A couple of years ago, a friend settled into her aircraft seat, flicked open the in-flight magazine showing the airline’s routes and realised that Hong Kong wasn’t actually on the way to Los Angeles.
Her flight would take 31 hours to get to LA and 41 hours and 40 minutes to get back to Melbourne – instead of about 15 or 16 hours if she had chosen a direct flight.
Like everything else in the travel sphere, online booking has come a long way and there are great deals to be had. But more than ever, you need to read the fine print. Closely. Here are some common traps for over-eager travellers.
Not checking how long the flight will take
Even if price is critical, check how long your flight (with stopover) will take (and don’t forget the extra hours at both ends for immigration and so on).
Often, the longer the flight, the cheaper the price. If you have time you can potentially save money. However, you do need to weigh up the benefits.
We priced a one-way ticket to Paris at $736 that took 23 hours, while the cheapest option cost $601 and took over 40 hours. That’s an extra 17 hours in transit to save $135.
Or you could fly to Sri Lanka on a choice of similar-standard airlines, all charging about the same for an economy fare, but the average flight time varies from 10 hours to 16-and-a-half hours. Take the shorter flight and that’s an extra six hours you could be chilling by the pool with a cocktail.
Getting flight times wrong
Make sure you understand if the ticket is using the 12-hour or 24-hour system (is 20.00 hours 8pm, or 10 pm?).
Remember that 12.05am, or 00.05, is actually midnight plus 5 minutes – so if your booking is for 12.05 am on Wednesday, you’ll need to head to the airport on Tuesday night.
Not allowing for the International Date Line
The international date line – seriously, who knows how this works? But If you have connecting flights or need to book a hotel, you need to know if you are gaining or losing a day.
If you cross the international dateline travelling east to the US, you save a day. Leave Sydney on the morning of July 23, fly for 16 hours and you still arrive on the morning of July 23.
If you’re heading west from the US to Australia, you lose a day. Leave LA on Saturday night, fly for 17 hours or so and arrive back in Sydney on Monday.
Not checking the currency
If you’re redirected to non-Australian booking sites such as Bravofly, eDreams or etcetera, make sure prices quoted are in Australian dollars and not US dollars or euros.
Filling in the wrong details
Make sure the name you book the ticket in is exactly (exactly!) the same as that in your passport. There can be a fee for name corrections, and you can have real problems at immIgration if the names don’t match.
Not paying for baggage when you book
If you are booking flights with low-cost airlines here or overseas, check-in baggage costs extra. If you need to check-in a bag, pay when you book your ticket. Pay later and you will pay a lot more.
Bulkheads and babies
Some travellers like to book a seat right near the bulkhead. It’s true that you usually get more legroom, but this is also where bassinets for babies are fitted on international flights. Just saying.
If you have the option of choosing a seat, check out SeatGuru before making your choice.
Ignoring the fine print
Read cancellation and change details carefully. If you can’t get a visa or find your passport does not have a full six months until expiry, you might have to change flights. Is it safer to book a fare with flexibility?
Not double-checking details
Ready to go? Double-check the details before pressing “book now”. Then wait patiently until it’s confirmed – don’t press again and book the flights twice. It happens.