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Experts Reveal 11 Common Airfare Booking Mistakes That Prevent You From Finding Cheap Flights

It’s all too easy to make simple flight booking mistakes that push up the price of airfare. To help you find the best cheap flights, we asked travel experts for the most common pitfalls to avoid.

1. Booking too early

Most people know that booking a flight at the last minute is a costly way to travel—by then, the cheapest seats are likely to have gone. But booking too early can cost you dearly, too.  

“Unless you’re planning a trip during known high-demand periods, booking more than 8 weeks before your trip means you risk missing the fare drops which typically come along 4 to 6 weeks before the flight departure,” says Dr Volodymyr Bilotkach, Associate Professor in Aviation Management at Indiana’s Purdue University. “This has to do with how yield management systems work—revenue managers typically start paying attention to the popularity of flights around six weeks before the flight date. Then, if seats are not selling as fast as projected, lower-priced categories are often made available.”

2. Not considering alternative airports

Flying to London and only looking for flights to Heathrow? Make sure you expand your search for flights which fly into London’s other airports, too, including Gatwick—it’s a similar distance from the city. 

Don’t be afraid to consider entirely different cities, either, especially if they’ve got great rail connections. 

“There might well be a more convenient and cheaper flight out of Newark Airport rather than JFK for those who live in the New York area, or even Philadelphia, for example,” says Melissa DaSilva, president of guided vacation company Trafalgar

Being flexible when it comes to airports can be especially useful when it comes to domestic flights. 

“Regional flights allow you to consider much smaller airports,” says DaSilva. For example, in California, Long Beach airport or Orange County (SNA) could be a great alternative to LAX for those living in the L.A. area.”

3. Not going incognito 

Airlines are increasingly relying on tech to track your purchasing habits, which means your repeated searches for that Chicago-to-Paris flight won’t go unnoticed, and once you’ve shown you’re eager to make a purchase, some consumers fear, it could potentially increase the fares you’re shown.  

To avoid these price hikes, open a new incognito or private browser window before searching, or use a VPN (virtual private network) and set it to another country to check airfares that are offered to customers abroad. 

“By using incognito mode, you avoid cookies, which hike up the fares you’ll see,” says frequent flyer Jeremy Clubb, founder of Rainforest Cruises. “Equally, a VPN can be helpful when you’re booking a flight. You can take advantage of the inconsistencies airlines have when pricing their flights in different currencies. If you use your VPN and search as though you’re in another country with a lower cost of living than your own, you may find the prices of your ideal flight are lower.”

4. Booking connecting flights with short layovers

Sprints across crowded airports are never fun, and it’s all too easy to forget about unexpected time-sappers. Will you need to clear customs and transfer baggage between flights, for example? How far away is the terminal for your connecting flight?  

“When accounting for layovers in your itinerary, it’s not just about the duration but also understanding the quirks of the airport,” says Jan Luescher, the CEO of luxury travel social network A Small World. “The sheer size of some airports means you’ll need a lot of extra time. Take Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, where walking between some gates involves covering a distance of 1.45 miles.”

5. Booking cheap flights at the wrong time of year 

Sure, those ridiculously cheap flights to Iceland in November might look incredibly tempting, but it’s worth bearing in mind that at that time of year, you’ll face freezing temperatures and will only have around four hours of daylight a day. 

Don’t become so obsessed with bagging a bargain that you forget about factors that make for a good holiday. 

6. Overlooking early flights

Never discount early morning flights. Yes, you’ll have to drag yourself out of bed, but doing so could save you large amounts of cash.  

“That 6am departure time may be a tough sell at first glance, but early morning flights are less likely to be impacted by delays,” says Zach Honig, editorial director for Chase Travel. “This is because the plane usually arrives at the gate the night before.” 

Early morning flights are also less likely to be delayed due to stormy weather, which in many places tend to develop later in the day.

“These flights often have lower fares,” says Honig.

7. Forgetting about the International Date Line

Another common mistake, especially on long-haul flights, is not considering the time zones you’re flying through. 

“Always double-check the time and date that you are due to take off and the day you arrive,” says Professor Heather J, Gibson from the University of Florida’s Department of Tourism, Hospitality and Event Management. Gibson, who’s also a Fellow of the International Academy for the Study of Tourism, says travellers on flights departing near midnight are more likely to mess up their timings. “I’ve found that it’s the flights departing close to midnight which can cause confusion relating to the day they leave and arrive.”

Also something to consider, according to Gibson: “Many airlines around the world use the 24-hour clock [instead of the 12-hour clock], but if you’re not used to this, it can be confusing.”

8. Underestimating the total cost

It’s not just budget airlines that are imposing increasingly restrictive baggage rules. For example, checked baggage isn’t included in Virgin Atlantic’s Light category, and so a family of four wishing to add checked bags to that ticket type will have to pay a total of around $300 extra.

It’s also worth checking whether you’ll have to pay extra to select your seats. You might balk at the thought of paying $25 to reserve a seat on a New York-to-San Francisco flight, but 6 hours seated next to the airplane’s toilet could make you regret your inaction. Depending on your needs, it’s often likely that you’ll ultimately spend less by opting for a ticket that comes with more added extras. 

9. Inputting your details incorrectly

Sure, your friends, mother, and co-workers might refer to you as John, but is your actual name Jonathan? In the world of airlines and border agents, being exact matters.

Make sure the name printed on your identification, especially on your passport, is what you enter when booking flights. 

If you’ve got a middle name listed, make sure you enter that when booking, too—and don’t forget to change your passport if your details change. 

10. Booking on the wrong day

There are numerous and ever-changing theories about the best day of the week to book flights, but Expedia’s in-house travel expert is a firm believer in Sunday as the best day to bag that cheap flight. 

“Timing is key when booking flights,” says Christie Hudson. “According to Expedia’s 2024 Air Hacks Report, travelers can save up to 13% when making a booking on a Sunday instead of a Friday.” 

You’ll hear varying theories about why that is, but most of them have to do with the fact that fewer business travelers are making bookings on Sundays. 

Other revelations from Expedia’s Air Hacks report? Flights departing after 3pm are 50% more susceptible to cancellations than the earliest flights—which confirms our advice about favoring earlier flights from #6.

11. Not enrolling in airlines’ rewards and miles programs

It’s easy to underestimate just how quickly you can accrue air miles. 

“Even if you only fly one or two times a year, I guarantee these miles will add up over time, and you can earn miles on everyday purchases with airline credit cards,” says Greg Kott, CEO of App in the Air

Loyalty can defray the cost of airfare and qualify you for extra freebies. “If you have air miles saved up, remember to always research airfares in both cash and miles. Don’t forget that loyalty members (even those on lower tiers) usually get access to other benefits, such as a free checked bag or early boarding.”