Buying plane tickets is possibly the most stressful part of planning any journey. It’s like gambling, but without any of the fun or flashing lights.
How do you know which airline to pick? What if prices go down after you buy? Worse, what if they go up because you waited? Should you book coach, business or first class? Does this flight serve snacks? Can you make it across the airport in time to your next gate?
To top it all off, there’s the added bonus that your flight could be canceled or delayed, or it could leave you in airport limbo.
You know what? Let’s all just stay home and never go anywhere!
Wait, that’s not OK with you? Fine. Here’s how I have dealt with buying plane tickets.
Research, research, research!
There are a million websites showing you tips and tricks to buy plane tickets. Go read a few. I suggest starting here or here. There are ways to work around selling your kidney to pay for it, but at a certain point you have to accept that travel is expensive, especially if you can’t be flexible about when you are going.
You pay for the convenience, your preference and reliability.
Budget airlines such as Spirit and JetStar work for those who don’t need the frills. By frills I mean snacks, fast layovers and luggage. You pay extra for those, so if you are going international and need a carry-on and checked bag, you may want to go ahead and shell out for a major airline. The fees will get you there anyway.
For example, when looking to book for the flight from Atlanta to San Jose, it would have cost me $35 each way to check a 40 lb. bag and $30 each way to have a carry-on with Spirit. That’s $130 added fees just for my luggage. If I were going from Atlanta to Miami for a night, no luggage might be feasible, but not for a international weeklong trip.
Keep in mind that every airline has its own policies for weights and dimensions of luggage. It’s more affordable to purchase extra weight straight away, so know what your luggage is going to weigh when you buy. As an added consideration, you may buy souvenirs while traveling, and you’ll want to account for their extra weight on the flight back.
If you are like the Vida Magazine staff and travel with a plethora of expensive camera equipment, you may need to invest in high-quality protective bags. Those are the kinds of things you want to stay with you in carry-on baggage. It’s better to risk walking around a new country in the same clothes than replacing lenses worth three-months’ rent.
You may have gathered by this point that choosing a flight is a bit more complicated than selecting a time and destination, especially when you are striving to be frugal like the Vida staff. Here are a few tips to help keep it simple:
Know your timeline. If you can be flexible, you’ll save some money.
Know the popularity of your destination for the time of year you want to travel.
Use incognito mode to search your flights. Cookies show where you’ve been online and track your searches.
Use a system like Kayak or Hopper that uses an algorithm to estimate price trends.
Use a free rewards program such as Delta rewards. Flights cost a big chunk of change — might as well get something out of it.