The second installment in my three-part spring getaway series, where I offer a few general tips for planning a flight.
Air travel has become a bit of a mess lately. Between the general anxieties that many travellers have, and the strict (and often bewildering) regulations enforced by the TSA, the process of flying has become almost more trouble than it's worth. In spite of these many drawbacks, flying is often the most time efficient and practical form of long-distance travel. Careful research and planning is one way to make this stressful situation more manageable. Here are a few things that I've learned during my two decades (!) of foreign and domestic air travel.
- Start early. Booking a trip online is a process that can take weeks. Although making the actual reservation only takes a few minutes, it is wise to spend a few weeks monitoring flight options and prices. This will give you a basic idea of what to expect in regard to the cost and price trends-- so when that "great deal" pops up, you'll know if it's actually worth booking! Also, this gives you more time to determine if the trip is financially feasible, and it can help you to avoid a potentially non-refundable impulse purchase.
- Compare sites. There are literally dozens of travel sites-- it is always a good idea to compare a few. In my experience, most price comparison sites are pretty similar, but it never hurts to double-check! I usually book through Orbitz or Expedia, but Travelocity, Hotwire, and CheapTickets are some other possibilities.
- Choose wisely! Learn from my mistake! Don't be tempted to immediately grab the first or cheapest flight that you see. While planning my recent trip to Florida, I saw a round-trip flight through Spirit Airline that was about $100 cheaper than the other round-trip flights that I saw. Unfortunately, what I didn't realize at the time was that Spirit has exorbitant baggage fees, to the tune of $50 per carry-on bag. My husband and I fly frequently, so we are pretty good and travelling lightly. For every other airline that we have flown with, we would pack only two small carry-on bags each, which were free. Most airlines permit travellers to bring on board one personal item (a small bag like a purse or satchel), in addition to a small carry-on luggage bag at no additional cost. If we were to travel in our usual style through Spirit Airline, my husband and I would have been out an extra $100 each way. The $200 total expense would not have been worth the $100 that we saved from our ticket price at the time of booking.
- Research the airline, not just the price. Although I made a mistake by jumping on my cheap tickets to Florida with Spirit Airline, I at least remembered to do some research on the airline about a week before our trip. I learned in advance of Spirit's silly baggage fees and rules, and so I was able to plan ahead. Instead of going with our two usual carry-on bags, my husband and I just packed one large suitcase for the both of us, which only cost us $45 to check each way. Although we ended up paying $90 round-trip for Spirit's baggage fees, we at least managed to avoid $200 in carry-on baggage fees for two people, round-trip.
- Set your standards. What little money I saved in my ticket price with Spirit ($100) was offset by what I had to spend in baggage fees ($90). The $10 I saved wasn't really worth it, especially when I consider the fact that Spirit Airline does not offer the standard complimentary snack or beverage services that other airlines provide. Imagine! A 2.5 hour flight with not even a glass water-- and of course I am too frugal to pay $3 for something that is normally free with other airlines. For our return trip home, I bought a few snacks and a bottle of water for my husband and I to share, and that $10 in savings was gone. I should have realized that by lowering my price range, I was also lowering my standards for travel. For my next flight, I will certainly be more willing to spend some extra money on a flight that is less stressful and more comfortable, So long, Spirit.
Even as a veteran flyer, I am still surprised by the vast differences in standards and quality that each airline offers. When planning a flight, be prepared for the range of prices, options, and comfort levels. A little advanced research and planning can go a long way toward ensuring your flight and vacation are comfortable and stress-free.
Read more about my mini-vacation over spring break here, and stay tuned for the final installment in the three-part travel series, where I will offer some packing tips for a spring getaway!
In the mean time, I'd love to hear from you. What lessons have you learned from your air travels? Which airlines do you recommend?
The above photo was taken by me in 2009 of a road sign outside of the Dublin Airport in Ireland.