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Sometimes you do a trip so often, you start doing everything the same. Same number of days. Same hotels. Same airlines and flight times. But some of these habits have become bad as air travel has evolved. Here are five mistakes you might be making when booking your flight!
Mistake 1: Avoiding Low-Cost Airlines
Yes, they can be a headache, and yes, you need to know their rules ahead of time, but you shouldn’t just shun low-cost airlines. The fact is that you’ll sometimes see a price difference of 5x – 6x for the same route between low-cost and legacy carriers, depending on when you’re booking.
These airlines are doing so well that the larger carriers are starting to find ways to copy them! Even seasoned travelers will hop on low-cost airlines once in a while (heck, in some areas of the world you’re only going to get low-cost airlines). Review the rest of this post and our post on low-cost airlines, and keep an open mind.
Mistake 2: Booking on airline websites
It is very rare that the far you see on an airline website is going to be the cheapest fare. We always suggest checking Google Flights to see what the best prices look like. That doesn’t mean you should always book the lower-priced fare versus using the airline website. For more on that, see item number 5 below.
Mistake 3: Not knowing the baggage policy
Baggage policies are more important for Disney vacations than for other vacations. Sit around Orlando International Airport for a bit and you'll see those Disney shopping bags everywhere. Seemingly everyone is leaving WDW with much more than they came with. If you don't know the baggage policies going into your trip, you might wind up paying some hefty fees.
Most people probably have a baggage type where they feel like they need to know the policy, but few people pay attention to all three baggage policies. People who pack a lot of things probably need to pay most attention to the checked baggage policy. Do you get one free? Is it more to check at the airport versus prepaying? Is the price even higher at the gate?
Lighter packers tend to pay more attention to the carry-on policy. This is where airlines take a lot of flack from consumers. Most people still fail to realize that low-cost airlines almost always charge for carry-on baggage. You’ll need to know your airline’s policy regarding how much carry-ons cost and whether that cost goes up as you get closer to boarding (e.g. paying when you book, versus when you check in, versus when you board). These pricing schemes are partly a trick to sell lower fares while collecting the same revenue, but you can get around them by knowing the third policy…
The personal item policy! I’m not aware of an airline that charges for carrying a personal item. A personal item is usually defined as “a small backpack or purse,” and comes with a measurement restriction, but by using every inch of that restriction, you can pack a lot into your personal item. If you’ve got kids, even better! They get full-size personal items for their pint-size (albeit often numerous) belongings. Don’t forget though, if your personal item is bigger than the airline’s requirement (and they vary), you’ll be dealing with the carry on policy. My wife and I both use the JanSport Digibreak backpack as our preferred personal item. It got us through ten days in Europe!
Mistake 4: Ignoring the value of loyalty
Okay, so Spirit has the best price for your flight to MCO and Frontier has the best price coming back. Kayak offers you a “hacker” fare you can’t beat anywhere else, and you’ve already reviewed the baggage policies. You could do Frontier both ways, but that would be $7 extra, so take the “hacker” fare, right? Wrong (probably).
Being loyal to an airline has value not only to the airline, but to you as well. No, flying enough miles on Frontier won’t get you free upgrades since they don’t have upgrades to begin with. But if you earn enough miles, you can get free flights. If you split your travel over a variety of carriers based on small price differences, you’ll wind up with thousands of miles spread across airlines—and that’s not good for booking rewards. Sometimes, you’ll want to pay a little more to earn miles where you’ve already got them.
Mistake 5: Ignoring the “little” things
Now you’ve got the basics down. Check out our recent post on some of the little things people often ignore when booking their flights.