Airfare is one of the trickiest elements to building a strong Gap Year. Typically it's the most expensive piece in the equation of an any Gap Year, and still remains one of the most expensive considerations even on academic study abroads. That being said, there are a lot of ways to save money, and we highly encourage you to start your airfare search early given not only the volatility of the market, but also the constant changes that the airline industries seem to be going through.
To book a good airfare, there are a lot of elements to consider. Here's a few tips from years of banging our heads against the proverbial walls of travel:
- Know your rights! The Department of Transportation's Aviation Consumer Protection Division lays out certainties of compensation and expectations for travelers: http://www.dot.gov/airconsumer. If you feel like you're not getting this, mention this, and if necessary, never hesitate to talk to a supervisor, or threaten to report the airline. Note: this only is required for US airlines.
- SIGN UP FOR AIR MILES!!!! These little things are priceless and within a few years you'll typically earn yourself at least one free domestic flight if not a free international one!
- Don't forget to keep your boarding passes - it's unfortunate, but many airlines will "lose" your information and make it more difficult to get your miles awarded.
- If you're traveling to a place that requires a visa, don't forget to get one! The airline literally won't let you board your plane if you don't have a necessary visa! Find out if you need one by going to the State Department and checking out the entry requirements. In many cases you can get a visa-on-arrival, but just as often you'll need to send off your passport to a Consulate General's Office (a foreign embassy) to get a visa stamp for entry.
- If you're flight is changed, don't be afraid to ask for free things - hotel vouchers, meal vouchers, etc. Heck, the worst they can say is 'no.'
- Take advantage of a flight bump - you'll inevitably be given a free flight or some other generous discount.
- Typically the cheapest day to fly is Wednesday.
- It's usually cheaper to book your flight approximately 6 weeks out . . . if not more.
- Usually, the first flight in the morning is cheaper.
- Book your regional flights through local carriers. When traveling internationally this is particularly important to do and easily can save you hundreds of dollars simply by booking your flight (for example within Southeast Asia) from a Thai travel agent.
- Booking your flight through a discount company - like Priceline, or Expedia, often will save some money but disallow the earning of airmiles, and very regularly will route you through some fairly exhausting itineraries. Remember, the times a traveler are most at risk are in transit, so showing up exhausted and not fully present is a recipe that simply compounds your exposure.
- Don't forget to check the usual suspects: www.kayak.com, www.Cheapflights.com, and www.yapta.com for good deals.
- Be aware of the terms of your travel: change ticket fees, abilities to re-route, change dates, etc.
- Changing your flight once you've started can sometimes be simple and sometimes complicated. But remember that when you're traveling in a foreign country it never helps to lose patience. Be polite, ask for a supervisor if needed, and be patient but assertive.
- Take advantage of student airfares if you're currently a student. www.statravel.com.