Planning a trip is like putting a puzzle together. There are a hundred little pieces that work together, which may leave gaps in the bigger picture if left to the wayside. Luckily, there are countless resources to help travelers plan the perfect trip.
Nevertheless, many travelers prefer to keep their trip flexible and not nail down too many details. Especially when traveling for a long period. After all, who knows what adventures await?
When you leave your travel plans open-ended, then you can stay longer in cities you love and move onto the next location if you don’t. However, you need to be aware of the downfalls of buying one-way tickets and not booking your itinerary ahead of time.
The Problem With One-Way Flights
The Schengen zone travel laws allow Americans to visit most European countries without visas. However, the paperwork you need to fly into Europe will include a passport and evidence of adhering to the 90/180 rule.
The 90/180 rule simply means that tourists cannot stay in the Schengen area, which is a culmination of 26 European countries, for more than 90 days in a 180-day period without a visa. As such, border control may ask for proof of onward travel before allowing you into the country.
Proof of onward travel is a nice legal way of saying, “When are you leaving?” If you are unable to show this evidence (or talk your way out of it), then you may not be able to leave the airport. In fact, officials can force you to buy a ticket on the spot to:
- Leave immediately back home.
- Show you have a return flight.
- Show you are leaving the Schengen zone.
TIP: An easy and affordable way to avoid drama at the airport while also leaving your travel plans flexible is to purchase a ticket right before your international trip. Most airlines allow full refunds if requested within 24 hours of purchase. This way you can show border control your exit flight and then cancel it soon after.
Booking the Flight
One-way tickets are great options if you are traveling to multiple cities and countries and returning from a different airport than you entered. However, flexibility can come at a price. For instance, you may want to book round-trip tickets if:
- You have specific dates you need to return by.
- You need to return around an expensive time like the holidays.
- You are returning from the same airport you flew into. Two one-way tickets may be similarly priced but, generally, round-trip tickets are more affordable.
Many times, I can find a couple one-way tickets that are comparably priced to the round-trip equivalency. However, when you book last minute, this may not always be the case.
When to Buy a Flight
In the timing of one’s adventure, considerations like weather, life events, and price surges that can influence when to travel. Booking a flight from JFK in January may mean weather delays and flights around the holidays are astronomically expensive.
TIP: Summer has the highest prices, many tourists, and the best weather in most places. Prices for flights drop in September after kids return to school but slowly creep up closer to the winter holidays.
While many believe there are formulas for getting cheap flights (such as the Tuesday 40 days before you depart), these are becoming less accurate. Simply track price changes and utilize apps like Google Flights and Hitlist to determine the cost range of what is average, good, great, and spectacular.
Which Airline to Buy a Flight From
Choosing an airline may not seem that important if your budget or travel dates are more pressing. However, some airlines have price guarantees that will give you a credit should the price drop after you book. While policies vary, these airlines include the following:
Likewise, you may want to stick to certain airlines if you get travel points to use for free flights. As I get older, I find that membership and loyalty really do have their perks.
Speaking of, if you are in your mid-thirties or older, then you may be less inclined to take a red-eye flight with a budget airline. Budget carriers like Spirit, Wow, and Allegiant have less expensive flights but, in my experience, those airlines nickel and dime you for so many miscellaneous charges that there is little difference in cost from a major carrier by checkout.
Avoid starting your trip tired and with a sore body by spending a little more with better airlines. For example, I booked a mid-October flight from JFK to Reykjavik, Iceland with Delta for less than $250. I could have saved $50 with another carrier if I gave up the ability to recline my seat on the overnight flight.
TIP: Online travel websites like Expedia and Travelocity are a great way to look at several flight options at the same time. However, these agencies have additional fees and can make changes difficult if needed. Use these during your planning phase but book directly with the airline.