Once you decide when and where you want to go, and which airline you want to use, getting reservations and tickets is a fairly simple process. You can make all of your arrangements by telephone, at the airline’s ticket office, or through a travel agent or other ticket outlet. There are a few potential pitfalls, however, and these pointers should help you avoid them.
* If your travel plans fall into a busy period, call for reservations early. Flights for holidays may sell out weeks-sometimes months-ahead of time. Don’t buy a standby fare or an ‘open return’ ticket if you need to fly during a high-demand period, especially the end of August. You could be stranded for a week or more before a seat becomes available.
* Ask the reservations agent to give you the on-time performance code for any flights that you are considering. This is a one-digit code in the reservations computer that shows how often that flight arrived on time (within 15 minutes) during the most recent reported month. For example, an “8” means that the flight arrived within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time between 80% and 89.9% of the time. If you are deciding between two flights with similar schedules and fares, you may want to choose the one with the better on-time record. (Only the largest U.S. airlines are required to maintain these codes.)
* When you make a reservation, be sure the agent records the information accurately. Before you hang up or leave the ticket office, review all of the essential information with the agent-the spelling of your name, the flight numbers and travel dates, and the cities you are traveling between. If there is more than one airport in either city, be sure you check which one you’ll be using. It’s also important to give the airline your home and work telephone numbers so they can let you know if there is any change in their schedule.
* Your ticket will show the flight number, departure time, date, and status of your reservation for each flight of your itinerary. The “status” box is important. “OK” means you’re confirmed. Anything else means that the reservation is not yet certain (e.g., waitlisted).
* A “direct” (or “through”) flight can have one or more stops. Sometimes flights with only one flight number can even involve a change of planes. Ask about your exact routing.
* If you are flying to a small city and your flight number has four digits, you may be booked on a commuter airline that has an agreement with the major carrier in whose name the flight is held out. If you are unsure, ask the reservations agent about the airline and the aircraft type; these flights are identified in the computer.
* When a reservations agent asks you to buy your tickets by a specific time or date, this is a deadline. And if you don’t make the deadline, the airline may cancel your reservations without telling you.
* Try to have your tickets in hand before you go to the airport. This speeds your check-in and helps you avoid some of the tension you might otherwise feel if you had to wait in a slow-moving ticketing line and worry about missing your flight.
* If your reservations are booked far enough ahead of time, the airline may offer to mail your tickets to you. However, if you don’t receive the tickets and the airline’s records show that they mailed them, you may have to go through cumbersome lost-ticket procedures (see the end of this chapter). It is safer to check the telephone directory for a conveniently located travel agency or airline ticket office and buy your tickets there.
* As soon as you receive your ticket check to make sure all the information on it is correct, especially the airports (if any of the cities have more than one) and the flight dates. Have any necessary corrections made immediately.
* Bring a photo I.D. when you fly, and have your airline ticket issued using your name as it appears on that I.D. Many airlines are requesting such identification at check-in in order to reduce the reselling of discount tickets. (Airlines don’t permit tickets to be sold or given to other persons.) On international flights, make sure your name is the same on your ticket and your passport. If your name has recently changed and the name on your ticket and your I.D. are different, bring documentation of the change (e.g., a marriage certificate or court order).
* It’s a good idea to reconfirm your reservations before you start your trip; flight schedules sometimes change. On international trips, most airlines require that you reconfirm your onward or return reservations at least 72 hours before each flight. If you don’t, your reservations may be canceled.
* Check your ticket as you board each flight to ensure that only the correct coupon has been removed by the airline agent.