How To Book Your International Flights

By Sofe Travel Editors
Posted on

You’ve booked your tour. Congrats! Now, it’s time to book your flights. If you’re a newbie or feeling a bit overwhelmed with the international flight booking process, we’ve got you covered. What follows is a step-by-step guide to the entire process, from where to even begin searching for flights to what considerations are worth factoring into your final flight decision.

First Things First: When to Book

Once you receive the a-ok from our team to book your flights, look at the calendar and see how long you have until you depart. In general, the best window of time to book international flights is about two to three months before your departure date, and even earlier (five months ahead) if you know that you’ll be traveling to a destination during its peak tourist season. 

The Flight Booking Process

When you are ready to book, keep these steps nearby and use them as a guide as you move through the booking process. 

Step 1: Decide Your Dates and Departure Cities

Before you can even begin searching for flights, you’re going to need to know your dates of arrival and departure and the airports from which you want to fly into and out of your destination. For some of you, it’s as simple as plugging in the start and end dates of your Meetup Tour and booking a roundtrip ticket between the same two airports. For others, you may want to tack on a few days to the trip or fly out of a different airport than you flew into. Determine what you’d like to do, set your dates, and then proceed to Step 2. 

If you would like to extend your stay beyond the dates of the Meetup Tour, our team can arrange a stay at the same hotel and airport transfers. Email us at meetuptours@sofetravel.com.

Step 2: Explore Flights and Fares
Now that you have your dates and departure cities decided, it’s time to get a sense of the flight fares and airlines that fly to and from your destination. A good place to begin is Google Flights, though keep in mind that not all carriers or region-specific airlines may be included in the results. For example, the American carrier Southwest Airlines and several large Asian carriers like Air China, China Eastern, Thai Airways, and Philippine Airlines will not appear in your Google Flights results while others like Aeromexico, Oman Air, and Interjet will only show some of their available flights on Google Flights. That’s okay for this first step in the booking process. We’ll go into some alternative flight search tools that encompass a wider breadth of carriers later in this guide.  On the Google Flights page, enter your departure city, arrival city, and exact dates. The default setting on Google Flights is for roundtrip tickets. If you’d prefer to search for one-way tickets, be sure to adjust that setting. When you have everything set the way you want it, click “Search.” You should now see a screen full of flight options. The flights at the top of the Google Flights results are usually the cheapest and most direct. If you scroll further down, you’ll find more options that increase in price down the page.  At first glance, get a sense of the airlines that fly between your home city and your destination and the range of prices. Take note of the airlines with the cheapest fares, the total flight time and/or number of stops, and the departure and arrival times. Keep in mind that these times are listed in local time, meaning the departure time is the time it leaves your city and the arrival time is the local time in your final destination.  
Optional Step: Check for an Even Better Deal

As we mentioned before, Google Flights doesn’t account for all carriers, especially some budget or regional airlines. If you’d like to save money and be sure that you’re paying the cheapest fare, you can extend your flight search to include a few other platforms. We recommend Skyscanner and Momondo, both are flight aggregator tools that include additional airlines in their results. Kayak, CheapOAir, Expedia, and Priceline are also good tertiary flight search options.

For a step-by-step guide to finding and booking the cheapest flight, check out our blog post here.

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Step 3: Select Your Flight Itinerary

As you scroll through the flight options and decide your final flight itinerary, pay close attention to the length of any layovers and whenever possible book the most direct flight. As a general rule, don’t book a flight with a tight connection. Any layovers under two hours between the time the plane lands and the time your next flight takes off is risky and could result in a missed connecting flight. 

Also, if you see a “+1” next to some flights, this means that it is an overnight flight, also known as a red-eye flight. If you do decide to take a red-eye flight, double check that arriving the next day in your destination still fits with your Meetup Tour itinerary. If not, be sure to adjust the departure date in the Google Flights field and search again. 

With all of this in mind, make your flight selection and move on to Step 4. 

Step 4: Decide How You’ll Book

Once you’ve settled on the flight itinerary that both suits your travel preferences and fits with your Meetup Tour schedule (be sure to double check this!), it’s time to book. You can take a couple of different approaches here. There are pros and cons for each. 

After officially selecting the departure and return flights you’d like to book on Google Flights, you should arrive at a page that lists both of your selected departure and return flights. Scroll down on this page to see your booking options. Here is where you get to decide if you will book directly with the airline via their website or if you’d like to book via an OTA, like Priceline, Expedia, or CheapOAir. Often the price difference between a direct booking with the airline and an OTA is small. 

Booking with an OTA can sometimes save you a few dollars, but it’s often a headache if anything does go wrong on travel day (i.e. flight delays, cancellations, or changes to your route). For this reason, we always recommend booking directly with the airline you’ll be traveling on (especially if you’re a first-time international flyer), that way you can deal directly with the gate agent or airline’s customer service if something does go wrong. Additionally, if there are any ticket price changes between the time you book and the time your flight departs, you can usually have that difference refunded with a quick call to customer service instead of having to first go through the OTA you booked through. 

Once you’ve decided where you’d like to officially book your flight (directly with the airline or with an OTA), click over to that site using the button in the “Booking Options” list on Google Flights to complete your purchase. 

Step 5: Choose Your Fare Option & Read the Fine Print

Flying nowadays involves a bit more decision-making than in the past. Once you get to the booking page, you’ll likely see a few different fare options with a list of what’s included or not included in each fare. The main difference between the “basic” fare and the upgraded fares is usually in regard to refundability or adjustment of your ticket after purchase, number of carry-on and checked bags included in your fare, the ability to select your seat or be assigned one, meals, and your boarding group. 

It’s worth taking a second to read the fine print under each fare so that you know exactly what you’re getting before clicking over to the payment page. If you’ll be checking bags, it can occasionally be cheaper to purchase a slightly upgraded fare that includes a checked bag and/or carry-on. Run the math and see if it’s cheaper to upgrade or if it’s better to add your bags later as add-ons to the basic fare.  

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Step 6: Review Your Flight Details and Pay

On the review and payment page, you’ll be asked to fill in your information, typically including your full name as it appears on your passport, date of birth, gender, passport number and expiration date, contact information, and payment information. You’ll also have a chance to make any upgrades to your ticket. Sometimes, not always, you can add bags at this stage if they’re not already included in your fare option. Otherwise, you’ll see that option when you check-in online before your date of departure. A word of warning, some basic fare options may not allow you to check a bag or bring a carry-on, so be sure that you’ve read the fine print for your fare option before purchase.

Before completing your purchase, it’s also smart to triple check your itinerary. Make sure that all dates of departure and arrival are correct and work with your Meetup Tour itinerary. When you feel confident with your itinerary and selections, click the “complete purchase” button. 

Step 7: Set an Alarm and Take Advantage of the “24-hour Rule”

Most airlines do allow you to cancel and receive a full refund within 24 hours of booking, so there is still a buffer if you do later realize that you made a mistake. We suggest setting an alarm on your phone at the time of booking for 23 hours later. This will give you a chance to quadruple check that what you’ve booked still works and it gives you some wiggle room to make adjustments to your flight if necessary.