NY Times has a great blog post on how to book travel online. Here’s how I book domestic travel with defined dates:
- Check mileage programs – see if a saver ticket is available (generally 25k for a roundtrip). If so, book, but watch out for fees, especially if within 3 weeks of the flight.
- Check Kayak.com, ITASoftware.com,and Southwest.com (using multiple tabs)
- Redo #2 for alternate airports
- Redo #2 using one-ways for each leg
- Redo #2 searching each leg of the flight separately (including all layovers)
- Redo #2 for one-ways in alternate cities that use your destination as a layover. For instance, it’s possible that a ticket from Seattle to Chicago is cheaper if you book a flight from Seattle to Indianapolis with a layover in Chicago, and just don’t get on board for the second leg.
- Check Bing and Kayak to see if the fare is likely to decrease. If so, wait
- Book directly with airline of best/cheapest/shortest option
For complicated (multiple airlines and multiple legs) and/or international travel, I usually book with Expedia. They have great service and I’ve never had a problem using them.
I try never to book the last flight of the day, because it’s often canceled. I try to book one flight earlier than I need to be at a destination, because if something would happen, I’d have a 2nd option to get there. For vacations I book far in advance to lock in low rates, but for business trips and for events like weddings and sports/concerts, I try to book closer to the event because airline timetables change frequently. Generally, book no sooner than 3 months prior to an event you need to attend at a specific time.
Definitely pick your seat if you can. If you don’t, you could get a middle seat, or even bumped at an inopportune time (it happened to me). Use seatguru.com to pick a seat (the NYTimes article suggested seatexpert.com but I’ve never tried it).