Your finger hovers over the computer mouse and your heartbeat quickens as you stare at the checkout page. You’ve found the fare to your next big destination and you feel excited to start planning your trip. But just as you’re about to hit “purchase,” a bit of panic also manages to sneak in.
Should you actually buy it? When you’re about to plop down a couple hundred (or more) for airfare, you want to make sure that you’re making the right choice for yourself. So before you purchase that flight, do these six key things so that you can set yourself up to have an amazing trip.
Check the visa requirements
A passport doesn’t grant you access to just anywhere in the world—depending on what country your passport is from and where you’re heading, you may need a visa. This is an additional document that you will usually line up at your local consulate for the country of your destination. When traveling to Brazil, I foolishly waited until the last possible day to have my visa processed at the Consulate-General of Brazil in Los Angeles. If I hadn’t gotten it for whatever reason or delay then that trip wouldn’t have happened, and I can promise you that the stress was so not worth it!
Confirm your passport is valid
Some (not all) countries require that passports not expire for at least 6 months. Additionally, you may need to have a certain amount of stamp-less pages. If yours isn’t up to par, allow yourself enough time to update it before hopping on that plane.
Do a little budgeting
Obviously, you don’t want to spend days trying to create a meticulously detailed budget because the fare may just disappear. However, get an idea of what you can expect to spend daily and how much your desired activities will cost so you can determine if this trip is something you can genuinely afford.
I tend to abide by the “Murphy’s Law” approach to life, but especially to budgeting—it will cost you more than you expect—so take whatever rough number you’ve figured out and add about 10-15%. If it turns out this amount is too high, then can you shorten the trip by a few days to make it more affordable? Or can you plan to go later on in the year to allow for more time to save?
Triple-check dates and times
I have, in fact, made the mistake of purchasing a fare for the wrong day entirely (I know). In these situations you may end up with a nice customer service rep who will help you out, but that’s never a guarantee. Take a good, hard look at your calendar, even if you have already, to confirm this flight is without a doubt the one that works for you. If you’re purchasing separate flights in a different time zone, then be extra diligent here.
I also always hesitate when purchasing a flight that has a layover of less than an hour and a half. As someone who has literally run through the terminal in Miami to catch a connecting flight, had the doors close in my sweaty, crying face, and declared “You’re a very mean man” to a gate agent, it just feels too risky. Many airlines conclude boarding 15 or 20 minutes before departure anyway, so allow for that time in between even if it feels unnecessary.
Research the weather
Take five minutes and do a quick online search to see what weather is like during the time you’re potentially going to be there. It helps to know whether you’re going to Vietnam during monsoon season or Mexico during hurricane season, and you can also determine how many hours of sunlight you’ll actually have in Iceland during January (about six, btw). If the whole point of going to Italy is to lounge on the beaches, then hey, December may not be the ideal time to go.
Investigate the airline
What does your fare get you? Is it just your butt in a seat, or does the cost include a checked bag? Cheapie fares from budget airlines are tempting, but if you plan to bring any baggage then know how much extra you’ll be expected to fork over—and if possible, do so before you arrive at the airport! Many budget airlines actually charge more for these services in person rather than if you handle it at booking. I’m all for budget airlines, but just know that a $9 fare may actually be a little more than that once you select your seat, measure a carry-on, and check a bag.