Insider Tips for Buying International Flights
Whenever you join one of our journeys, BJ is always there to help you find the best international flight for your needs! Here is a behind-the-scenes peek at his process, with some insider tips on how to find and when to buy the best flights overseas.
Need the short version?
- When: ASAP
- Where: Look on Kayak.com but buy direct from the airline
- Who: If you’re concerned with airline quality, check SkyTrax
When to buy your international flight
This is the most popular question we get and one that we have a quick answer for: buy your flight as soon as you know you’re going on a trip. (For our guests, that means as soon as we tell you we’ve reached our minimum number of guests.)
BJ is a big fan of data and loves to see the statistics about flight prices. The map below shows the number of days before departure when the price of the flight is likely to be the lowest. That’s all fine and dandy; indeed, you can save yourself $20, $40, or even $100 which is super helpful.
Alternatively, the flights you want can go UP by hundreds of dollars if you wait. We don’t have that sort of risk tolerance and therefore BJ likes to buy our flights as soon as we know we’re going somewhere.
Most airlines don’t release tickets for sale until 330 days out from the flight (if it’s a round-trip flight, that’s 330 days out from the return flight). For some airlines, it’s even less than that, as little as 270 days out. Some sites (like Google Flights and others) will refund you the difference if the price of the flight goes down after your purchase. We have never used this service, but it’s a nice option.
In addition, if you are purchasing trip cancellation insurance, you’ll most likely want to know the cost of your ticket before you buy a policy (and we think you should buy a policy as soon as you can, otherwise it defeats the purpose of having trip cancellation policy in the first place!)
Long story short, the timing of your flight purchase is a personal decision based on your risk tolerance.
Where to Search for Flights: Direct or Consolidators
To find flights, we first use Kayak.com. Kayak offers the option for searching for plus or minus 1, 2, or 3 days from your chosen departure date. If you have some flexibility in your arrival or departure date, it can save you money and open up other options for your flights.
Some airlines don’t go to every destination every day; by being flexible, you can often see better options. Note: Searching multiple days works for one-way or round-trip flights but not for multi-destination flights.
Multi-City Flights (into one airport and out of another)
Speaking of “multi-destination” flights: that is often a great option for trips that begin in one city and end in another (like our Walking with the Buddha pilgrimages that start in New Delhi, India, and end in Kathmandu, Nepal).
While you can always fly back to your original entry point and take advantage of a round-trip ticket, this is often a way to save you money and time.
Another example: our Iguazu Falls and Patagonia journeys start in Sao Paulo, Brazil and end in Santiago, Chile. While you could fly back to Sao Paulo, Brazil from Chile, it is often just easier and cheaper to purchase a multi-city flight or two one-ways rather than add another flight into the mix.
Should you buy from a third party or directly from the airline?
Kayak.com shows flights for purchase from many consolidators (third-party sellers). Sometimes you can save a fair bit of money going through those sites (Kiwi, Expedia, MyTrip, etc.) If the lower price is worth it to you, most of those sites are quite reliable and should work out just fine.
However, we’re big fans of purchasing directly from the airline itself. It allows you more flexibility when choosing your seat and your meal. Also, if you have to change your flight or even cancel, many airlines have the ability to be accommodating (as opposed to third-party sites).
We’ve used Expedia so much in recent years that we are “Gold Members.” That means we have a special phone number we can call (and typically don’t have to wait on hold). They’ve been quite good over the years, but even still, we’ve found they have not been able to make the changes we’ve needed, whereas the airline itself was able to do so.
Which airline is the best choice
Did you know there are more than 5000 airlines in the world? Chances are you’re only familiar with a few of them and you may be hesitant to choose one you’ve never heard of.
Each year, the world’s airlines are ranked by SkyTrax based on customer satisfaction surveys. Here is a link to the Top 100 Airlines as voted on in 2023.
As you’ll see, U.S.-based airlines don’t rank very highly. The highest rated is Delta at 20, United at 49, JetBlue at 55, Southwest at 60, and American Airlines at 82. Any of the airlines in the top 100 should be a fine experience for you. If BJ has ever worked with you to find flights, you know his favorite airlines in the world are Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airlines.
If you get too caught up in the options, it’s good to remember that the flight is probably only 10 to 30 hours of your life including your layovers. It certainly won’t be the highlight of your vacation, but it’s temporary and a necessary ‘evil’ (until we perfect teleportation). Just think of it as “adventure tax” for getting to your destination!
We hope these tips have made you feel a bit more comfortable about choosing your next international flight!