Don't Book Your Next Flight Until You Read This

Photo: Getty Images.
Travel mistakes cost time and money — two things I want more of when planning a trip. With so many online options available at our wanderlust-loving fingertips, the prospect of Mai Tais in Maui can cloud our judgment and cause us to make booking blunders.

Step away from the keyboard and take a deep breath. There’s no need to panic when it comes to planning a trip online. Here are a few common mistakes people make when booking travel online — and advice on how to avoid them.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Paying for international bookings with a card that has foreign transaction fees.

Many credit cards add on a 3% surcharge when you make a purchase in a currency other than U.S. dollars. “For instance, if you want to book a flight from Singapore to Hong Kong on Tigerair, with many cards you'll have to pay 3% on top of whatever the price of the flight is,” says Scott Keyes, founder of Scott's Cheap Flights. Instead, he suggests looking into whether any of your cards waive foreign transaction fees. “Be sure to not only buy your foreign flights with that card, but also use it while you're abroad!”
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Not participating in miles programs.

Banks offer consumers big sign-up bonuses on airline credit cards, but Keyes warns that if you're not careful, you might end up getting a much worse offer than you could have. “For instance, American Airlines frequently promotes this card with a 30,000-mile signup bonus,” he says. “It's a good offer, but if you quickly Google ‘American Airlines 50,000 miles credit card’ you'll find this link for the exact same card, but a 50,000-mile signup bonus.” The takeaway? Shop around for the best miles program and make sure it works for you.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Assuming that discount travel sites are always better than going directly to the source.

While a recent study by MMGY Global's 2016 "Portrait of American Travelers" found that 31% of travelers book through online travel agent sites, Leigh Barnes, North America Director for Intrepid Travel, says it’s still best to go straight to the source. “We're all about clicking around, but ultimately, for experiential trips such as ours, it's best to go where all the information lies for the clearest path to planning,” says Barnes. Also, there are times when a hotel will appear to have no availability on discount travel sites, but if go you directly their site or pick up the phone, you may be able to snag rooms at a similar rate or lower.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Being too rigid with your plans.

I know, I know. We’re all busy and have super tight schedules. Still, if you’re willing to be a little flexible you may save big money. Try searching for flights a few days earlier or a day later. Ditto for hotels. Also, take a look at your destination and see if there are any big events in town during your intended travel time, which may drive up prices. Lastly, embrace shoulder season travel. I take my annual “summer” vacation the week after Labor Day, when there are less crowds, the weather is still wonderful, and my trip costs a fraction of what it would have a few weeks earlier.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Assuming that all the sites have the same offerings.

Not all aggregator sites are created equal. When it comes to finding the best deal, there’s no magic-bullet site. Some aggregators compare dozens of travel websites, but not all booking sites contain the same offerings. And some sites don’t feature a complete hotel inventory in a specific locale, so you may be missing out on properties and savings. So if you’re looking for a deal, it’s best to comparison shop on a few search engines.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Blindly trusting online reviews & ratings.

It’s never a good idea to blindly trust online review sites or rating systems. First of all, you’re putting your travel plans in the hands of strangers who may or may not have a similar travel style. Secondly, a big chunk of user reviews are fake or heavily influenced by businesses. I’ve been asked by folks in the hospitality industry to write positive reviews on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor in exchange for free stays, meals, and even spa treatments. (I’ve never accepted.) My advice? Some valuable information can be gleaned from reading online reviews — just don’t take every word as the rock-solid truth.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Booking too early — or too late.

“One obvious mistake we see all the time (and that even travel experts make) is simply not pulling the trigger when you see a good price,” says Jeff Klee, CEO of People regularly assume that if they see a good airfare price they have time to go home, talk it over with their friends or family, maybe wait a couple days to book. Then they log back on, expect the same fare to be there, and are frustrated when it’s gone. When you see a good fare, lock it down.

Klee says you can also err too far in the other direction. Booking too early can be a bad call if the lowest fare is of paramount importance to you. “Airlines publish fares about 11 months out,” he says. “When they hit the Internet, these airfares are typically not at their lowest. It’s better to wait for the sweet spot, what we call the ‘prime booking window.’" The “best time to buy,” according to Klee, is about three weeks to 3.5 months out from your expected travel dates.