I’m picky about who I fly with. Long before the recent horror stories of United and Delta, I agonized over the airline I chose the way some people agonize over which restaurant to eat at. After all, I figure if I have to spend a number of hours cramped in an aircraft with strangers, I might as well make sure I’m as comfortable as possible. Below are some of my criteria when I’m booking a flight:
- Price: Price is without a doubt my number one deal-breaker or deal-maker. I scour all of the typical websites: Kayak, Expedia, Priceline, Orbit, etc. to get an idea of what fares go for to my destination. Once I get a rough estimate, I then use Google Flights to track those flights.
- Additional Fees: Many airlines will allow you one carry on, and one checked bag without additional costs (I’m looking at you Spirit Airlines). But luggage isn’t the only place you can get hit with a hidden fee. If you book via telephone, want a pillow or have to travel with a pet, you can incur additional charges.
- Perks: Another thing to consider is an airline’s frequent flier program. Southwest Airlines has a history and reputation of being one of the cheapest domestic airlines around, and also having a one of the best rewards programs around. If you fly a lot, this will matter more to you than it would for only the occasional flyer.
- Duration of flight: I want to be on an airplane for the bare minimum amount of time. More important, I want to be in airports for the least amount of time possible. So I always go for direct flights when they are available. Sometimes connections are unavoidable, so this is of less importance to me than the price of the flight.
- Seat of Choice: I don’t like middle seats. Middle seats give me the cold sweats. I will stand watch on my phone when it’s time to check in just so I can get a decent boarding position and avoid the dreaded middle seat. The price and the convenience that Southwest offers is hard to beat, but I very much dislike the cattle call method of boarding an airplane. I prefer to choose my seat well in advance, and not have to worry about fighting someone for it later.
- Word of Mouth: If I still have a hard time choosing a flight after going through my top five criteria, I’ll ask others what airline they prefer flying. Everyone has different experiences when it comes to customer service, but if you hear about similar experiences over and over (good or bad) it can become an easy tie-breaker.
Buying airline tickets can feel like a mini lottery. You might get a cheap ticket, but end up paying for it in terms of comfort and quality of service, or the opposite. The important thing is that you decide what works for you, your vacation and your budget.