The ultimate checklist before booking a flight

Jul 15, 2020

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As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

Nailing an incredible deal on flights can be stressful and time-consuming, but knowing that you explored every avenue and found yourself the very best option is incredibly satisfying.

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To help you on your way, this is my personal process whenever I want to comprehensively sweep all of my options for booking the best flight.

1. Check cash prices on Google Flights

So you think you know where you want to go and when. The first step is to use Google Flights (my favourite tool for general searching) to set the bar and understand the cost of a flight with decent times, from the airports you want to fly between and in the class you want to travel.

This price will be your reference point as you continue through the rest of the steps.

Related: How to become an advanced user of Google Flights

2. Check TPG UK for deals

TPG UK staff scour the internet every day to find the hottest deals. These are published immediately to the site, and the best are included on our invaluable daily newsletter.

You may want to open yourself up to new destinations, or at the very least see if we have any current deals on the site for the places you already know you want to visit.

Related: TPG UK deals homepage

3. Check miles and points options

This will depend heavily on how many miles you have with different airline loyalty programmes and the routes that these airlines — and their alliances — fly. Start to work your way through the programmes that you have miles with to check for availability and pricing.

Remember, each airline has partners you will be able to redeem with, and airlines that are a member of an alliance will allow generally allow bookings with their alliance partners.

Related: Best websites for searching Oneworld award availability

Related: Best websites for searching Star Alliance award availability

Related: Best websites for searching SkyTeam award availability

4. Search inventive routings

Here’s where things get a bit spicy. Instead of simply looking for tickets between the two airports you think you want to fly from, open up your search much wider. Especially due to the high U.K. departure taxes, and the availability of better cash deals (especially in premium cabins), your search should start by looking at multiple different European departure points that are easy and cheap to get to. Some key examples that I always start with include Dublin (DUB), Paris (CDG), Brussels (BRU), Amsterdam (AMS), Copenhagen (CPH), Stockholm (ARN), Oslo (OSL) and Helsinki (HEL).

You can also make these searches on award tickets. For example, instead of just thinking about British Airways/Oneworld for a LHR-JFK leg, you could try an award search for AMS-JFK with FlyingBlue to check for KLM or Delta award availability on that route. Remember also that you can now use Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles to book flights with Air France and KLM.

For the most advanced deal hunters, you may want to consider using ITA Matrix to assist your search.

Related: How to save big by starting your journey from mainland Europe

Related: 7 ways to use ITA Matrix to find your perfect flight itinerary

5. Consider mixing cash and award tickets

You will now have a sense of what’s available on various different routes for both cash and points. At this stage you may want to think about mixing the two to get the most bang for your buck.

Photo by Nicky Kelvin
Chilling in a Cathay Pacific lounge. (Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

An example here may be that you want to go to Taipei and you’ve found a brilliant sale fare from London to Hong Kong in World Traveller Plus on British Airways, which means you earn Avios and get to fly at ideal times direct from your home airport. But, you can then use your Avios to fly Cathay Pacific business class over to Taipei so you can travel the last leg in style, use the wonderful lounges in Hong Kong and save a chunk of cash (and you may not have had a huge bank of miles to use anyway).

Alternatively, say you’ve found a super cheap cash fare from Milan to New York, and you then utilise British Airways Reward Flight Saver tickets for just 4,000 Avios + £15.50 tax to fly to Milan to position.

6. Compare results

Photo by Nicky Kelvin
(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

Now that you have all your options in front of you, you need to make a decision.

You will need to weigh up the convenience, price, comfort, cancellation and change policies and timings of all your options. You should also use TPG valuations to work out what value you are getting from your miles by comparing the miles being used against the equivalent cash prices.

7. Book

Finally, make the call, and hit the button. When booking a cash ticket, we usually recommend to book direct through the airline rather than through a third-party site.

Bottom line

You are going to have to invest some time and brain power to complete this checklist, but this comprehensive approach will ensure you are able to get the absolute best out of your next booking!

Featured photo by Ellyot via Unsplash.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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