Flight Booking 101: Basic Tips

Planning trips and booking flights should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, just like traveling itself. In reality they could be quite annoying at times. Here I’d like to share three simple tips, based on my years of personal experience in flight booking. I hope they will help make your flight booking process a breeze.

1. Google it!

The term “Google it” applies to flight booking as well! Google Flights is a powerful flight searching tool that I use every single time to book flights.

Google Flights is not an Online-travel-agency website like Expedia and Priceline. You don’t book flights with Google. Instead, it directs you to the airline website. Booking directly with the airline gives you the exact same price as on OTAs but eliminates intermediaries. Sometimes when you need help with the ticket, Expedia tells you to contact American Airlines, while the latter bounces you back to Expedia. This frustration will never happen if you book directly with the airline.

Google Flights alerts you if you’re looking at a(n) (infamous) basic economy fare, which disallows carry-on bags, seat selection, change and cancellation, etc. You can select a regular economy fare after you’ve been directed to the airline website.

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 17.06.57
Google Flights Basic Economy Alert

Google Flights saves you time and money by considering separate ticket options while booking roundtrips. Domestic roundtrips are most of the time priced as the sum of two one-ways. For instance, the outbound is priced at $50 on AA but $90 on UA, while the inbound is priced at $90 on AA yet $50 on UA. If you book a roundtrip on either airline, it will offer you the cheapest fare of $140, but if you book two one-ways, you will fly the roundtrip for $100 only. Google Flights takes this into consideration while searching roundtrip fares and will direct you to book the outbound and return trips separately.

(CAVEAT: If you need to change both outbound and inbound flights after purchasing the tickets, you will pay the change fee TWICE if you book on separate reservations. Take this into consideration if your travel plan is likely to change after booking)

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 18.01.16
Price diagram of roundtrip

Save money by booking roundtrips on separate airlines using Google Flights

Google Flights is smart! It will tell you if a selected fare is likely to increase, so that you will know to act soon. However, don’t stress out! The next tip tells you how to extend the current fare, sort of.

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 17.09.01
Google Flights Fare Increase Alert

Unfortunately, Google Flight, just like OTAs, has no access to Southwest fare system. It will direct you to Southwest website with all details already filled out. Also, it only shows full-fare on Cathay Pacific and higher fares on domestic Chinese flights, as they use a different system. Use Skyscanner instead in these cases.

2. Book first; think later!

Airfare is very volatile, just like stock markets. You never know if someone books the last discounted seat or the airline simply decides to not to offer it anymore. The good news is — airlines are required by FAA to allow free changes and cancellations within 24 hours of booking on flights departing and arriving in US, if the flights are booked 7 days away from departure. American Airlines sometimes allows you to hold a reservation for 24 hours without paying. IIRC, United website allows free change and cancellation even if the flight is within 7 days of departure.

The even better news is — in practice, you always have at least 24 hours to change your mind. The actual deadline is midnight on the following day in the departure city time zone. If I book Los Angeles – New York any time on February 1 for a flight in March, I can cancel for free until 11:59 PM February 2 Pacific Time.

Next time, if you need more time to think, book the ticket first!

3. Look for ticket number; note down confirmation code.

Got the confirmation email? Make sure you see the 13-digit ticket number.

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Ticket number and confirmation code on a United E-Mail

It’s the only indication that you’re all set. In some unusual cases, the reservation may get stuck in the ticketing process, and people only realize this at the airport, being denied check in. However, there is no need to take down this long string of numbers. If you have typed in your frequent flyer account of the airline, the reservation should already show up in the mobile app. Otherwise, take down the 6-digit alphanumeric confirmation code (FYI, the jargon is PNR — Passenger Name Record). It’s all you need.

Lastly, make sure all details are correct, especially AM or PM! If anything is wrong, no worries, remember that changes are free within 24 hours.

Bon voyage!



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