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booking a flight

10 Rookie Mistakes People Make When Booking a Flight

You’d think that as long as you had money to spend, a destination in mind, and a decent Internet connection, booking a flight would be a piece of cake. Instead, often the opposite is true.

I see you over there banging your head on the computer keys, struggling to make sure you’ve searched every option and weighed every possibility only to discover—the moment after you hit purchase—a significantly lower fare.

I see you and I’ve been you. The good news is that, while mistakes happen, there are things you can do to make sure that it’s the exception and not the rule. These tips will help:

Booking a Flight to the Wrong Place

The Mistake: Flying to the wrong city.

How to Avoid It:  Check and then double-check.

I’ve done this one: Sat smugly awaiting a flight to Orange County (SNA) airport only to discover hours before leaving that I’d somehow booked to San Diego (SAN).  I blame the crazy people who set up the airport code system, but the blame game won’t help you if you make a similar mistake. Instead, skip your gut check and do a real check to make sure that the code on your ticket is actually the place you want to go. Tip: Want to go to Florence Italy? You want (FLR)—not (FLO), which is Florence, SC. And HON is Huron, South Dakota, not Honolulu (HNL).

Trying to Book Your Own Ultra-Complicated Flights

Mistake: Booking complicated flights yourself.

How to Avoid It: Consider a travel agent.

Just because you have the Internet doesn’t mean you always have to use it. If you’re losing patience trying to find a flight, there’s no harm in reaching out to a travel agent to see if their help might be worth your money. I did an around-the-world trip and relied heavily on an around-the-world flight specialist back home to help me find the best fares as I went…without the headache of trying to figure out each leg, or wondering when and where I’d need a visa for entry.

Not Clearing Your Cookies

Mistake: Pulling all-night search-a-thons for the fare you can’t actually buy.

How to Avoid It: Clear your cookies, switch browsers, or buy it when you see it

The jury is mixed on whether the tracking cookies that search engines leave on the sites you visit are smart enough to raise the price on you if you leave a booking site and come back later. Still, there are those who swear by it.

Why take the risk? Clear the cookies on your device before every new search (or switch browsers). Even better: Know what you want to pay and stop looking when you get close enough. Sure there’s a chance there’s a better deal out there, but there’s also a chance you’ll lose the deal (whether to evil cookies or just another consumer) if you wait.

Missing Out on Third-Party Perks

Mistake: Thinking the only thing a travel agent does is book flights.

How to Avoid It:  Consult a travel agent for additional perks.

I know you know how to search for airfares online, but often travel agents can offer than just a cheap flight. Upgrades at your hotel, a rental car at no extra charge, or simply peace of mind if something goes wrong and you need a quick re-route. Loyalty pays: If you’ve got an agent you love, and who loves you, you’ll quickly see the perks pile up.

Depending on a Single Flight Search

Mistake: Relying on one search engine exclusively.

How to Avoid It: Spread the wealth.

There are some great search engines out there that allow you to compare flight prices on multiple sites at once. But relying on any one of them would be a mistake. Instead, check out the fares at a few different sites. Some to try: TripAdvisor, Google Flights, Skyscanner, Kayak, and Hopper. And don’t forget to compare the fares you find with those offered directly from the airline.

Forgetting to Find Out the Real Price

Mistake: Comparing fares that really aren’t comparable.

How to Avoid It: Factor in taxes, fees, and extra costs.

That $50 return fare you’re drooling over might very well be a $500 ticket. Make sure you check to see if the rates you’re excited about include all taxes and fees. Also consider the other costs (baggage fees, seat choice fees, etc.) you may be facing once you hit purchase. Weigh all of the costs to know if you’re really getting a deal.

Not Getting Creative with Flights

Mistake: Booking round-trip flights all the way to your destination by habit.

How to Avoid It: Check out short-hop one-way options as well.

You’re going there and back so of course you’ll book a round-trip ticket, right? Wrong. Sometimes booking your major flight as a return and then adding smaller, short-haul flights on a play-it-by-ear basis can save you big bucks. Want to fly to Nice? Why don’t you find a great deal to Paris and consider a smaller commuter flight on a local carrier like Easy jet out to Nice? Sometimes the best deals are found when you are actually on the continent you’re looking to explore.  This option isn’t the easiest way to travel (it will mean looking hard at the fare rules and limitations, and leaving yourself plenty of connection time) but it can net some big savings.

Not Booking Enough Time Between Connections

Mistake: Assuming a plane will wait for you.

How to Avoid It: Plan for the worst.

Generally speaking, if you’ve booked your connecting ticket on the same carrier (for instance, one Delta flight to another Delta flight) the airline is aware of any flight delays and will usually act swiftly to help you connect to your flight (or rebook you ASAP). But if you’ve booked individual connecting flights, you’re on your own. Give yourself a fighting chance by leaving enough time between flights to allow you to make the connection, even with delays. (Different airports have different rules about how far in advance you need to be at the gate.) As soon as you realize you’re not going to make it, reach out to your connecting airline by phone, email, or social media so it can get started on the rebooking process.

Cheaping Out

Mistake: Booking a flight that’ll make you wish you’d paid a bit more.

How to Avoid It: Know yourself, and book accordingly.

Before you even open your laptop, consider what you want out of the flight you’re looking for. The super cheap red-eye flight or early morning option may come with a tempting price tag, but will it seem as attractive when you arrive in a destination exhausted, or so early that you won’t be able to get into your hotel room for eight hours? Choose carefully.

Paying Full Price

Mistake: Paying full fare when everyone else scored a deal.

How to Avoid It: Stay socially connected.

Technology is a traveler’s friend when it comes to scoring really great deals. You may not be at your desk checking websites constantly for deals, but someone is, and you want to know them.  Savvy travelers are finding deals and sharing the wealth. Social media groups like Nomadness Travel Tribe and SecretFlying often post incredible deals on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for their newsletters and get to know the group members for additional tips and tricks.

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Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and a National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on is a TripAdvisor Media Group property.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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