CONTRIBUTED BY KARI MARTINDALE
People often share their tips for bargain travel, but today I’m sharing the 3 areas where I feel it is worth spending the extra money when flying internationally–and why.
Obviously, airports do not offer direct flights in and out of every destination. However, whenever possible, it is worth my money to save the time and stress of connecting flights. More importantly, I like to avoid dealing with customs at any location other than my final destination. I get through the airport once, and then I can go to sleep from origination to destination.
I first learned of customs affecting international connections when my husband and I returned to the States from St. Lucia. The connection was in Puerto Rico, considered to be a US port of entry. That translates into customs. We had to wait to collect all of our baggage at baggage claim, then line up with eight million people to go through customs, and then re-check our baggage–all while worrying that we would miss our connecting flight.
If you must make connections, my advice when returning to the US from overseas, is to try to make your connection at a non-US airport. For example, if your choice is to fly from Paris to L.A. with a connection either in Chicago or in London, then I would choose London. Why? Because you will not have to go through US customs during your connection; you can avoid a stressful situation like ours in Puerto Rico.
There are certain circumstances where such procedures during connecting flights are unavoidable, e.g. your originating flight is coming out of a country whose security measures are not recognized by the US. This can happen when connecting through airports in the Middle East. You might be required to collect your baggage and repeat the full screening process as if you were just checking in for a flight. Always consider this possibility when scheduling your flights home from or via such airports–tight schedules are not your friend. When flying from or via Europe, however, this is not a typical concern.
If you get stuck during a connection, you are very unlikely to see your bags during your delay. (Always pack clean underwear in your carry-on!) Recently, friends flew in from the US to visit us. They left the midwest and connected in Toronto. By “connected,” I mean “missed their connection due to flight delays.” They also missed a full travel day while wearing the same clothes for several days–but more on that in a minute.
The major benefit of flying direct internationally is that once you’re on the plane, that’s it–you can make yourself comfortable and settle in for long-term rest. Other benefits include shorter travel time and not shlepping your carry-ons through multiple airports. What it boils down to is this: spend less, more stress; spend more, less stress. I’m willing to spend more to fly direct.
BOOK DIRECTLY WITH THE AIRLINE
I recall clearly, the last time I booked a flight through an online travel agent–in my case, Orbitz. My husband, daughter, and I were flying domestically, via Frontier Air. When we had an issue, neither Frontier nor Orbitz provided assistance.
When we checked in for our flight, I realized that our seats had been changed and the airline had the three of us split up completely, with my one-year-old sitting with neither of us. You can understand my hysteria?
Despite my possessing a printout of our explicitly-confirmed seat assignments, Frontier would not honor the assignments because, as the representative told me explicitly: seats are not confirmed unless they are assigned by Frontier itself, and in addition to prioritizing business travelers, they were prioritizing their own Frontier customers ahead of discount travel sites users.
Now, the fact is that the decision to seat a child away from its parents is completely illogical. What business traveler in their right mind is hoping to sit with someone else’s unaccompanied one-year-old? As a former business traveler, I assure you: no one is jumping up and down for this opportunity; and if they are, I’m not sure I want them near my kid. In addition, in the event of turbulence or an emergency, this mama is going to be out of her seat, blocking aisles, and crawling over people to get to her child–and tackling any stewardess who gets in her way. It is a safety concern on top of total oblivion to a business traveler’s wishes to not play babysitter.
When Frontier refused to budge, I phoned Orbitz. As I stood in the terminal, checked in, at the gate, and in front of the Frontier representatives, an Orbitz representative on the phone informed me that I was a no-show. In their system, it showed that Frontier Airlines–presumably when looking into my seating situation–had changed my status to a no-show. Anyone within a three-gate radius could hear that I had, in fact, shown up for this flight. Orbitz nonetheless “could not help” me because the ticket had been cancelled.
Eventually, someone moved so that I could sit with my child while my husband sat in another row. There was no apology from Frontier Airlines (which I never flew again) or from Orbitz (which I never used again).
Other concerns include overbooked flights. All airlines prioritize whom they’re bumping from a flight, based on factors such as what class of ticket was purchased and how the ticket was purchased. Airlines aren’t holding a seat for the lower-class online discount ticket–they’re taking care of their direct customers and higher-class fares. Ticket class counts more than people realize. My husband was once flying overseas on business, on a government-purchased ticket with no restrictions. He was late making his connection due to delays with the first flight. The gate was closed, and the plane was filled. He went to see a representative about getting onto the next flight. When they saw that he was on a government ticket with no restrictions, they went onto the plane and pulled off the standby passenger to whom they’d given away his seat.
The ultimate lesson here is that if you don’t book directly through the airline, they have no incentive to help you. You are not their loyal customer. You can’t stand face-to-face in the airport with a representative of the discount travel agents when there’s a problem–you’re lucky if you can get one on the phone. I don’t want to be the first one bumped from a flight, I want to know that my seat confirmations are firm, and I want to have someone willing to assist me if there is a problem. I will pay extra for that peace of mind.
STICK TO ONE AIRLINE
I recently learned that one of the practices of bargain travelers is to purchase their travel via individual legs, e.g. one leg on American Airlines, connecting to another leg on Lufthansa–booked separately through each airline. (Sometimes you must connect to a partner of your airline, having booked the trip through only one of the airlines; this is a different situation.)
Booking separate airlines is especially concerning when there are tight schedules. Our friends tried that this summer; that’s how they found themselves on an unplanned vacation to the Toronto airport. Neither airline jumped to help when our friends missed their flight due to delays on their first flight. There is a tendency for airlines to push you off on one another. As our friends trudged back and forth between airport terminals to deal with the representatives of Air Canada and United, each airline continued to send them back to the other, and each was equally unconcerned with their plight. My friends’ experience with both airlines was horrific. And I’ll let you guess whether their bags arrived to Germany when they did…because they wanted even more time in the same clothes they’d been wearing for days. Even if there are no issues with your flights, you are much more likely, when flying multiple airlines, to find yourself changing terminals, building to building, rushing to make your connection.
I am willing to pay more so that I do not give an airline the opportunity to write me off as the discount website’s problem, or another airline’s problem.
Sure, these considerations might tack onto the trip a couple hundred dollars, but I am willing to pay for peace of mind, less rushing around, less stress, more chances that my bags are going to make it with me, and assistance in the even of an issue. These practices also significantly decrease the stress of flying with a child. Saving money sounds great until you’re stinky and cranky, running around the Toronto Airport for days.
Note: Kari originally published this article on her own site and gladly shared it with Germany Ja!
Do you feel the same or do you have a counterpoint? If so, please share it with us!