It has been said that January is a great time of the year to book travel and flights, even though this is also the time of year to dream about a getaway. People are tapped out from the holidays and summer trips are too far away from some to consider.
Certainly, when looking out the window, it is easy to dream about an escape! I escaped myself with the kids in the middle of December for a quick getaway to Florida. I spent months trying to figure out the best possible deals and learned a few new things in the process of both my booking and travels.
1.) The Cheapest Flight is not necessarily the best flight for you—Discount airlines are enticing. Get down to Florida and back for something like $150. But some of those flights do not let you get on the plane with much more than the clothes on your back, and you pay extra for both carry-ons and checked luggage. I supposed if you are jet-setting for a night or two that might be OK, but when you are going down with kids (even for a few days as I did), this isn’t going to work. It is also worth noting that the cheapest flights are often at 5:30 in the morning. For a “night owl” like me, that might as well be a “red-eye” flight. Perhaps it is OK for the solo traveler who can take a nap on arrival—but that’s not me.
2.) The Cheap Booking sites have a catch—The value sites like Orbitz and Priceline offer good deals—this is true. However, their prices are pretty much the same as the lowest level value flights on the major airlines they partner with. And on the lowest level value flights, you can’t bring on much more than a shopping bag worth of items. If you have a bigger carry-on, you are out of luck or are going to have to pay more, negating the savings. Furthermore, many airlines have their first upgrade over “bare bones” at just $10 a ticket more.
3.) Direct or Not Direct—Nothing beats a Direct Flight. One up, one down, and you’re there. However, there is often a much higher price for these flights, especially when traveling out of smaller airports such as Bradley or White Plains. This is another instance where you must weigh the pros and cons. In December, I took a direct flight down, but a different airline with a layover on the way back. My kids are not babies anymore, so they were able to tolerate the run through a second airport and may have enjoyed the adventure. If you book a flight with a layover, be especially sure to leave enough time between flights. I got to see some panicked people on my recent flight and it was only delayed an hour.
4.) Review and Learn from Experience—Years ago, I booked a business trip to New Orleans and didn’t look closely enough to see that the flight was stopping in Orlando first. What I thought was a Direct Flight was not. When you are changing flights, you might find yourself on a much smaller plane for part of the journey, as I did on the last leg of my return trip. If you are not a fan of no-frills “puddle jumper” planes where you must check everything but the smallest of items, then you might prefer a Direct flight even at the extra cost.
5.) TSA Pre-Check—If time and money are interchangeable, I can’t stress enough how valuable this service is. It is $80 for 3 years, but in terms of saving on time, hassle and peace of mind, I think it was worth it even after just one trip, especially since my kids are both under 13. No shoes off, no lines and no discombobulation.