5 Things To Know Before Booking Overseas Flights

unsplash.comBook­ing over­seas flights can be chal­leng­ing, but if you know when to hold and when to fold, in the long run you’ll return a hap­pi­er trav­el­er.

The most impor­tant thing to keep in mind is that cheap isn’t the same as suc­cess­ful. With that in mind, here are 5 ways to smooth out your ride:

Go Easy on the OTAs
(Online Trav­el Agen­cies). Third par­ty book­ers like Expe­dia, Orb­itz, and Kayak are an awe­some way to score a good deal on domes­tic tickets—most of the time. There’s also a lev­el of con­ve­nience using them to search across a vari­ety of fares and air­lines. And when you’re ready to book, you can feel pret­ty good know­ing you’re get­ting the same price as you would on an air­line’s web­site.

But when it comes to inter­na­tion­al trav­el, the OTA book­ing con­ve­nience has its trade-offs: unless you are expe­ri­enced with workarounds for com­pli­cat­ed flight hic­cups, it can actu­al­ly be risky. In fact, one of the pit­falls of book­ing either domes­tic or inter­na­tion­al through an OTA is what hap­pens when you run into prob­lems (flight can­cel­la­tions, delays and reroutes).

The unmit­i­gat­ed has­sle of being in the mid­dle of the air­line and the online agency will most cer­tain­ly negate any con­ve­nience. Fre­quent fliers note that air­line reps and gate agents put third-par­ty tick­ets at the bot­tom of their “con­cern” list, and are unlike­ly to help you sort out issues like they will for loy­al­ty pro­gram fliers who book direct­ly with their air­line.

How do they know you didn’t book direct? The cod­ing on your tick­et spells out your book­ing method.

The bot­tom line for over­seas trav­el is that it’s best to use the OTAs to com­pare prices among air­lines and then go book direct­ly at the airline’s web­site for a bet­ter chance at get­ting help, should you need it.

Get a Human
The more com­pli­cat­ed your itinerary—flying to mul­ti­ple coun­tries through mul­ti­ple cities and hubs on mul­ti­ple code­share flights, group tick­et­ing, or spe­cial pric­ing in con­junc­tion with a hotel or cruise deal—the more it makes sense to seek out a tra­di­tion­al trav­el agent. When it comes to flight tick­et­ing only (no oth­er trav­el arrang­ing like hotels or cars), the aver­age markup is around $60, accord­ing to a quick sur­vey of trav­el agen­cies. When it comes to prob­lem res­o­lu­tion, espe­cial­ly if you have a sol­id rela­tion­ship with your human agent, the $40 to $80 you pay them will like­ly bring a faster res­o­lu­tion of your issue than if you’re fend­ing for your­self. They know the ropes—and they’re paid to have your back.

To check out well-vet­ted lists of local agents, or ones who spe­cial­ize in the type of trav­el or des­ti­na­tion you’re inter­est­ed in, vis­it the Amer­i­can Soci­ety of Trav­el Agents.

When OTA is the Only Way
If your bud­get dic­tates OTAs as your best option, then be pre­pared. Error on the side of cau­tion and make sure you have the third-par­ty agency as well as the cus­tomer ser­vice num­ber for the air­line you’re fly­ing in your phone. That way you can call and try to get any issues resolved while you’re stand­ing in line wait­ing to speak to a human agent at the airline’s cus­tomer ser­vice counter about a re-accom­mo­da­tion.

Be aware that most of the cus­tomer ser­vice reps for OTAs are out­sourced, which can often make it hard­er to get the answers you need. In the end, they still have no pow­er to help rebook you if your flight gets can­celed or rerout­ed. So it’s incum­bent upon you to know what your rights are with the air­line you’re using. Bone up here.

When Things Don’t Go As Planned
What to do if you’re using an OTA and every­thing goes hay­wire?

Call the air­line or OTAs cus­tomer ser­vice num­ber. Make sure you have your air­line record loca­tor num­ber (on your board­ing pass, usu­al­ly in caps and in bold). Note the date, time, and length of call (do your­self a favor ahead of time and learn how to record the call using a cell phone app). Also, don’t for­get to ask for and note the name of the rep­re­sen­ta­tive or their employ­ee num­ber. Then as one expe­ri­enced fre­quent fli­er advis­es, keep it sim­ple. Do not get into a com­pli­cat­ed dis­cus­sion or an angry whine fest. Tell them you booked through the OTA, then state your name, your record loca­tor num­ber, the flight date and time of flight, and the problem—“my flight from A to B got can­celed, and I need to rebook pron­to.” Leave it at that.

You’re lucky if they fix your prob­lem, but if not and you’re mid-flight and they don’t or won’t assist you, be pre­pared to pay for an alter­nate flight. If you haven’t yet start­ed the trip, you may have oth­er options and it’s worth being more per­sis­tent, stay­ing on the phone and mak­ing mul­ti­ple calls as need­ed. But you also may be sim­ply spin­ning your wheels and wast­ing valu­able time try­ing to make them help you.

If They Don’t Want to Help You
What if you have to buy an extra tick­et to com­plete your flight? Once you call the OTA rep, you have met your legal oblig­a­tion to make a rea­son­able effort to avoid a breach of con­tract. Beyond that, you don’t have to com­pel them to do their job nor do you need to stay on hold for a spec­i­fied peri­od of time. Nor are you required to make mul­ti­ple attempts at con­tact. So if they don’t help you, the onus is on them. Your legal oblig­a­tion to the OTA and the air­line end­ed when you made a con­cert­ed effort to seek redress.

Once you’re back from your trip, file a claim direct­ly with the OTA, and if need be take them to small claims court (or the court of social media) where the bur­den of proof will be on them once you pro­vide the details you not­ed at the start of this has­sle. The judg­ment will be in your favor. Col­lect­ing on it, how­ev­er, could be anoth­er has­sle.

Get Trav­el Insur­ance
You could avoid a lot of this if you pur­chase trav­el insur­ance. It’s designed to help you recoup your mon­ey and even time in the event of a missed flight, trip delay, or can­cel­la­tion caused by bad weath­er, an air­line mechan­i­cal break­down, sud­den ill­ness onset, or even a car acci­dent en route to the air­port. Don’t expect to rely on your cred­it card to cov­er flight delays or can­cel­la­tions, or for that mat­ter, emer­gency med­ical cov­er­age over­seas. Often when there is cov­er­age, the ben­e­fits are high­ly lim­it­ed.

Know­ing that you’ll get reim­bursed for a last-minute tick­et or a rebook can help take the stress out of the chaos that typ­i­cal­ly ensues in these sit­u­a­tions. But always thor­ough­ly research the cov­er­age and the insur­er (check online reviews) to make sure you’re ful­ly pro­tect­ed.

A trav­el agent can walk you through cov­er­age options, or you can vis­it World Nomads to find appro­pri­ate insur­ance to fit your par­tic­u­lar needs.