Reading: How to Book a Flight – NerdWallet
The best ways to book flights
The best way to reserve a flight comes down to four essentials : Using the right flight booking tools, a willingness to compare fares, clearness about your options ( including fare class ) and the ability to gut-check the proportional rate of an award flight.
Use the right flight booking tools
For the most contribution, you ’ ll want to use an on-line flight search joyride like Google Flights, Kayak or Skyscanner. We prefer Google Flights for its mix of simplicity and power, so we ’ ll function it for examples throughout this article. There are only two situations where you should search for flights through the airline web site directly, rather than through a search tool :
- When flying on Southwest Airlines : Southwest is the exception to most airline rules, and it is the only major aircraft carrier that does not include its fares in third-party search results. If you ’ rhenium considering flying with Southwest, it ’ sulfur normally wise to search on both its web site and a search tool to compare its fares to the competition .
- When booking award travel : Award travel is generally entirely searchable through the airline web site. See “ Book with points and miles if it ’ s a good deal ” below for more details on booking cheap airfare this room .
Most flight research tools work in a like direction. You ’ ll record your departing location, arriving location, dates and other preferences, then see a list of results from respective airlines . frequently, several airlines will compete on the lapp route and offer the claim same price. This is where the actual research for the best escape deals begins.
Dive deep to compare fares
Imagine denounce for milk at a supermarket and seeing respective brands offering the lapp total of milk for the claim same price. You might think it doesn ’ metric ton matter which brand you choose — and in that font, you might be right. Shopping for airfare presents a similar riddle, but the stakes are much higher and the solution international relations and security network ’ t so clear. Why ? Airlines differ significantly in how they charge fees and which services are included in this price. For exercise, let ’ s consider the Google Flights results for a flight from Seattle to Denver . It would seem that Frontier Airlines offers the cheapest fare, at $ 71 round trip, while Alaska and United offer the lapp price at $ 97. This is only a fraction of the wholly floor. Frontier is a budget airline that heaps fees on top of this base fare. Alaska and United are both full-service airlines that carry fewer fees, but United charges for a carry-on bag at this price while Alaska does not. This all sounds confusing, and it is meant to be. Imagine trying to pay for a gallon of milk, only to learn that you have incurred a bevy of bantam fees totaling more than the “ foundation ” cost. Airlines want you to feel overwhelm and buy the first ticket you see. here are two shortcuts for cutting through this complexity.
Look at airline fees and ratings
We have compiled some cheat sheets for comparing domestic airline fees. We break these into two categories : You can besides check our airline rewards program rankings, which give an overview of the value of miles, points and other perks. Every stumble is different, and it ’ s impossible to know which airline offers the lowest overall fare and best have without specifying your preferences. For example, if you don ’ metric ton plan to check a bag, you won ’ t care which airline has the highest pocket fees. And if you don ’ thyroxine fly much, you might not care about the value of points and miles. That ’ south why, in the end, you have to do some hardheaded, specific comparison.
Determine the final cost before booking
Airlines want to lure you in with depleted fares, then lento add on fees throughout the check work. They hope that, by the end, you ’ ll merely accept the final examination monetary value without comparing it to other airlines. It ’ s a pain, but the only way to beat them at this game is to do the legwork of comparing final costs.
Understand basic economy vs. regular economy
Full-service airlines such as american english and Delta offer two general classes of economy tickets :
- basic economy .
- Main cabin ( or regular economy ) .
The price displayed on search engines like Google Flights is normally for a basic economy ticket. When clicking through to book the ticket, many airlines ’ websites will try to sell you on the advantages of switching your tag to the independent cabin ( for a fee ) . Delta is specially slippery on its web site, making its “ travel to main cabin ” push button look like the default option while minimizing the prominence of its basic economy choice.
When to choose one over the other
The differences between Delta ’ s main cabin and basic economy tickets are true for most airlines. here ’ s how they ( broadly ) disagree :
|basic economy||Main cabin|
|Seat survival||not allowed, or for a higher tip .||Allowed, sometimes for a fee .|
|Changes and cancellations||normally not allowed .||Allowed, much without a fee .|
|Points and miles||not earned, or earned at a lower rate .||Earned at the common rate .|
|Elite status benefits||normally not included .||Included .|
|Bags||Carry-ons normally included. Checked bags not included.||Carry-ons included. Checked bags not included .|
In general, you should stick with lower-priced basic economy tickets merely when :
- You don ’ thymine mind the possibility of a middle seat or getting separated from your travel partners .
- Your plans are tauten and you don ’ thymine expect to change them .
- You ’ re not a patronize fly who cares about points, miles and elite status benefits .
differently, you should choose a main cabin fare if your budget accommodates it.
Book with points and miles if it’s a good deal
If you ’ re sitting on a hoard of airline miles or credit card points, you might be wondering whether it makes common sense to use them rather of paying cash for a particular flight. Although there are no hard and fast rules for when it makes feel to book award flights, a little comparison denounce can make the answer clear on your quest to find bum flights. by and large speaking, consider booking an award flight when :
- You have adequate miles ( at least 20,000 miles for a shortstop round-trip trajectory ) .
- cash prices are high gear .
- You don ’ t want a basic economy fare, as most award flights are in the independent cabin .
Airline miles don ’ t have hard dollar values, but they do have ballpark values that can help you determine whether a given redemption is worth it. You can do the mathematics yourself, multiplying the number of the miles needed to bible a given travel plan by the value. Or, you can use a points calculator like this one : If the values are close, stray on the slope of using your miles. Unlike cash, miles can expire or on the spur of the moment deprecate. cipher ever stresses about having excessively much cash in their bank account the same way they might worry about hoarding excessively many points.
A closer look at the best way to buy flight tickets
Let ’ s take it step by tone for that flight from Seattle to Denver . Let ’ s compare the first two results, starting with Frontier. Different flight search tools let you check out in different ways, but Google Flights normally sends you to the airline web site to record. One benefit of this access is that it normally opens a new tab, letting you easily compare the final prices at the end. After clicking through, Frontier ’ s web site shows your round-trip “ total ” as $ 70.80 . But don ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate permit that “ total ” jester you. We ’ re distillery far from seeing the final price. offensively, most airlines will require you to enter your full contact information before choosing the details of your flight, such as selecting seats. This is part of the feat to drag you down the checkout flow far enough that you don ’ t backtrack to compare other options. There ’ sulfur no getting round this footstep for each flight you want to compare. After entering our data, Frontier jumps right into upselling, offering respective bundles for an increase fee . These bundles are much a “ good hand, ” but alone if you use all of the benefits they offer. For example, if you check a bag, but don ’ t need a flexible ticket, then getting a bundle that includes tractability ( normally ) won ’ triiodothyronine be worth it. When in doubt, choose something like Frontier ’ s “ customize it ” option to pick add-ons one at a time. That ’ s what we ’ ll do here. adjacent, seat choice. This is a all-important measure, normally presented with a layout of the plane, possibly with price tags attached to each seat . You about never have to select a seat. In fact, the most budget-friendly choice is to skip seat choice. You might get stuck with a middle seat, but that ’ s normally better than the huge markup airlines charge for selecting your seat ahead of time. You might besides be asked to make other decisions, such as choosing in promote how many bags you will bring. For most low-cost airlines, paying ahead for bags offers the best rates. For full-service airlines, you can pay for them at any clock. In this case, we ’ ll blue-ribbon one carry-on udder and one checked base . You might be asked to add on other features as well, such as “ stumble security ” and tied rental cars. In general, it ’ sulfur best to skip these add-ons, even if they seem like a thoroughly deal. Remember, you ’ re trying to compare different airfares, not plan your integral vacation. At the identical end, before you enter your credit menu information, you should see a real number “ final monetary value ” for this travel guidebook, which includes everything you selected . Stop here and either keep this pill open or jot down the price, airline and the selections you made ( for example, “ one checked bag and one carry-on ” ). now do the lapp for the other airline. When selecting the equivalent travel guidebook on Alaska, Google Flights presents a match more options before kicking us to the Alaska web site . See “ Understand basic economy vs. even economy ” below for more information on this decision. Since we are comparing to a budget airline in this case, we ’ ll choose “ Saver ” ( the lapp thing as basic economy ). once again, enter your contact information, decamp seat selection and choose any other add-ons you need. Make certain to keep your selections as alike to your early engagement as possible to ensure you are comparing apples to apples. finally, you ’ ll get a veridical “ full ” before entering your credit tease information . It looks like the total for Frontier is $ 226.80 and the sum for Alaska is $ 96.80 — a huge remainder. however, since Alaska did not include crack bags in its check flow ( while Frontier did ), we have to add that price manually to the total ourselves. Searching for Alaska ’ s checked bag policy shows that it charges $ 35 each way for check bags, so $ 70 for our round-trip do. Adding that to our “ full ” yields $ 166.80 for Alaska, compared to $ 226.80 for Frontier. That is, Alaska is still much cheaper overall, even though the gummed label monetary value shown in Google was lower for Frontier. oklahoma : deep breath. That was a lot. If this process seems burdensome, that ’ randomness because it is. We have done our best effort to “ simplify ” the tax of comparing costs between two airlines. even indeed, the tactics the industry uses to add on extra fees and make it difficult to compare them means we all have to do a fairly sum of legwork to arrive at the real price of any given flight.
Finding bum airline tickets isn ’ thymine easily. Whatever you read about “ travel hacks ” and other ways to bring the cost of airfare means down, for most folks, the best way to get the best price is with a bite of perseverance and mathematics. When shopping for cheap airfare, remember :
- Use a escape search instrument like Google Flights .
- Compare the final prices before entering your credit rating card, not the initial prices displayed in the search tool .
- Choose basic economy only when your plans are set, you ’ re traveling alone and you ’ re not fussed about your seat assignment .
- Consider using points and miles when cash fares are high, but make surely to compare the value of each option before booking.
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