Booking a flight is a fantastic feeling - but it’s easy to get carried away with the excitement of planning your next big trip and forget to check the fine print. And if you just hit ‘I have read the terms and conditions’ without checking a few important details, you might end up with that perfect vacation ruined before it’s even begun. Missing connections, missing the flight entirely, losing that coveted window seat, losing any seat and being stuck at the airport for hours waiting for the next one, having to ditch some baggage or realizing that the incredible deal advertised is actually going to cost twice as much… sadly, these are all too common, especially for people searching out the cheapest flights (at any cost).
Of course, most of the time any issues can be dealt with using just a little imagination and a positive attitude at the airport, but it’s a whole lot easier (not to mention more enjoyable) to make sure that issues are avoided in the first place. Sail on through the airport with ease, and then all that you have to think about is what you are going to do (and see, and eat, and drink) as soon as you land.
15 The Advertised Price vs The Price You Pay
Looking at a price for a flight that seems too good to be true? Chances are it might be, and that advertised price doesn’t include all kinds of important charges that you will be slapped with as soon as you hit ‘book’.
Any flight you book will have to include the base ticket price (usually that super-low advertised one), taxes, airport fees, issuing fees and fuel surcharges, so make sure that they are included in the given cost.
You should also double check that you aren’t being charged for any ‘optional extras’ that you don’t want, like seat selection and optional insurance.
14 Checked Baggage Costs
This one isn’t important if you are only planning to travel with a carry-on bag, but if you need to check baggage, have a look at the fees before you hit ‘book’. Depending on the length of your flight and the airline, you may be able to check one bag for free, or you may have to pay for each one. Check the weight limits and dimensions allowed, too - sometimes an overweight bag means an extra charge at the airport, but occasionally it might just be refused outright, leaving you to buy a smaller bag at the airport and try to cram everything in.
13 Carry On Baggage Limits
Even if you think that you are going to outsmart those baggage fees by taking a carry-on bag only, it’s still a good idea to check the limits of the specific airline you’ll be flying with. It’s fairly standard to allow passengers to bring one carry-on bag and one purse, laptop bag or suit bag with them, but especially with some of the cheaper airlines this might be significantly less. Again, check dimensions, too - and
just because you have used one bag as a carry-on in the past, it doesn’t mean it will fit again in future,
as different aircrafts have different sized overhead bins.
12 Food Services And Costs
Unless you are on a short hop of a flight, there’s a chance you’ll get hungry when up in the air - so it’s a good idea to figure out what kind of food services are available on board. Most airlines offer complimentary soft drinks, but few offer free meals or snacks (beyond that little bag of pretzels) these days. Despite a persistent rumor that flights over a certain duration are required to offer a complimentary hot meal, it’s entirely up to the airline - so while most long-distance flights do include a meal, double check before you fly hungry.
11 Missed Connection Policy
In a perfect world, all flights would be direct - but between cheap fares and existing routes, that’s not always the case, and sometimes flight delays mean missing a connection and being stranded in the middle ground.
Airlines do not necessarily have to put you on the next flight for free, though, especially if the journey is split between different carriers.
Double check the policy on missed connections, including whether or not you will be put up in a hotel and/or given meal vouchers should you miss a connection and have to wait overnight for the next departure.
10 Layover Times
If you are booking a flight with multiple legs, have a look at the layovers - and make sure that they are achievable (or that the airline has a solid policy on a missed connection). If it’s shorter than two hours, have a look at the actual airport as well - a thirty minute connection in a tiny airport is doable, but often impossible in huge airports or when going between terminals. Make sure that any checked bags can be checked through by the airline, as well, or leave extra time to pick up and re-check baggage on the next flight.
9 Visas And Overnight Layovers
Overnight layovers are never fun (no one likes to sleep in the terminal) - but if you are planning to get some shut-eye on an airport bench, double check that the airport is open 24hrs. Many airports close at night, and if you are dealing with an overnight layover there, that means paying for a hotel to sleep in (and remembering to book it in advance, along with transport to it if it’s not an airport hotel). It also means making sure that you have whatever you need to enter the country the layover is in, including entry visas.
8 Seating Options
For some people, seat choice doesn’t really matter, but if you are the kind of person who wants to look out the window, who needs the freedom of the aisle seat, or who wants the extra legroom of the emergency exit row, double check that you can choose a seat. Some airlines charge extra for this service, but even if you are willing to pay the fee, read the fine print; it’s possible that these fees are just to choose a ‘preferred’ seat, and that the airline can still move you if it chooses.
7 Seating Guarantees
Even if you don’t mind which seat you are assigned, it’s wise to double check if you are guaranteed a seat at all.
Many airlines overbook flights, which may mean that cheaper fares are the first to be bumped.
In some cases, this isn’t a big deal, but if timing is vitally important (for connecting flights or important meetings), make sure you are guaranteed a seat. It’s also a good idea to check what kind of compensation will be offered should a passenger get bumped. Some airlines offer hotel stays, food vouchers and even flight vouchers or cash, but others offer nothing but a seat on a later flight.
6 Confirm The Airport
It seems obvious to ensure that you are flying out of (and into) the correct airports, but this is something that can take travelers by surprise, especially on budget flight websites. Some cities have multiple airports, with one or two centrally located, and another on the outskirts - and that might mean extra costs to get into the city or a missed flight connection (even with a layover of several hours). Booking return flights, make sure that the arrival airport and departure airport are the same, or that you are aware of any changes before the day of the flight.
5 Ground Transit Options
Another good reason to double check the airports is to be aware of the ground transportation options. Most airports are designed to help a traveler get from their flight to the center of the nearest city, but the smaller or further flung the airport, the more limited the options. Getting a great deal on a flight isn’t so great if the transport is limited to taxis after ten pm, the flight gets in at eleven, and the airport is a fifty dollar ride away from the hotel. Double check the transport and the times that it runs to avoid a costly surprise on arrival.
4 Direct vs Non-stop Flights
It’s usually clear if a flight has connections and layovers, but even savvy travelers can get mixed up when it comes to the difference between a direct flight and a non-stop one. A non-stop flight means that the plane will travel straight from the departure airport to the destination, while a direct flight means that the plane may stop elsewhere (usually for refueling). That means that direct flights can take longer, and if there are issues on the ground, it can lead to missed connections and late arrival times - and usually a lower cost, which is why they are more popular than non-stop.
3 Refund Policy
No-one wants to worry about having to cancel a flight, but it happens sometimes - so it’s a good idea to know what the refund policy is to avoid losing the entire ticket price. There’s often an option (at an extra cost, of course) to make sure that the flight is fully refundable, but even without that, flights booked in the US are legally required to give a refund if canceled in under 24hrs. Other airlines may allow partial refunds, or charge a cancellation fee… and that fee can be hefty.
2 Booking Insurance And Cancellation Policies
Even if you don’t cancel your flight, it’s a good idea to check what the airline policy is if there is another reason that the flight is canceled (or even severely delayed). Depending on the ticket, travelers stranded thanks to bad weather, understaffed flight crews, or mechanical issues could receive anything from compensation to vouchers and rebooking… to absolutely nothing.
Rebooking fees may apply, and if the cancellation is due to bad weather, many airlines do not have to offer any refund on the original ticket,
leaving you paying double for a new flight.
1 Entertainment Options
Finally, think about how you are going to spend your time on the plane itself - and if you are planning on whiling away the travel time with a movie, know if that will set you back a little extra. While some airlines offer free in-flight entertainment, passengers do have to bring their own headphones (or buy them). Others offer paid entertainment in seat-back screens, or paid entertainment that can be accessed by the passenger on their own device. And if a screen is broken? Chances are that you won’t be getting any kind of compensation or a new seat, so bring a book, just in case.