1. Search flexible dates
Avoiding travel on the busiest days of the weekFriday and Sundaywill do more than save you money; it also means fewer travelers clogging up airport lines and the chance of perhaps scoring an empty seat next to you on the plane. For this reason, we advise being as flexible as possible. A Saturday - Tuesday trip is often a huge value over Friday - Monday.
Pictured above is our favorite tool: the +/- 3 days graph on Kayak.com.
2. Consider country requirements
Of course this only applies to international travel, but it may mean the difference between you being welcomed into a country or turned away at the border, even after flying all the way there.
Open up your passport. Is it still valid? Will it have a good 60-90 days of validity left after your arrival date? This is something immigration officers look for when they stamp you in.
Then, do some Googling to find out if your destination requires US citizens to apply for a visa in advance or pay for a visa on arrival. A cheap last-minute deal to countries like China, Brazil or Russia may be foiled by the fact that these require you to apply and obtain a visa beforehand. On the flip side, some countries simply ask for a payment on arrival to score the necessary visa, like Chile ($160) and Turkey ($20). Even Australia requires some pre-clearance before showing up on their shores; it's called the Electronic Travel Authority and costs $20 AUD.
3. Compare the aircraft on the route
Here is where we refer you to our buddies at Routehappy.com, who have gone where no travel booking site has before. Namely, they've combed through a sea of data to rank flights by what each aircraft offers. This means everything from telling you the type of in-flight entertainment system to whether or not you'll have in-flight wifi, plus the style of seat and general airplane comfort for all classes.
4. Double check details
By this we mean to double check all dates, names, frequent flyer numbers and airport codes before clicking "Confirm purchase" on your itinerary. Last thing you want is to be forced to pay change fees because you booked the wrong day, or find yourself flying to Akron (CAK) when you meant Nantucket (ACK).
5. Look into your credit card perks and restrictions
When it comes time to enter credit card details, think a few extra minutes about the pluses and minuses of your cards.
Some, like our British Airways Visa, do not charge foreign transaction fees; this means we use it to buy anything rung up in a foreign currency, like scoring cheap flights on an airline's Japanese site, in Yen. It also helps that the BA Visa includes 10% off BA flightsa nice perk. On the other hand, our AMEX offers trip insurance and a baggage fee reimbursement so long as we book the airfare on the card; we use it to book our domestic US flights.
Got any other tips for travelers before booking a flight? Share them in comments below!