The Flying Protocol
Background: After traveling for two straight years, I've learned a thing or two about booking flights online.
1. There are numerous sites that offer tips on how to book flights online:
- book at 3:00 pm on Tuesdays
- book 5-6 months ahead for international, 2-3 months for domestic
- book a connecting flight with the full intention of getting off at the layover (make sure you do NOT check your luggage)
- book mistake fares before the airline realize what it has done
- I can't vouch for any of these, though they all sound quite plausible, but one I can vouch for is how to get around the airlines use of "bucketing". That means a flight might have 10 tickets available for $99, 15 tickets available for $129, another 30 available for $149, and so on. When a cheaper bucket sells out, customers looking for flights are then shown more expensive tickets. This is never a problem if you are buying one ticket, but if you are buying two then the airline's ticketing system will only show you two tickets in the same bucket. If there is a single ticket in a cheaper bucket, you won't see it. So when buying two tickets always check to see how much just a single ticket costs. If you do use this method, then call the airline after purchasing to have the separate tickets combined into a single reservation.
2. I flew around Europe almost exclusively on budget airlines: Ryanair, Wizz Air, WoW Air, Vueling, EasyJet, and Pegasus. I do realize that this isn't earth-shattering information, but it's important to emphasize that I never flew on a traditional carrier.
3. While the train and the bus are good options for travel around Europe, do not rule out flying. In many cases, flying is cheaper than the train. In some cases, bus travel is much faster than the train and significantly cheaper.
Note: Train travel in France and Germany is not exactly cheap (although it is comparatively fast and luxurious).
4. Many of the budget airlines quote prices for just a seat (not a specific seat) and a Personal Item (which is significantly smaller than a Carry-on Bag). Even factoring a Carry-on Bag, these budget airlines still generally offer great deals.
5. When using points to fly, do a calculation to determine if you are maximizing their value.
-To be honest, I used Delta points (Skymiles) to fly from Tokyo to LA and tried to calculate the value of my points. While the concept makes sense, I found it difficult to understand the calculation.
6. Make sure you have a visa for the country you are traveling to. For most of Western and Central Europe, you do not need a visa, but for Eastern Europe and countries adjacent to Europe (Turkey, Russia, etc.) this may be an issue. Sometimes you can obtain your visa at the airport on arrival, sometimes you cannot.
7. Schengen Agreement: Basically non-EU travelers are limited to staying in the Schengen Area for up to 90 days within a 6 month period for tourist or business purposes. You may leave and return any number of times within the 180-day period, but the combined stay within the area must not total more than 90 days. More details here.
8. It is a good idea to do some research on how to get from your destination airport to your lodgings prior to takeoff. You can always take a taxi, but sometimes the cost can be excessive (especially when compared to Uber or mass transit):
-I used Uber to travel from Lisbon International (LIS) to my downtown
accommodations. Prior to take-off, it was calming to know that Uber was available at LIS, and that the pick up is at Kiss & Fly, just outside departures on Level 2. I confirmed this by using Uber after landing and then provided these details to a friend who was meeting me in Lisbon in a few days hence. She decided "Will take taxi as won't want to wait 20-25 min and have luggage so don't want to walk 5 min". Well she took a taxi, was scammed, wound up paying $30 for a $10 trip, and then complained to me about it.
-I used the local bus and tram to get from Zagreb Airport (ZAG) to downtown Zagreb for like $2, instead of paying $30 for a taxi.
-If your lodgings provides airport transfers, this could also be a very good option, especially if you are landing at an exotic airport (VFA, MPT, RAK). At many of these airports, taxi scams are common. Plus after a long flight to a strange place there is something very comforting in seeing a friendly face holding a placard with your name on it.
9. Take only a carry-on bag and save money by not checking a bag. If I could do it, so can you. A wise man once said, "Those who check their bags, should check their heads".