5 Flight-Booking Tips For The Solo-Travel Newbie
Howdy ho, hopeful travelers.
So my dad's a senior pilot for American Eagle. "Sweet perks!" you might say. The second thing you'll probably say is "so can your dad get me a discount?"
While the perks are sweet (but limited to family, sorry!), the "discounts" aren't really discounts. Rather, I've always flown by stand-by tickets, which is this fun gambling game where basically you show up at the airport and if there's extra room on the plane you can board, and if the plane's full then better luck on the next flight! But they're dirt cheap so it's a pretty good trade-off if you're flexible.
I've only ever flown non-standby maybe once in memory. On the whole, I've never booked a plane ticket the "normal" way. But when I decided that this was the year I was going to New Zealand, destination of my dreams, I knew two things:
One: I going to fly on Air New Zealand instead of American Airlines because a) I'm a huge nerd for any airline that paints hobbits on planes as part of their marketing strategy and b) AA doesn't go to New Zealand anyway
And, two: I literally had no idea where to start in regards to actually obtaining a plane ticket like a normal adult human being.
SO! For all the other 1st-time solo travelers out there (assuming you're all cash-strapped twenty-somethings like me) I thought I'd compile some tips for booking your flight without going broke.
1. Book Early.
They (i.e. other more experienced travel writers) will tell you different "prime times for booking your flight. Some say 3 months before your travel date, some recommend 6 months if flying internationally. But one thing is certain, if you wait until the last minute to book a flight, you will pay higher fares, you'll have less flight options, and you'll likely get stuck with sucky seats. Booking early never hurt anyone, and often this is when airlines will offer much lower rates. Nab that window seat while you can!
2. Know your destination.
I don't mean; "know where you want to go", because that's obvious. But you need to really know about your place. Knowing when your destination's peak travel seasons are can make a big difference on your trip planning and your wallet if you're smart about it. For example, I knew that New Zealand's peak travel season is December through February, and that travel to the South Island is more impacted in July and August. This is because the seasons are flip-flopped in the southern hemisphere (meaning that Christmas is a summery celebration with a beachside BBQ while August means cold winter rains and snow capped mountains on the South). Aiming to travel in the off-season will mean lower airfare rates, cheaper hotel accommodations, and less tourists and vacationers.
3. Get social.
Follow airlines on social media sites. That's usually the first place they'll post special deals and savings. Thanks to a little Twitter notification, I was able to book my inbound flight to New Zealand for about $480 bucks. Sweet deal. Plus airlines like to share lovely photos, travel tips, and more, and oftentimes are quick to answer questions or help you navigate their complex websites. Also, thanks to @FlyAirNZ's Twitter, I found out about this:
Hobbiton NIGHT tours. Under the stars with little lanterns and everything. Yup, I'm gonna go in the day AND at night. I might just spend my entire NZ budget on tickets to Hobbiton. Stay tuned.
4. Get creative.
Now this may or may not work depending on where you're going, but sometimes breaking up the flight into smaller chunks (and even different airlines) might be a clever move if you're really looking to save cash. For example, Say you're going from LA to NYC. You could just book a non-stop flight and go straight there. But you may find that flying to an intermediate point and hopping onto another plane for the remainder of the journey may actually be more cost effective. Layovers can be a little more of a hassle, but worthwhile if it helps you save a little cash. Again, do your research; it may turn out that a hassle-free nonstop flight is the best bet after all! For me, flying from LA to Honolulu and then on to New Zealand shaved a good chunk off my airfare fees.
5. Be brave!
There it was. The perfect sale. The sale was for Air NZ flights from Honolulu (the city I wanted to fly from) to New Zealand (omg), for exactly the timeframe I wanted to travel in (November, the end of NZ's off-season and probably the reason they were having a sale). I even had my parents' approval and had meticulously considered all my options. All I had to do was click that big turquoise button that said "book flight". I'd been waiting for this moment since I was like, 12. It was all perfect.
But there was this inexplicable terror and last-minute rationalizing. ('Are you sure November is when you want to go?' 'What if something happens and you have to refund the ticket? What if for some insane crazy reason you decide you don't want to go to New Zealand?') Really? In retrospect, what the heck was wrong with me?
Shut up, Self. You're being ridiculous.
I clicked the button.
Whenever you are about to do something big, something as big as chasing down your lifelong dream of hopping on a flight to a faraway place, I think it's perfectly natural to be faced with a ton of doubts. But I also think that if you listen, you'll find they're not actually legitimate. It's all the inhibitions, all the naysayers, and all the skeptics rearing their heads one last time before you take the plunge. And once you jump, the next time probably won't be quite as scary.
As my good friend Linda said, "DO IT!!!!!! You will NOT regret it. It will be totally AMAZING!!!!!"