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Before I started travelling full time, choosing a flight was pretty easy: I’d just look for the cheapest!
But, now that I’ve had more flight booking experience than many people have in a lifetime, it’s not so straightforward any more. I’ve learned the tricks of the trade and I know exactly what I want from my air time.
And I guess you could say I’ve just become a little bit fussy…
Whatever your opinion on that, I want to help you enjoy the best flying experience possible, too. Here are 12 flight booking tips, including what I look for when booking flights and how I make that all important decision.
The plane itself plays a bigger role in my travel decisions than I realised. Having travelled on hundreds of planes now, I find myself checking for certain things.
To do this, I usually plug the flight into a site like SeatGuru. It’s not always accurate, but most of of the time it’s pretty spot on!
#1 Type of plane
When I first started travelling, I probably couldn’t have even named a model of plane. Now, though, it’s one of the first things I check about a flight.
There’s so much variation from plane to plane. Although two planes could be the same model but totally different inside – even within the same airline – there are some features I like on certain models.
Since I took my first flight on one, the Boeing 787 has been my first choice plane. Known more commonly as the “Dreamliner”, the 787 is the ONLY plane I can sleep on in economy class. And that’s worth a lot.
The Dreamliner is a pretty special aircraft. Its higher cabin pressure and higher humidity levels help reduce jet lag and the electronic windows also mean your nap won’t be interrupted by someone opening the blind. The 787 is also one of the most fuel-efficient long-haul planes around, too, meaning my carbon footprint isn’t quite so high either.
WiFi + power
It might sound counter-intuitive, but travel days are some of my most productive work days.
There’s nothing like being stuck in the air to get focused on the task in front of you. After all, there’s not much else to do.
The only thing that ever holds me back is power. More and more long-haul planes have international plug sockets as well as USB chargers. If I have a particularly long flight – or back to back flights – I’ll tend to choose the plane with plug sockets over the one without.
When I’m not in the air, I like to stay connected with a portable WiFi device. SkyRoam pocket WiFi gives you unlimited data around the world, so you’ll never be without maps, emails and a way to contact home.
Yes, I know I’m only taking one seat on a plane. But I still care about where everybody else is sitting.
If I’m flying long haul, I prefer planes with a 2-4-2 configuration over a 3-3-3 or 3-4-3 configuration. There’s no real reason for this other than I’ve found they generally feel more spacious and less claustrophobic (for me).
The 2-4-2 set-up also had the added benefit of fewer middle seats – and that means there’s less chance of being in one.
I usually take a seat near the back of the plane and hope for an empty row next to me. A four seater row is long enough to sleep on – and I’ve been able to do so quite a few times!
Of all the things on this list, I expect that airlines are the one that other travellers give most thought to. It was certainly one of the few things I used to care about before travelling full time.
When I check the airline, I have three things on my mind:
When you travel a lot, it pays to stick with one of the three main air alliances: One World, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. I currently collect points for two of the three alliances.
My credit card collects Avios, which add to my British Airways points. Therefore, I’ll travel on One World – the alliance that British Airways belongs to – as much as I can.
I also travel with Star Alliance a lot and have been racking up points on my Turkish Airlines account. I prefer the airlines on Star, and they usually offer more convenient routes that fit my travel plans.
If you have a choice between alliance and non-alliance airlines while booking a flight, it’s always better to go with the alliance airline. It’ll be easier to get a new flight if anything goes wrong and you have a bit more of a quality assurance.
Baggage allowance isn’t my biggest priority because I know I can always pay for more.
It could be a deciding factor in some cases, though, especially on short-haul flights. For example, if one flight comes with a 20kg luggage allowance and another doesn’t, it could be more cost-effective to buy a more expensive flight that includes baggage.
Since I travel full time (and carry a tripod around!) I always need to check a 20kg bag. I can’t pack according to restrictions, so I have to find the allowance that fits what I carry around with me.
Since my camera bag (i.e. my hand luggage bag) weighs around 16kg, I’m more likely to choose a flight with extra hand luggage allowance than one with less. Even though it rarely gets weighed, it takes some of the stress out of travelling. And I avoid flying with Emirates because they charge a huge amount for every extra kilo!
I never really used to care about which airline I flew with, but that’s definitely changed!
Now that I’ve travelled with so many different airlines, I realise how much the customer service can affect my entire experience. And with something as expensive and stressful as travel, it’s not worth the added hassle of flying with a terrible airline.
There are currently only two airlines on my “black list”: Alitalia and Ryanair. Based on the terrible experiences I’ve had with them (which could be an entire blog post in itself!) I won’t use either unless I have no other options.
On the other hand, I’m happy to pay a little more for the airlines that I know offer great service. These include Norwegian, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, JetBlue and KLM. Every time I fly with one of those airlines, I know it’s going to be a good experience – and I’m happy to pay for that.
Sometimes you don’t have a choice when it comes to airports – but a lot of the time you do. Here’s what matters to me when I have a choice of airports to fly from.
Location is easy to overlook, especially when you see a great deal pop up. But, if the airport is further out and you need to spend more time and money to get there, is it really better value for money?
I’d rather pay more for a flight from a more convenient airport. Convenient doesn’t have to mean closer – it could mean the one with a train station right next to it. Not only does it save time, but it’ll probably save money on transport to and from the airport, too.
I’m one of those people who love airports. I just love how they bring the world together in these little pocket-sized worlds. I get a buzz out of people watching and imagining where everybody could be going.
I’ll avoid some airports at all costs, though.
In London, I’d much rather fly from Heathrow than any other airport. It’s less busy, the lounges are great and I know I can refill my water bottle easily. I’m also a big fan of Terminal 5. I’ll avoid Luton at all costs because it’s so chaotic.
Priority Pass has been a complete game changer for me. This subscription-based card gives you access to airport lounges, where you can eat, drink, charge and work before flying. Sometimes you can even get a massage or play games!
Not all airports have lounges available, so I would rather book a flight from an airport with a lounge than one without. Again, I just know it’ll make the whole experience better and I can also get some work done if need be.
While I used to look at price, I’m now all about the value. That might not sound like a difference, but believe me it is. These are the things I consider when it comes to the money side of things.
Even though the price isn’t the only thing I consider, it does matter. That said, it won’t be the ultimate deciding factor any more. All of the above factors come first, but the price has to be reasonable too for me to actually go ahead and book a flight.
I’ve faced my fair share of flight delays, cancellations and other things going wrong. It’s not only annoying, but can end up being pretty costly too.
Some airlines, like Easyjet and Ryanair, are “point to point” airlines. That means that won’t reimburse you if you miss a connecting flight with them because their first flight was delayed. It’s something I learned the hard way and I now won’t book with any of those airlines if I’m taking multiple flights.
Perhaps the most important thing, though, is knowing which flights are eligible for compensation if something goes wrong. Since you can get flight delay compensation in the EU, it makes sense to fly in and out of EU countries where possible.
For example, if you were flying from Bangkok to LA, it would be better to take a flight with a layover in Frankfurt rather than a layover in China. Then, if anything goes wrong, you can claim up to 600 Euros in compensation.
It might cost a little bit more for the EU flight, but think of it like an added insurance. And, if it doesn’t cost more, it’s pretty much a no-brainer.
RELATED READ: The travel insurance I use as a full time traveller.
Food on board
Just as every plane is different, so is the food on board. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s not quite enough and other times there’s no food at all.
Generally speaking, most alliance airlines offer in-flight food – even if it’s just a light snack. This isn’t always the case, though, so it’s best to check before booking.
When flying short-haul, I’m not really fussed about the food on board. I’ll usually grab something at the lounge before boarding, or buy something to take on the plane.
When it’s a long-haul flight, though, I’d much rather know that I’m getting substantial meals on board. Not only does it make it easier and less stressful, but it saves a lot of money.
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