It is common in today’s marketplace to purchase everything on the internet – and flights are no exception. Buying online puts the power in the hands of the traveler, with the ability to compare routes, prices and amenities such as free bags, meals and carry-on limits. It also lets you view seating charts, read cancellation policies, and reserve special needs like wheelchairs and boarding assistance. Here are some tips for making the most out of online bookings.
A major benefit of booking your flights online is the opportunity to compare prices and schedules between all airline carriers. The easiest way to start this process is to use independent booking websites such as Expedia, Travelocity or Priceline. These sites allow you to input travel dates and the cities from which you will depart and return. The results that appear show available flights, schedules and prices from all major airlines.
You can add filters to narrow down the results, including how many plane changes you are willing to make along the way, and whether you wish to fly at certain times of the day. The results also show the prices for various levels of service, such as First-Class, Economy and what is now called “Basic Economy.” Remember to always read the restrictions on each fare type; for example, Basic Economy typically requires that you pay for all “extras” such as carry-on bags, checked bags, seat assignments and even in-flight beverages.
Once you get an overview of what is available for your cites and dates of travel, you can then choose to book directly from Expedia or whichever website you are using to compare flights – or you can go directly to the air carrier’s own website and book with them. The exact same flights may cost more – or less – on the airline’s website. One important thing to know is that if you need to make changes on your flights after booking, it is much easier if your original ticket was purchased directly from the airline.
Making the Reservation
When booking online, some airlines allow you to make changes to your flight within 24 hours – but others do not. So make sure that you know exactly what you want before hitting that “purchase” button. You will be required to pay in full with a credit or debit card, and your confirmation will be sent to the email address you provide.
During the booking process, it is wise to choose your seats right away. As the flight departure date gets closer, you may end up with a middle seat or in a separate section of the plane than your traveling companions. Study the seating chart carefully, and look for seats that do not incur an extra charge.
Seats in the Exit aisles, which are roomier, often cost more and can also make you responsible for offering assistance to other passengers in case of emergency. If you have a tight turnaround time for a connecting flight, choose a seat near the front of the plane to ensure sufficient time for de-boarding and getting to the next departure gate.
When booking a flight online, take advantage of all the paperless options. If you routinely travel with a smartphone, download the appropriate app to provide ticket scanning at security checks and at boarding. It’s always a good idea to print out a paper copy as well, in case you lose phone power or connectivity.
Sign up for text messaging and email updates, which can alert you to last-minute gate changes, late flights and weather conditions causing issues in your connecting cities. When you are within 24 hours of your flight departure, take advantage of online check-in, saving yourself long lines at the airport. If you have baggage charges, you can pay them ahead of time as well. Many airlines even charge less for checked baggage when you take care of the fees in advance.
Booking flights online puts you, the passenger, in the metaphorical cockpit. It’s your journey, your time and your money – and the internet gives you the power to choose your own schedule, budget and comfort level. Eliminate the stress of flying by using technology – then relax and enjoy the flight!