9 Questions to Ask Before Booking a Cheap Flight

Is your cheap flight really 'cheap?'

9 Questions to Ask Before Booking a Cheap Flight

When planning a trip, we usually go to one of those flight search engines and search for flights. They provide us with different ways of saving money and probably that’s the reason we use them — they help us find ‘cheap’ flights.

Besides cheap rates, which factors lead you to book a particular flight? I, for instance, look not only at the price but also at its duration and whether its baggage allowance lets me squeeze-in my 50L Wildcraft rucksack for free. If a flight offers me with these things at a competitive rate, I’ll book it.

But in times when budget airlines are on the rise and terms like ‘basic economy’ are being introduced, you are expected to make a few compromises. If you are not paying enough attention while booking a cheap flight, some nasty surprises could be waiting for you.

To avoid these surprises, always ask yourself a few questions before booking a cheap flight. And in this article, I wanted to share some of those questions. What led me to sit down and write this article is my observations at different airports and experiences of my own as well as of other travellers.

1. What Is the Total Duration of Your Flight?

One of the reasons why a flight is cheaper than others could be the number and duration of layovers before you reach your destination. I am usually fine with layovers but sometimes they are very long and add too many hours to the journey.

When looking for a flight between New Delhi and Luxembourg, I came across two AirFrance flights. The cheaper one costs me $760 but the return flight had a 23 hours 50 minutes layover in Amsterdam and a 3 hours 15 minutes layover in Mumbai. Total journey time? Nearly 40 hours.

AirFrance Charles de Gaulle

By paying a little extra (about $40), this journey can be completed in 18 hours instead of 40. There are still layovers in Paris and Mumbai — but both not more than 3 hours.

My take? I would prefer paying $40 extra for the shorter journey. It’s about priorities, after all. When you come across a cheap flight, always check the total estimated duration — unless you are okay spending hours at the airport during a layover.

2. Do You Have to Pay Taxes and Other Charges Extra?

I remember Domino’s once offering pizzas for as low as 49 Rs (then about $1) when we were young. I saw people rushing to the shop (and I was one of them) and ordering their cheap pizzas. People were so happy.

Their happiness, however, washed away when they received their bills. The final price wasn’t 49 Rs x the number of pizzas but more than that. When some people argued in anger and frustration saying they saw 49 Rs right outside the shop, they were shown that little asterisk sign which translated to ‘taxes extra.’

“Fine, I should have seen that sign. My bad. Now, I don’t have extra money. So you keep your pizza, I’ll keep my money. I don’t like Domino’s pizzas, anyway.”

I am sharing this experience because the same thing could happen while booking a cheap flight. In fact, it happened just a couple of days ago when AirAsia was running a sale.

Booking Flights with AirAsia Is A Pain in the Butt

The Bhubaneshwar – Kuala Lumpur flight was available for just 1,999 Rs during the promo period. When I went on to book that flight, their site showed me it would cost me 3,000 Rs. That’s for one way. The return ticket would cost me 3,690 Rs – totalling to 6,490 Rs. Why? Because I had to pay taxes and other charges extra.

My advice? Always pay attention to the final price you are supposed to pay. There are chances that those flight search engines would show you just the base airfare and not the final price. It’s also possible that you will have to pay an extra charge for using certain payment method — say a credit card. AirAsia does that if you use Visa. The use of MasterCard is free.

3. Does Your Flight Fly To and From a Secondary Airport?

You may remember that teen who was searching for Amsterdam – Sydney flights. He found one that was about $200 cheaper than other options and thought, “let’s book this one.”

He took the flight and ended up in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada — instead of his intended destination in Australia. Poor fella. All he wanted to do was to backpack through Australia.

He isn’t the only one to make this mistake. The same thing has happened to other travellers, too, mainly because of the name both these cities share.

Airport Escalators

Although chances of two cities having the same name are rare, it’s possible for a city to have more than one airport. And chances are, your cheap flight will take you to a dedicated, secondary airport that could be far far away from the city.

Take Paris, for example. Budget airlines like Ryanair don’t fly to and from Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport. They fly to Beauvais–Tillé Airport which is located in the Picardy region – more than 80 km (50 mi) away from Paris.

Same thing for London — which has six airports. Other than Heathrow and London City airports, the rest are 50 to 60 km away from the city.

What I’m trying to convey is that it is important to double-check the details of your flight before you book. If a city has two or more airports, always be sure where your flight will land and take-off from.

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4. Is Your Ticket Refundable?

A plan could go wrong and you might have to cancel that whole trip you were planning for a long time. Or you had booked your flights during a promotion but now you want to cancel them.

You get in touch with the airline and you are told that your ticket isn’t refundable. Which means you can ‘cancel’ your ticket, but you won’t get your money back. Not a single dime. And if you had paid a little more attention before booking your flight, you might have known this.

Ticket and Boarding Pass

If you don’t wish to cancel the whole trip and just reschedule it, there could be another surprise lying ahead. There are some good chances that you can’t make any changes to your ticket. This includes the dates of your journey, meal preference and sitting arrangement (if any) etc. It wouldn’t be entirely impossible to make these changes, but you will have to throw some extra money and then your flight won’t be that cheap.

My piece of advice? Be very certain whether your ticket is refundable and if there are changes allowed. It’s good to know — just in case the need arises.

5. Will You Have to Print Your Boarding Pass?

Budget airlines aka low-cost airlines are good. I love them when all I want is to reach somewhere. I can forget about comfort and duration and survive without food, too. But these budget airlines do all kind of things to bring their operating costs down and to make more profit. Asking you to print your own boarding pass is one of those things.

Airlines like RyanAir expect you to check-in online and print your boarding pass. In case you didn’t know this or if you forget to print it, they will be happy to print one for you, but they will charge you a ‘Boarding Card Reissue Fee’.

My advice? Always read those terms and conditions before you book a cheap flight. If you have already booked a flight, check the ticket you have received which should mention the terms.

6. Can You Carry Extra Luggage?

This concerns me the most almost all the time. I carry a small backpack for my laptop and camera along with a rucksack for my clothes and other things.

There are airlines that do not allow you anything but a small carry-on luggage. So, if you have luggage that you would like to check-in, you pay extra.

AirAsia, for example, allows up to two items as carry-in as long as long as their total weight does not exceed 7kg and you follow the size guidelines. If I want to check-in my rucksack, I can buy their Value Pack which will let me check-in up to 20 kg of luggage.

Baggage Allowance in Cheap Flights

In addition to the baggage allowance, there’s another thing you should be be aware of. If you have checked luggage and you are supposed to change flights, you better make sure if the airline will transfer your luggage for you. In some cases, you will have to collect your luggage and check it in again before you board your next flight — even if the connecting flight is of the same airline.

My take? Different flights offer varying baggage allowances. Always take a note of baggage allowance and whether your luggage will be transferred for you if you have connecting flights. Do yourself a favour and read those terms carefully to avoid creating a scene at the airport.

7. Will You Be Served Food and Drinks?

If you think all flights include free meals, you are wrong (well, at one point, I thought the same, too). It is possible that your cheap fare doesn’t include any food and/or drink. So, before you expect someone to serve you some food, just make sure your flight actually provides you with some.

And if they don’t, you still won’t have to starve yourself. Just pay some good chunk of money and order something from that ‘exclusive’ in-flight menu.

I am absolutely okay with no free meal as long as the fare is cheaper and the journey is short. Airline food isn’t really a great dining experience, anyway.

8. Can You Choose Your Seat?

Are you okay with any seat you’re allotted? If you’re not, you better be prepared to pay some extra money. Because that cheap flight of yours might not let you choose a seat unless you pay for it. This is just one of the ways airlines make money for letting you fly cheap.

Seating Arrangements in a Plane

I am totally okay with any seat I am provided with. But if I could, I would choose an aisle seat on a long-duration flight. Makes it easy to spread my legs for a while, you see?

Right, so if you have a seat preference, be sure whether you will be allowed to choose one for free or not.

9. Does Your Flight Have In-flight Entertainment?

Okay, I can completely live without this, too. I carry my own entertainment – namely music and books. So I am fine with no in-flight entertainment. I would rather read a book than watching a movie on that tiny screen, anyway.

But if you insist on having that small TV-screen in front of you — especially when it’s a long journey and you are flying alone — you better know whether there is going to be in-flight entertainment or not. If not, you better carry a book or headphones unless you’re okay staring at that seat.

Basic Economy Fare

Questions to Ask Before Booking a Cheap Flight: Summary

There’s nothing wrong with looking for a cheap ticket or flying with a budget airline. Use those flight search engines all you want and go fly anywhere you wish. But before you book that cheap flight, you better know what you’re settling for.

There are many reasons why an airline will let you fly for cheap. It is possible that your flight will land far away from the city or you will have to pay taxes and other charges extra. Some flights will expect you to forget about legroom and comfort. You might not be provided with a baggage allowance or an option to choose a seat. In some cases, you might be asked to print your boarding pass, too.

If you know what you’re settling for when booking a cheap flight, you will enjoy a great trip for less. If you don’t, you will be surprised how many things you will have to pay for because they are not a part of your fare.

That’s all, folks. You were reading 9 Questions You Should Ask Before Booking a Cheap Flight. I hope you found this article worth your time and I’d like to thank you for reading.

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