Travel: Flights

// Published February 26, 2012 by Swati

This post is first in series covering my adventure and offering tips on booking flights, hotels, and rental cars.

My cousin-in-law and I have had the pleasure of booking flights, hotels, rental cars and in general, plan a trip for 10 adults and 2 infants in California. We’re going there for my brother-in-law’s wedding. Since most of us haven’t traveled much, let alone been to California before, booking this trip alone is quite the adventure.

Woohoo, window seat! Aaargh, over the wing.

I’ve flown before and researched flights in the past. What I had never done before was try to get seats for 10 people on the same plane; normally it’s just 2-3 people. It is very easy to get cheap tickets for a couple of people. It turns out that airlines have a “tier” system for pricing – first x number of seats for $300; next x for $350; next x for $400. (This changes for last-minute-deals, but we really couldn’t risk doing a last minute deal.) Many airlines and booking companies don’t even let you book for over 6 people; some let you book for 9 at a time. I initially thought that I could book in two groups, but if one of us was in the middle of booking for Group A, the other one would get much higher prices for Group B.  In Group A, everyone’s average would come to around $400 per person; but in Group B it’d jump to $500 per person! Nobody wanted to pay that…

There was a little guilt everywhere since I had been pushing folks to book the flights 6 months in advance. But the Bachelor Party folks couldn’t come up with dates in time, so we ended up delaying a month. In that one month, the tickets went up roughly $100 per person. So we were all determined to book our flights as soon as possible – before they go up any further (After all, 10 people, $100 per person = $1000!).  We ended up calling an agent at FlightCenter who found us flights for $377 per person (including tax) but had an extra day of stay. Before we could confirm with her, we had to make sure that everyone else could take an extra day off from work (hotel costs were insignificant) – and by the time we got back to her (about an hour), she had trouble getting the deal again. It took well over two hours for her to be able to secure the deal again even though she had a “hold” on it (whatever that means).

A month later, I am still checking kayak.com on a regular basis to have that feel-good feeling that we got a pretty good deal.

A few tips for people booking flights to the US:

  • Fly from a US city.
    •  We’re driving to a “nearby” (2 hour drive) US city to fly from. Flying from Toronto is an additional $200-$300 per person. Getting a Park and Fly hotel is cheaper.
  • Pay with a US Dollar Credit Card.
    • Since we are flying from a US city, through a US airline booked by a US travel agent, we used our TD US Credit Card. I forego the 1.5% I get back from my Travel credit card, but save nearly 2.5% in exchange fees and commissions.
  • Research prices online. 
    •  kayak.com is my favorite because of it’s ability to add “nearby airports” while booking. It also lets you include the cost of checked baggage in your comparison shopping.
  • Bargain with a travel agent.
    • Really. They have access to a whole host of things – including contacting airlines if they need to, to get you a pretty good deal. In our case, we told ours about the cheapest price we found (even if the plane was booked/price was only for 1 person) and she beat that price for 10 people.
Also, I found it pretty useless to talk to the airlines directly myself to get a “group rate.” They were always higher than anything I could find online.