I have just bought my flights to Namibia for this winter (hallelujah!) I wish I could say that it was a pleasant experience, after all, why shouldn't it be? When booking flights, we are booking tickets to visit a foreign country, an exciting and liberating experience. Therefore booking it should be filled with pleasure and happiness. Well, sadly this is not the case. Here I am, feeling tired and slightly shaken after battling with numerous flight comparison and booking sites. I should be feeling joyful but instead I feel concerned. Did I make the right choice in the end? What if I filled in my details wrong? What if I can't change my details because the customer service is so poor?
Need not despair, peeps, because there are ways to make the flight booking experience a little less painful. I cannot guarantee it will be worry-free but it will certainly be a lot better than it could be. Be prepared that this post is littered with sarcasm, bitterness and ranting.
Clear your cookies before searching for flights
This should be the first thing you do before searching for a flight. Airlines and booking sites are sneaky. They can look through your 'cookies' on your browser and learn what websites you've been on. If you've already researched a country, the airlines will know this and will ramp up the prices for you like the lovely people they are. I noticed this myself once. I found a lovely deal to Barbados on my phone but try as I might, I could not get the same deal to show on my laptop - it was adding hundreds of pounds. Well, now I know why. I half wonder if they'll start tracking IP addresses next!
Flight Comparisson Sites. Are they really worth the hype?
Yes and no. My relationship with the likes of Skyscanner and Momondo really is a love/hate one. OK - I've never really loved them but you get the point. Whilst I have no doubts that they are certainly useful, I've never found them to be 100% reliable. I find they're good for 2 things:
1. They show you which airlines fly to the country you're interested. When booking my Seychelles trip last year, I saw the best deal was with 'Emirates' and that both the initial flight and connection were with Emirates so I went on the Emirates website and booked through there hassle-free. So, what I'm saying is that if Skyscanner shows you a reasonable route which just uses 1 airline, try booking directly through the airline. Skyscanner was useful as you may not have known this airline offered flights to your destination and for a decent price.
2. I love the feature on Skyscanner where you can view flight prices for the entire month. It really helps you narrow down what days are cheapest so you can then input those cheaper flying days into other websites. Momondo offers a similar feature where you select the days you want and it shows you the pricing of nearby days so you can clearly see which is cheapest.
My victory dance after finally booking flights
Don't reply on one comparison website
I was let down by Skyscanner whilst booking my Namibia trip. A few weeks ago I found a nice deal with it via some decent airlines but this week the deal was no where to be found. It was only showing me a flight for a similar price via a budget airline and the airlines I was initially interested in were showing at double the price they were when I first searched. I didn't give up. I searched on Momondo and the great deal was there! Well, it was around £50 more expensive but still a lot better than what Skyscanner was giving me. I'm slightly baffled why the 2 comparison sites were showing me different results. They had access to the same airline database. I know this because Skyscanner was still quoting me for those airlines, just at higher prices.
Cheapest isn't always the best option
Like many of you, I'm a sucker for getting a bargain. A flight is just a flight after all. I'm sure we'd all much rather spend our money on excursions and exploring, right? Whilst I totally agree with that, I have my limits. Bear in mind a 24 hour route to your destination for £500 per person may not be as pleasant as a 17 hour flight for £550. Time spent travelling could be spent at the destination itself and I don't know about you but a day spent travelling can knock me out for a day or 2. So I'd recommend scrolling through the options within a similar price-range, carefully looking at both flight and layover times.
Beware of booking websites
You've found a flight you like on a comparison website. Hoorah! However, do not leap for joy yet. The worst is yet to come. If you don't have the luxury of booking your entire flight through one airline, you'll have to look at booking websites which Skyscanner and Momono link to. They are, in other words, websites looking to rip you off. Oh boy, oh boy, this section deserves sub-sections, I've learnt so much about their sneaky ways.
First, let's talk about why booking websites are even an option, if they're really that scammy. Well, if you try to book a trip to a country which involves 3 flights via 3 separate airlines, like I just did, you'll struggle to book it on your own. You have to consider layover times and look at different flights in a day and... nope! Too much to think about. You'd also be surprised at how much more expensive it would be. It's basically not even an option.
There are so many bookings websites that will show you the same airline deal so how do you know which to choose? Be warned, this may turn into a rant - a useful rant but still a rant nonetheless.
1. Always Read Reviews
This will sadden you. The reviews for practically every booking site are terrible. I read horror stories in TrustPilot of awful customer service, flights randomly being cancelled, not being able to change details after a booking was made, you name it. But you have to take reviews with a pinch of salt sometimes. It's so easy to add a fake review, whether that's positive or negative. You can never tell. There's other factors to consider too. Have a read through all the bad ones. Are they really that bad? It's also a good sign if the company are replying to negative comments, trying to help the disgruntled customer.
2. Some companies hike the prices half way through booking process
I had never read about this before but I experienced it first-hand tonight. I'll name and shame - Opodo! Momono showed me a nice route for £630 per person. There were 9 companies showing similar offers but I clicked on Opodo because as reviews went, the company didn't seem too bad. The booking process was stressful; they kept trying to sell me insurance, hotels and seats. Eventually, I arrived at the checkout. I filled out my card details but before I clicked 'pay' (which was going to cost another £30 to pay), I thought I'd check the pricing again. Good thing I did. The pricing had gone up by £300! What?! I tried to search for a breakdown to learn what was costing so much. Oh, no. Had I accidentally clicked one of the insurance policies it was trying to sell me? Nope. Flights were suddenly over £700 per person. I swear I had steam coming out of my ears. Needless to say, I cancelled my order.
I was still baffled so I re-tried the entire process again, starting from Momono. The price was still showing as £630 on Momono so I clicked through to Opodo. Still looking alright. I clicked 'next' and that's where I saw the tiny little message that stated "flight prices have been increased by £50 per passenger due to high demand for this flight". You lie! If that really was the case, it wouldn't have said £630 to start with.
Do not fall for it. Not all companies hike prices half way through. I was able to book with Lastminute.com after my dreadful experience with Opodo and the price never changed. Lastminute.com also didn't try to charge me £30 to pay for my booking. Oh, my rant about Opodo isn't over. There's more in the next point.
This post is getting moody so here's a peaceful image of the ocean to calm us all down
3. Some companies will try to charge you for pre-booking a seat
Don't do it! You see, you're only booking your flights through Opodo or Lastminute.com. Once your flight is booked, you can actually deal directly with the airline and book seats free of charge through them. Booking seats upon booking with your booking provider is merely a money-making scheme. You can guess which company tried to charge me for booking my seats *coughs* Opodo *coughs*.
4. There may be other hidden costs
Opodo tried to charge me £9 to receive email updates about my flights and tried to charge me £30 for paying for my flights. Not all companies will do this so avoid any that try to charge you for things you don't need.
Booking a flight through a booking website is a mine-field. I booked mine in the end with Lastminute.com which had 1 star average reviews on TrustPilot compared to Opodo which had 4. In fact, had I looked at Lastminute.com before Opodo, I would have saved myself a lot of stress. Lastminute.com: did not hike my prices half way through; constantly try to rush me through my booking process by displaying aggressive "YOU HAVE 10 MINUTES REMAINING' pop-ups (which always said 10 minutes remaining; it never actually dropped down the longer I spent on the site); did not try to charge me £4 extra for each individual seat I booked; did not try to offer my travel insurance which seemed a poor deal; did not try to charge me £9 extra to have email notifications about changes to my flights and did not try to charge me another £30 to pay. In contrast, Opodo tried to do all of these things.
So really I think the key to not being scammed whilst booking through booking websites is to be vigilant and constantly check that the company are not adding hidden costs to your order. If a company starts to do this, look for another company. Reviews are useful but aren't always reliable. My experience with a 1 star company was far superior to that of a 4 star company.
Nearly there but I've not quite finished yet
Let's Summarise: The Key to Booking Stress-Free Flights
1. Clear your browser cache and cookies.
2. Look on comparison flights for reasonably priced and not too-long routes.
3. Look directly on the airline websites to see if the same deals are showing and if so book through them.
4. If you can't book directly through the airline (either too expensive or just not showing any good routes), click on the booking websites linked to by the comparison websites.
5. Research any booking websites you're interested in. Once you are happy with one start to book flights.
6. Before you book, check the prices are consistent with what was advertised and there's no hidden costs.
7. Happy the company are not trying to rip you off? Great! Now you can book your flights 🙂