The art of flight booking – Part #2 – Some practical advice

flight booking 2

Over the last 10 years the main (if not sole) means of booking my personal (and sometimes business) travel has been through my own powers. Especially for my personal travel, I have never (with an exception of one or two occasions) been to a travel agent to enquire in detail about a destination and I have never travelled on a trip organised by a travel agent.

Of course I have nothing personal with travel agents…and let me get this clear. Many of those humble people try to make ends meet and they just try to make a living out of travel. They do their job.

I do, though, believe that the job of a travel agent is a job in decline, at least for a certain type of people. And what I don’t understand is how in today’s world that the amount of information that we are being bombarded with – or that is just available out there- is enough to book a round-our-solar-system trip, PC/internet-literate people of an age of 20-40 still refuse/refrain from using the internet (and its tools) to book a flight (or a hotel) and still go through travel agents.

Is it so difficult to just log in an internet site, fix the dates and book a flight?

You see, my experience so far tells me that it is not so much the complexity, but rather that people usually are too lazy to “embark” on the “tedious”, “tiring”, “difficult” and “with questionable outcomes” process of internet searching and booking.

And I don’t think that the argument that one can book cheap flights through agents still holds because the offers that are available in the internet can outperform agents’ offers. Over the years and in a number of occasions I have actually proven that booking flights with agents does not necessarily mean that you book the cheapest ticket. (I will have to talk sometime in more details about the whole issue of travel agents so I will stop here).

So, as I usually get the question of how do I manage to execute the whole process of booking cheap flight tickets through the internet, I will note down my simple and humble advice on flight booking.

  • Step 1. Hop on one online booking site (as sophisticated as those “travel metasearch engines”), add origin, destination, specific or indicative travel dates and see what internet site has to say. Let it talk.
    • Target? Establish a good baseline understanding on the general trip attributes a/ routes, b/airlines that fly c/timetables d/prices, … anything else of interest to you like air miles.
    • Tip. Don’t spend too much time at this point. You need to establish a rough idea.
  • Step 2. Hope on multiple other similar sites, add flexibility of +/-X days or change significantly the dates e.g. two months later or earlier and note down the changes and analyse them.
    • Target? Establish a firm understanding on the general rules of this trip and see how the above “attributes” fluctuate. Have the prices soared to the skies or fallen to sub-zero/no-frill levels? Do different airlines/routes exist if you tweak the dates?
    • Tip. Don’t tweak too much/too many parameters. You will find yourself trying to untie the Gordian Knot (without a sword!). Still, spend some reasonable time on this step, but not too much as you only need to establish general trends.
  • Step 3.1. (For routes operated by the same airline e.g. AirFrance for Madrid-Paris-London route) Hop on the airlines sites, (including low-cost carriers), make systematic searches and check prices (compare with those found in Step 1 & 2) or other attributes. Some airlines do offer very sophisticated search tools. Conclude your thorough search and you are ready to book your ticket.
    • Target. See what airline websites offer. You might get lucky as a number of times the other sites don’t show all information available from airlines. Then book your ticket.
    • Tip. Perform smart searches. Try to exclude early enough “expensive” airlines.
  • Step 3.2. (For routes operated by different airlines e.g. Porto-Goteborg ) Make combined, detailed searches in airline and other sites (effectively reiterate Step 2 and 3.1 much more thoroughly), for different hops. You might need to work in parallel in two or more web sites to compare values. Conclude your thorough search and you are ready to book your ticket.
    • Target. Find the optimum route in terms of attributes e.g. time, prices, number of hops etc. Then book your ticket.
    • Tip. Have ample time, don’t expect to finish in half an hour, don’t make hasty decisions or searches and have a systematic approach. This step takes time.

Bear in mind.

  • Use legitimate sites. Check all “bells and whistles”. Make sure what they say, they rally offer
  • Build up your experience. Practice makes perfect. The more times you run the steps, the easier it gets
  • Find tricks, based also on your personal preferences, to make those searches fast and efficient.

Remember. Booking a flight is not difficult. Booking a cheap flight is an art.

For more suggestions, questions (and answers) drop me a line.

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