know about Travel insurance
- How to Avoid Surprise Fees When You Rent a Car
- How to Save Money Renting a Car in Europe
And future posts on cash vs. credit, and what to do once you are there. We don’t know everything but hopefully sharing what we have learned and some of our favorite planning resources will help you plan your dream trip. Organizing a trip yourself can be very rewarding and save some money as well.
1st Step: Book your Flights
So let’s start with flights. This is where I do recommend you start as well. Don’t book accommodation until you have a flight booked.
Some general tips and examples:
- The more flexible you are about when and what day you can travel the better chance you have of being able to find a cheap flight.
Example: If you search for the entire week, some low cost carriers may only offer service one or two days a week or direct service only on certain days. If you put in a date and just search you miss these options.
- Flights are cheapest booking well in advance or taking advantage of a sale. Early-bird flights are often available and are the cheapest flights of the year, but you need to book 9 months (or more) in advance.
Example: Sales for Early-bird flights for Europe’s summer season usually go on sale in August or September for the following year.
- Traveling during shoulder or low season can be much cheaper not only for flights but everything else as well. You just need to do a bit of research about your destination and find out what time of year this is. To avoid disappointment check if attractions and activities are open or available during off season. Many things close.
Example: Lots of things in Europe are closed for the winter, and closed in August. Opera season is only certain times of the year. If your dream is to go to see an opera in the famous Teatro Colon Opera House in Buenos Aires, you need to go during the opera season.
- If you have airline points check and see if you can use them, but also check if it is a good use of points.
Example: Often I find I am better off to just buy a cheap fare than use points. I can save my points to use to go business class (especially on a long flight) or for when a fare is what I deem to be “outrageously expensive. Since points are often based on zones or distance it can be great value to use points to go from North to South America, where the airfares are often expensive.
- Check the discount carriers. There are a lot of them now and they can be much cheaper (even after you pay for luggage) than the large international carrier. Especially for travel within a country or continent.
Example: Turkey, Europe, the USA, Asia all have very cheap regional carriers. If you want to travel within the countries it can be A LOT cheaper to book travel on these carriers. (To learn more about cheap internal travel, see Money Saving Tips for Traveling Around Turkey.
- Consider multi-destination, Round the World (RTW) or two one-way tickets as alternatives to round trip. Sometimes it can be cheaper or more convenient.
Example: We used a less used route requiring us to overnight in Bolivia when traveling from North to South America. Because we took this route we flew business class for the same price as economy. And we spent a night in Santa Cruz Bolivia in a great B&B. So we were very happy!
On another occasion I booked USA-London-Buenos Aires as a multi-trip for less than the USA-London fare!
Finding a flight
My search engine of choice for flights and where I usually start researching is Kayak.com. Kayak is a search aggregator, it goes out and searches airline sites and other travel booking sites and brings you back the results. It usually redirects you to the airline site or other travel site to book.
Why I like it:
- It is comprehensive- it will search most airlines and return results even for the budget carriers. One exception is Southwest Airlines in the USA. It will show you Southwest services a route but because Southwest does not provide their fare information, you have to go to Southwest to check the fares. That’s the only exception I have found.
- You can search +/- three days. Using this criteria let’s you see an entire week of fares so you can find which days are the cheapest for travel.
- It is accurate. On a lot of sites they show you a fare but when you go to book it, the fare is “no longer available” instead showing you a higher fare.
- It does one-way, round trip and multi-city bookings.
- You can set fare alerts and it will send you regular updates to let you know if a fare has gone on sale.
- It also for some routes will “predict” if you should buy now or wait to get a lower fare.
If I am happy with what Kayak returns then I am done. I can go to the airline site and book it. I have used the site enough to trust the results.
If I am not happy with the results, it is usually for one of three reasons:
- I think it costs too much
- The flight takes too long
- I don’t like the routing
Then I go to ITA Software. This is the company that makes the software used by most flight search engines. You can’t book a flight here, but it can tell you EVERYTHING you ever wanted to know. (This is where I found the business class fares between North and South America for the cost of economy.)
- It searches everything.
- You can set it to show you unavailable fares. That’s right you can find out what the cheapest fare available between two points. It may not be available but if you are looking well in advance, this can indicate this is the sale fare when it does come on sale.
- You can find more obscure routes.
- You can find every carrier for a route.
- You can search nearby airports.
- You can check if the fare is different if you book it elsewhere. (For example booking a South American flight outside of South America is often more expensive than booking it inside South America.)
- You can set number of stops.
- You can see an entire month of fares displayed on a calendar.
You can send the itinerary to yourself via email or get the unavailable fare codes and then work out how to book it, either on the airline site, another travel site, or working with a travel agent.
Booking a Flight
For booking a flight, I usually book directly on the airline website. This gives you the ability to check-in, manage your booking, and makes changes if you need to without either working through a third party or incurring additional change fees from the third party.
If you need to travel on two different airlines, but need it on the same itinerary, I recommend using a travel agent rather than an online booking site, but if you are comfortable using an online booking site. I would start with Kayak and see what it recommends for the itinerary. You can always decide from there.
The reason you want two different carriers on the same itinerary can vary but it usually has to do with travel insurance, luggage limits and insurance coverage. An example to illustrate. If you book a ticket on Carrier A NYC to London, then a second ticket on Carrier B from London to Frankfurt same day, these two tickets are not connected.
- Luggage: Your luggage allowance may be different, i.e. you will go from an international allowance (sometimes more generous) to a domestic allowance (which is sometimes nothing). Also you may not be able to check your luggage to your final destination. This means having to recheck your luggage at the first destination, in my example, London. This can be very time consuming as can mean exiting the secure area, waiting in line and re checking luggage.
- Connections: If your first flight is delayed or canceled, these tickets are not connected the second carrier is under no obligation to re-book you on another flight. If it is the same itinerary, they need to put you on another flight to your final destination.
- If for some reason luggage is delayed, lost, or the second flight is delayed or canceled you may have issues as you are not “in-transit” by many definitions. If it is on the same itinerary this usually covers this issue. This can affect insurance claims, getting luggage delivered and re-booking of flights without fees.
If you want to book two unrelated carriers to your destination my advice is to get it on the same itinerary.
Also at the time of booking it is helpful to think about what method you use to pay for your flight. Buying with a credit card usually offers more consumer protection. If the flight is canceled or the airline goes out of business before you fly, the credit card will refund your charges, debit cards do not usually offer the same protection. Also your credit card may offer travel insurance which offers another layer of protection. Each card and insurance policy differs, you need to check with the card issuer to understand their terms and conditions and decide if it is right for you. We have a couple of cards where if the flight is purchased on the credit card travel insurance is included. We usually use one of these cards to purchase airfares.
If you enjoyed this post, please use the form below to subscribe to our newsletter and receive all the future posts in the How to Plan your Dream Trip Series. Future post topics include transportation, cash vs. credit, and what to do once you are there. You might also enjoy our Healthy Travels Series: What you Need to Know, which covers what you can do to stay healthy before, during and after your trip
For more destination specific planning tips you can check these previous posts:
What You Need to Know About Traveling in the Greek Islands
You can find all our travel planning tips here.
And lastly, you can find resources we use and recommend to help you plan your trip in the Planning Your Trip section here on Compass & Fork.
Do you have any other tips or tricks to find cheap flights? If so please let us know in the comments. And if you have any questions please leave a comment below. We do answer.