Travel Tuesday: Advice for booking Long-Haul Flights

Grand Canyon

Technically, this post can apply to booking any travel arrangements, but since flying long-haul has the potential to be a soul destroying experience, its kind of more important to get it right.
When I say “get it right” I mean Price, Times, Airline, Location, Tour Operator – the whole thing.
It’s a science, and its hard to nail down – particularly if you’re not familiar with long-haul travel.
You’re aiming for a harmonious blend of everything – optimum comfort for minimum budget.

Last night Mr Kitty and I finally booked our flights to China.
Finally.

We had a little drama during the booking, which I will explain later, but the drama got me thinking about just how stressful booking a long haul (or several long haul) flight(s) can be.
As a relatively seasoned Long-Haul traveller, I decided to put together a few tips for stress free booking – no travel agent necessary!

1. Be Flexible.

This can be difficult sometimes, but to have a shot at a great price, time and airline it helps to be a little bit flexible. Most search facilities give you the option of up to +/- 3 days, but SkyScanner gives you the option of searching a whole month, or even a whole year at a time.
This can be useful in the early stages if you’re trying to figure out when the cheapest time to travel may be.

2. Know your seasons.

This is particularly important if you’re planning to visit somewhere with a storm season, or places which get very hot. You might get cheaper flights to Las Vegas in July – but perhaps at the expense of being able to comfortably go outside during the day.
For places surrounded by mountainous terrain, bare in mind that excessive heat can delay flights, as the air rising over mountainous areas can cause extra turbulence.

3. Do your research.

Sure, X-Airlines might be £100 cheaper than Y-Airlines, but at what cost to comfort?
Despite what you might read in reviews, remember that the flight experience can vary massively across carriers.
It’s important to consider the amount of time you’ll be spending on their aircraft – Ryanair is no big deal for 2 hours, but could you handle that standard of comfort for 9?
Some airlines offer better in-flight entertainment (a dealbreaker) and refreshments for free, where others may only offer soft drinks, or even just soft drinks at mealtimes.
Know what to expect from each airline, then break the cost down into hours.
For example, if you opt for the 9 hour flight which is £90 more expensive than your alternative, you might want to consider whether 1hour of extra leg room & on-demand water/wine/coffee is worth the extra £10 per hour.
Usually, it will be.

That brings me to my next point.

4. Be Realistic.

You won’t be able to fly halfway around the world in business class for £500.
Not unless you’re extremely lucky and get an impromptu upgrade – on all of the airlines I’ve used in my life, I have never been upgraded gratis. I’ve heard it’s getting harder to achieve, too.

If you’ve never travelled long-haul before it will be difficult to set an expectation.
My advice would be to take reviews with a pinch of salt – most people only write a review when they’ve had a bad experience.
Just remember you are going to be on an aircraft – space will be limited no matter if you’re economy, business or first class.
You’re never going to get a double bed or a Jacuzzi, but you might get a few extra inches leg room, or another few centimetres of recline space.
Believe me, you’ll sell your luggage for an extra inch on some airlines.

5. Check. Every. Detail.
Seriously. Check how long connections are if you have them – this is a BIG DEAL.
If, like us, you have to travel for a long time, connect in a different country, and then travel again, you want to make sure its as short a time frame as possible.
Sometimes you get a really awesome price on a flight, but the connection time is 10 hours.
I’ve seen them as long as 22 hours!
Aim for no longer than 3 hours – no shorter than 1.5 hours – you may still need time to collect baggage etc.

Other important things to consider?
Baggage Allowance – both cabin and hold baggage. You NEED to have a decent amount of carry on.
Leg Room (obvs).
Meals – How many? What kind? What quality?
Seat Format – Is it likely you will be split up from your travel buddies?
Drinks inclusion – Emirates include wine, some spirits, soft drinks and hot drinks for free. You have to pay for Champagne.
In Flight Entertainment – Ideally, you want a personal entertainment system rather than a drop-down shared screen. No matter how many books or magazines you bring, eventually you’re going to want to kick back and watch 10 episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond.

6. Bide Your Time.

It’s an art. When you see the flight you want, watch it for a week or so. If the price starts to go up – book it right away. If it starts to go down, wait.
We’ve gotten some wonderful bargains by waiting – and in fact that happened to us very recently.

7. Use the Airline’s own Website.

We recently went to make a booking on a site called Crystal Travel only to click submit & find it wasn’t successful.
Just 5 minutes later we received a missed call saying our fare couldn’t be held and we had to make an extra payment of £200 each.
Luckily, we hadn’t paid anything, so knew it was a scam right away.
Remember, just because a comparison site includes results from a provider does not mean that provider is reputable.

We ended up visiting the Emirates website, where we got a superb fare for less than we were paying for a far inferior airline and aircraft.
Our flight connection times in Dubai are great – 3 hours 10 minutes going out, 2 hours 15 minutes coming home.
Economy class on Emirates is, apparently, wonderful. It comes highly recommended by several people I know.
Their food, I hear, is second to none.
They are the safest airline to travel with, too.

So there is my list of things to consider when booking long-haul travel.
It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and everyone has their own tips.
If you’re really uncertain, visit a travel agent – a good one – and get them to give you a quote on a flight – once you have that, go away and immediately call the airline’s sales team and book the same flight – there won’t be much price variance usually.

I hope this has helped a little bit – would you add anything to this list?

kit

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