Choosing and Booking Flights
There are three factors to choosing and booking flights. You can pick any TWO.
- Preferred airlines (which may be Points partners)
- Shortest transit time
- Lowest Cost
If you don’t care how long it takes to get there, you can find some amazing deals. And the deals get even better as your preferred airline list gets broader.
If you are planning on using points to either buy a reward seat or to upgrade your cabin class then you may need to flexible about what day and time you travel.
If you just want the shortest total travel time with the best connections your choices will be much more limited.
A word of caution. The more flights you take to get to your destination, the greater the chances of lost luggage.
Selecting the airline(s)
Step 1 is to become familiar with where each of your preferred airlines fly to from their home port or hub. Even though you see the same airlines all over the world, they are usually only flying to and from their home port. Getting from Australia to Europe will be via either Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Singapore (Singapore Air), Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific), Dubai (Qantas, Emirates) or Abu Dhabi (Virgin). Going to America it will be a single long flight to Los Angeles or Dallas Fort Worth.
Because we often use points for flights or upgrades I tend to start with a list of the airlines that I can use points with and research where they fly directly to. When researching flights to Amsterdam, we found that Singapore Airlines fly directly to a number of European cities but they offer A380 flights (which we love) from Singapore to Zurich and Frankfurt.
When choosing and booking flights of shorter distance (once you are in the general area) you may need a local airline. For example, you are landing in London and want to get to Copenhagen. Go to Google and search for “Flights from London to Copenhagen”. Right there in the answers you’ll find a great list of airlines and flights that offer the flight you need!
Working out the timing
When choosing and booking flights, keep in mind your departure and arrival times. Travel agents will book you on the cheapest or easiest flight. But when you book yourself you MAY have some options. A 8:00 am flight may sound ok but it means getting up at a very uncivilised 4am! You have to get to the airport and check in is 2-3 hours before departure. Landing at your destination at 7am may sound like you have a whole day ahead of you. But if you have just travelled 28 hours from Australia to Europe, there is a good chance that what you really want to do is get to your hotel room for a shower and fresh clothes – but your room won’t be available until after lunch.
Another important consideration to choosing and booking flights is the connection time. If your connecting flight is with the same airline (and you can check your bags all the way to your ultimate destination) then a 90 minute connection is quite doable although two hours gives a bit more tolerance for late arrival. However, if you have to collect your bags and change airlines then you need a LOT longer. Remember that you will need to get through immigration and customs, check in to the second airline and then fight your way through security.
If you are changing airlines at Heathrow you probably have to catch a train to a different terminal. Three to four hours is good for a busy airport. We have done it in two hours but that was using every queue-jumping advantage that flying business class offers. Let’s face it… if you are a 50 something traveller do you really want to do “run like hell with your suitcase”?
Make the Booking
Once you have your flights worked out, you can book them directly with the Airline. You don’t need to go via a travel agent or a travel agent website. By booking direct, you can make changes and check all details online 24×7. As soon as you use an agent (whether online or in person), you are stuck with always having to go back through the agent to make changes or enquiries. We have been on a cruise that had a delayed arrival. We watched hundreds of passengers trying desperately to make phone calls (from sea) to travel agents on a weekend to get flights changed while others just calmly went online and made the change themselves.
I have never found an instance of a travel agent securing a cheaper fare that couldn’t be booked online. In fact quite the contrary. Not just because airlines like dealing direct but because of the information they offer. When you book direct you can see on the website the fares for each day or flight. You can literally save thousands by flying a day earlier or at a different time. Also, some services, such as flight delay or change communications aren’t always available if there is an agent in the middle.
In summary, choosing and booking flights is not at all difficult. And if you do it yourself you may well save a great deal of money. Online flight booking sites can sometimes be useful for research but we always prefer to book directly with the airline.