TAKING TO THE HIGH SKIES: what the airlines won’t tell you

Last week, our friends at Turkish Muse posted a story entitled, “10 Things I’ve Learned About Flying in Turkey.”  This inspired me to share some of my traveling tips on booking flights with you.

I am a seasoned traveller.  My first flight, at the tender age of 7, was to Germany.  Since then I have made probably 30 or so trips to Germany.  I have also visited Canada, Mexico, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Greece, and of course, Turkey. 

Herrenchiemsee, Germany

In addition to international travel, I was a frequent business traveler in the States for almost 15 years.  So suffice it to say, I know how to work the airlines.  The following tips will definitely help you with your international travel, and likely with your domestic vacations too!  Be prepared to spend some time if you want to get the best deal.  Patience is key.

Chicago 2006

  1. Discount websites are only a research tool – Discount websites such as Expedia and Orbitz are a great place to start.  But don’t stop there.  Usually the airlines have a slightly better price if booked directly through them.  So once you find your “great deal”, go back and check the source.
  2. Discount websites don’t have all of the flights – This is especially true for domestic flights.  For example, Expedia may not have flights from JetBlue or Southwest Airlines.  You may need to work backwards.  Try checking the airport website  for your destination and see which airlines fly there.  Then check the pricing directly from those airlines.
  3. Discount Websites and Travel Agents can cause future distress – If your flight is cancelled and you need to change the flights, there is a distinct possibility that you will need to call the agent, or contact the website to re-book.  Although this is not always the case, check with your agent/website before booking.  The last thing you want to do while stranded at a snowed-in airport is be on the phone – placed on hold – with Orbitz while the other travellers are in line at the airport grabbing on the seats on the next available flight.

    Quebec 2005

  4. Code Shares are BS! – I don’t know what the purpose of a “code share” is.  The USAir daily flight from Philadelphia to Munich is usually at least twice the price if you book it through Lufthansa.  Same plane.  Different flight numbers.  Same goes for Lufthansa and Turkish Air.  The twice a day flights between Ankara and Munich are different prices from Lufthansa and Turkish Air.  Same plane.  It’s usually at least twice as much booked through Turkish Air – but I have seen it up to 5 times as much.  Book directly from the carrier – not from the code share partner.
  5. Don’t trust the quoted price as the best price – A few years ago, I noticed a new phenomena.  If you have two legs to your flight, with two different airlines, check both airlines for the prices of each leg.  I fly routinely from Philadelphia to Ankara.  The most direct route for me is over Munich.  The Philadelphia-Munich flight is USAir (partners with Lufthansa and Turkish Air).  The Munich-Ankara flight is Lufthansa (partners with USAir and Turkish Air).  Years ago, I used to be able to get a decent price on this route.  Not any more!  Now I book the USAir leg through USAir and the Lufthansa leg through Lufthansa.  The price difference can be any where from a few hundred to $5000.  Yes.  That’s five thousand.  I’m not kidding.

    Charleston, SC 2004

     

  6. Don’t worry about booking legs separately – If you do what I just described in #5, do not use the kiosks to check in.  Push your way around them and get to the desk.  Tell the agent that you have a connecting flight that was booked separately.  Be prepared by having a printout of your confirmation in hand.  The agent will be able to check your bags through to your final destination.  You may need to get the boarding pass for your second flight at your next stop.  If you paid for extra luggage, be prepared to show the receipt so that you aren’t charged again.
  7. Don’t forget to check your points and miles – You may be missing out on an almost free flight.  Make sure you check the fees that will be charged.  Sometimes it’s worth it to pay for the flight instead because fees are too high.  If you have points on a credit card, be sure to check whether you can transfer the points to your airline.  Some cards, such as American Express, will allow you to book through their website and purchase using a mixture of points and cash.
  8. Try to stick with one points/miles program –  Most airlines will allow you to use your club number from another carrier, and therefore, the miles accumulate quicker.  In 1997, I started collecting USAir miles.  I have taken beautifulvacations at resort hotels using those miles.  If I’m travelling on Lufthansa, I always give them my USAir number. 

    Washington DC 2005

  9. Don’t be overcharged for your luggage – Make sure you check with the airlines regarding baggage policies.  They are all different and they change all of the time.  If one portion of your trip is domestic and the other is overseas, they will try to scare you into limiting your luggage to the lower weight limit.  Don’t fall for it.  For example, Lufthansa allows 20kg/44 lbs from Ankara to Munich.  USAir allows 23kg/50lbs from Munich to Philadelphia.  I have consistently and successfully gotten the 50lb bag onto the Ankara/Munich flight because I have a connection.
  10. Plan ahead for your luggage – If you will be shopping at your final destination, think about what bags you will need for your trip home.  Most airlines allow one checked bag, one carry-on bag, and one personal item such as a laptop bag or a purse.  When I get to the US, I shop!  So here’s what I do.  I either check the biggest and lightest suitcase I have or the one with the best wheels.  I carry-on the largest stroller that I can get away with – again it should have great wheels if you are going to be pulling it through an airport.  Then I take a backpack as my personal item and shove my laptop and my purse inside of it.  This way, I have plenty of room to distribute weight when I return with all of my goodies.  Also consider whether you may need to check 2 bags on the return trip.  If that’s the case, instead of buying a second suitcase at your destination, consider packing it inside of the first suitcase.  If you don’t have a weight issue, you will only be paying to check the bag on your way home.

Have any questions or something to share?  Feel free to contact me!  I’m happy to help and glad to get more ideas.  I have a funny feeling that this post may spawn a series of travel tips . . .

The Grand Canyon 2004

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16 thoughts on “TAKING TO THE HIGH SKIES: what the airlines won’t tell you

  1. Great tips! I’ve also used the “hidden cities” strategy. Sometimes it’s cheaper to take part of a flight.

    Booked a flight to Providence from LA with a stop in Philadelphia, my final destination. Left the plane in Philadelphia with my roll-aboard.

    And sometimes booking a round trip and only using it one way is cheaper than a one-way ticket. (When playing games like this, it’s prudent not to use one’s frequent flyer number.)

    • Good points Carol. I once had a flight from Phl to SFO. On the return I was headed to Washington DC. I had to change planes in Philly. My colleague was returning directly to Philly. He paid more than I did adding even though I had an extra leg to his trip. If anyone is thinking of doing this, that is, get a better price by booking to another city with a stop where you truly want to go to – (1) Make sure you don’t check in your luggage. You must carry it on! And (2) make sure you either do this on a one way trip, or on the return. If you do it on the outbound flight on a round trip, the rest of you flight may be cancelled since you never made it to the “final destination” that you booked. This also happened to the same colleague.

  2. Thanks for the tips. I know this is an older post but I’ve got a question for you: Did Turkish Airlines ever give you trouble for carrying on a rolling luggage + backpack as your personal item? I’m moving back to the US from Bucharest and need to carry-on as much as possible. I really don’t want to have them stop me at the gate 🙂

  3. Thanks for the tips. I know this is an older post but I’ve got a question for you: Did Turkish Airlines ever give you trouble for carrying on a rolling luggage + backpack as your personal item? I’m moving back to the US from Bucharest and need to carry-on as much as possible. I really don’t want to have them stop me at the gate

    • Hi Viviana, Thanks for reading the blog! Turkish Air allows both the small luggage and the backpack. The backpack is considered “one personal item – like a laptop bag.” But you cannot carry a purse. Either tuck that into your backpack, or take waht you need and put the empty purse in your luggage. Works every time. And you can take your purse out on the plane if you need it.

      • Hi! Thanks for the tips. Since this is from a while ago I just wanted to followup on Viviana’s question about Turkish Airlines. I have the same exact issue, moving back to the States and was hope to take a rolling suitcase and a backpack. Have you had experience with this recently? I see they don’t list backpacks specifically, so I’m leery. Thanks!

      • Hi Ashley! Thanks for reading the blog! Yes, I always take a backpack and a rolling bag. They sometimes check the height and weight of the roller, but never the backpack. If you are carrying a purse, it must go inside on of the two. The backpack is in lieu of a purse. I do it several times a year, Lufthansa, Air Canada, USAir, and Turkish Air. Lufthansa is the only airline that ever checked the weight – and they absolutely do not check it in Ankara!

  4. Hi! your blog has helped me ALOT ! I am flying Turkish Air and was a bit upset of how vague their site is on what a personal item is considered to be. So helpful thank you !

  5. HI!!!! This blog is AMAZING, great job really… As per Maria I would like to know what a personal item is condered. There is something about it in another post but it’s from 2012 and I would like to be sure about that. I need to know if my item can the a laptop bag with computer, ipda, ect in it, in this case my travel will be more confortalbe as I’m movingto China and it wouldbe nice bring as much things as I can. Thanks

  6. I hope you can help me with this 😉 have a great day!
    HI!!!! This blog is AMAZING, great job really… As per Maria I would like to know what a personal item is condered. There is something about it in another post but it’s from 2012 and I would like to be sure about that. I need to know if my item can the a laptop bag with computer, ipda, ect in it, in this case my travel will be more confortalbe as I’m movingto China and it wouldbe nice bring as much things as I can. Thanks

    • Usually a purse, laptop bag, backpack, or briefcase is considered a personal item. You can find the definition usually on each airline’s website. Although some have weight restrictions – I have never seen the personal item weighed. Once in a while, I have seen the carry-on bag weighed and measured. I usually carry a backpack and put my purse in it Then I roll-on a small suitcase. Thanks for reading the blog!

  7. Hi, thank you for this!!! It was exactly what I was looking for.

    I will be traveling from Boston to Amsterdam (via Turkish Airlines) and on my return flight (AMS–>BOS) I’ll have only 55 minutes to get from the airport to the train station in Boston. If I don’t, I’ll lose out of my train ticket ($66) AND I’ll have to wait until the next morning to catch the next available train home…not something I want to happen.

    Do you know how long it usually takes to get your checked-in luggage from Turkish Air? Will I have cleared immigration and received my luggage in less than 45 minutes?

    Should I not check in a suitcase and just take a roller carry-on and a small Jansport backpack to be safe?
    I’ll only be in Amsterdam 1 week, so I don’t really think I’ll be needing too many changes of clothing.. Although I do like to have outfit options, especially when traveling.

    Thanks, Hope to hear from you soon!

    • Hi Andrea and thanks for reading the blog. Your question is difficult because it more depends on the airport and how many planes are coming in at the same time. In Ankara, it’s fast. In Istanbul, it takes longer – but not bad. In other countries, I have no idea. But if you are taking Amtrak, they are often running late. Good luck!

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