Tips for booking flights online: The 10 most common mistakes

Booking flights? Easy peasy, no? Just head for your favourite flight search engine, find what you're looking for, insert credit card details and away you go. But it doesn't always work out so smoothly. Mistakes happen all the time.

According to a Skyscanner survey, more than half of all respondents admitted booking flights for the wrong date or time. Some even to the wrong destination. As did one British honeymoon couple who found themselves in Sydney, Nova Scotia instead of Sydney, Australia. And by the way, those airport codes can be tricky. If your ticket says destination FLO, you're headed for Florence, South Carolina, not Florence, Italy.

Wrong date

Easy to do. Most flight booking engines default to the current date. You might put in the correct date when you get started on the booking process, maybe shuffle back and forth a step or two and restart the booking, at which point the date change happens. If you then go through to payment without checking, you'll end up with a ticket that has you flying out that very day. Even if it's a non-flexible, non-refundable fare you can usually make a change, or cancel, but expect to get hit with fees.

Wrong flight time

Scheduled departure time for your flight is 12am but is that midnight or midday? It's midnight, but it's the easiest mistake in the book if you're working with a schedule that doesn't operate by the 24-hour clock. A flight departing at 1430 leaves at 2.30 in the afternoon, not 4.30. On a similar note, if you want to stay in your hotel until midday on the 12th of the month, don't book a flight that leaves at 1am on the 12th, as I did once on a family holiday in Bali. Forgiveness is a slow train.

Flight arrival time 6am, hotel check-in 3pm

Most flights departing from Australia will arrive in Europe shortly after dawn. By the time you pass through immigration, collect your bags and get into the city it might still be early morning – but that might be hours before your room becomes available. While hotels are happy to take care of your bags until check-in time, wandering around the streets for hours feeling exhausted and in need of a hot shower will sap any pleasure from a spring day in Paris. If your arrival airport has a transit hotel you might check in there for a few hours to relax and freshen up before heading into the city. Otherwise, make a booking at your city hotel the night before. If all else fails, a park and a cafe.

The international date line is a real thing

Leave Melbourne or Sydney on a Monday morning and you might arrive in LA slightly earlier that very same morning. Forgetting the international date line is a rookie mistake. If you want to get straight into your hotel room you might need to book in for the night before you leave.

Booking a connecting flight with not enough time in between

Allow at least 90 minutes between connecting flights. You can probably get off your flight and to the gate for your next flight much quicker than that but that's the safe margin to allow your baggage to be transferred. That presupposes your baggage will be transferred from one flight to the next. If one of those flights is with a budget carrier, or if there is no interline agreement between the two carriers, your baggage will not be transferred to your connecting flight. If this is an international flight you need to pass through immigration and customs, collect your bag, check back in and go through security, immigration and customs all over again. In that case, two hours between flights is the absolute minimum. At some airports, transferring between terminals can't be done on foot and you'll need to catch a train or bus. You may end up waiting up to 20 minutes for one to arrive, so factor that in too. 

Arrival and departure from different airports

Plenty of cities around the globe have two or even three airports. Especially in the case of budget airlines, it quite often happens that their flights will depart from a different airport than that used by major international carriers. Shuffling from one airport to the other is never going to take less than an hour.

Wrong passenger details

On international flights, the information on the flight booking must be exactly the same as what's in your passport. Leave out a middle name, get the expiry date or the passport number wrong, and you may be watching your flight take off without you.

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Passport expiry date

While most countries insist that your passport must be valid for at least six months from the date of entry, some airlines insist that the six-month period extends to the date you intend to return to Australia. They're wrong on that score, an Australian citizen is entitled to return to Australia anytime, but if that's airline policy the check-in staff probably won't bend.

Insufficient baggage allowance

While the international baggage allowances is often 30 kilograms, even for economy class flyers, that might not be the case on any domestic flights you're taking while overseas. In many countries you're only entitled to 15 kilograms of check-in luggage. You can usually pay a supplement to increase that but if you wait until you get to the airport to do it you'll probably pay more.

Booking via a flight search aggregator rather than the airline itself

Flight search aggregators are a wonderful tool when you want to check all the possible airfares and routes to your destination. When you find the deal you're looking for, rather than booking with the site the search engine suggests, go to the airline's website and check the price for the same flights. You might find the price is the same or even cheaper, and if anything goes wrong you're on firmer ground if you've paid your money to the airline.

Missing credit card

Some airlines insist that passengers checking in for a flight must show the same credit card they used to make the booking. This might be bureaucratic overreach – I've never yet been asked to show my credit card at the check-in desk – but forewarned is forearmed.

See also: The rip-off that's catching out travellers all over the world

See also: 10 common travel scams - and how to avoid them

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