Bitterwallet Travel Guide Part 2: Pre-Flight Essentials
Perhaps the most crucial step in ensuring a blissful flight experience is figuring out where, when and how you will fly. This obviously involves getting the best deal with your airline tickets, securing the most comfortable and strategic seat on the plane, and breezing through airport delays without too much stress.
So for Bitterwallet's travel guide part 2, I've put together some tips which I've used in booking my recent trip out to Las Vegas, Seattle and LA for under £450 with multiple stops, which I hope will prove useful to some of you on how to take care of your pre-flight essentials.
1. Take your time when booking flights: They say that patience is a virtue, but when it comes to booking flights, most of us would rather book sooner than later in fear that the prices will hike up. Especially after we missed a recent airlines sale, we think the sooner we book, the better. But you may miss a bargain like we did because of that.
Over the last 3 months, Virgin Atlantic has had about 3-4 flight sales. We missed all of them. But had we waited, their latest announcement on 30/12/08 of a worldwide flight sale as posted by Travelzoo (a great site that has a weekly mailing list telling you of the latest deals) starting from £259 could have meant even cheaper flights. Of course prices can also go the other way, so may be better to leave for holidays that could be planned at the last minute for some bargain deals.
2. Evaluate your options: There's a reason why we love SkyScanner. Sure it's a nifty multi-budget flight search engine, but it also appeals to our preference of arranging everything with just a couch, a mouse, and a keyboard. However, Virgin doesn't fly directly to Seattle, and if we just connected with the best deal we found online, it would have still costed us more than the initial direct £500. Indirect flights that would save around £100 stopped in random destinations like Detroit and North Carolina. As my outbound would be from LGW, I discovered that it's possible to arrange routes via both LA and Las Vegas.
3. Direct airlines may not be the cheapest option: Having never been to Vegas, I decided it may be worth a trip. Virgin Atlantic would be a direct carrier from LGW-> LAS, but the total flight price would come to £399 including tax, without our connecting flights to Vegas. So I called up 20 different travel agencies throughout the UK that are IATA certified. In the process, we discovered an agency in London with whom we were able to get multi-stop tickets for a total of £434 including tax per person.
The flight was arranged to not only stop over in Vegas for 2 days before flying to Seattle, but on the way back would stopover at Los Angeles for 4 days. Dates were a lot more flexible than if I had tried to manually do it through multiple airlines websites.
4. Good Airlines Does Not = Comfort: The most common routes from the UK are with BMI via Manchester, and Virgin Atlantic via London Gatwick. Las Vegas from London is no short trip, and it was only in hindsight that I discovered that Virgin's fleets from LGW are not the most comfortable, something to bear in mind for those planning to fly with one of the world's 'best' airlines. Virgin initially had plans to upgrade their fleets by early 2009, but due to the recession, this probably won't be happening anytime soon. So prepare to be packed in like a pack of sardines. So make sure you have your flight essentials- entertainment, pillow, and blankets, and check out some tips we posted on long haul flights.
As a side note, Virgin's online check-in messed up with our seat reservations. It ended up not letting my partner and I to put our seating together, and not letting us make any changes to the seating arrangements. Seeing as it may be a full flight, we can thorougly enjoy sitting next to strangers for the entire duration. I called up Virgin Atlantic on the phone. Customer service in the UK is non-existent for economy passengers, and the upper class crew seem more than happy to tell you politely to sod off to Virgin's economy reservations services in India. Fantastic. Another 30 minutes on the phone line, and yes thank you, I can also read template responses off a monitor.
But the good thing is you, unlike that zit, can actually predict delays and put enough buffer on your schedule with web apps like Delaycast. It's a dandy new travel website that also allows you to find the best days, times and airlines to fly and give you airport delay profiles. It would be helpful to check out the site, especially if you will be on connecting flights where most delays find their way to mangle your otherwise perfectly planned itinerary.*-/
6. Track Your Flights: Finding the cheapest tickets can be daunting, more so for newbie travelers who want an inexpensive trip but are overwhelmed by the number of travel sites. You can check out Sidestep (they also have a cool IE add-on) that helps you track multiple airline and travel databases simultaneously.
Another nifty tool is TripStalker. Just install and it will constantly search travel sites for the lowest deal for your next trip. It will even notify you through a pop-up message, email or SMS when a certain price meets your criteria.
Lastly, if you've done it right and have gone from airport to airport unscathed, please share your experiences with us by posting a comment below.