Sometimes looking for the best deal can backfire.
- Flight deals usually don’t last long.
- I waited to book tickets and ended up paying hundreds more.
- I could have blocked that plane ticket and continued shopping another day.
I’m the type of person who likes to compare as many options as possible when booking a trip. My typical flight booking process involves multiple tabs open with different airline websites, where I’ll look at prices in dollars and, if I have them, in miles. If I don’t know what to buy, I’ll wait and check again later.
Although my method has often worked well for me, I recently ended up spending way more on airfare than I should have. And it was all down to one simple, preventable mistake.
Rate today, leave tomorrow
My wife and I work remotely and we travel a lot to spend time living in different areas. After staying several months in Los Angeles, we finalized our next stop last month, and I started looking for flights to get us there.
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Right away, I found a great deal — a flight with United for $323 per person. It was reasonably priced and nonstop, but it was also a morning flight, so that would have meant leaving early and battling traffic to get to LAX. I thought I’d keep looking, and something more practical would appear.
Spoiler alert: it wouldn’t.
I looked around when I had free time that day, but couldn’t find anything that ticked all the boxes. I was also getting to the point of information overload. After looking at so many options, I was less sure than ever about what to do. Should I try to use my travel rewards or pay cash? How about I fly out of Burbank instead? How far was the SNA airport, anyway? (Way too far to be worth it, if you’re wondering).
The next day, I rechecked the prices. As you might have guessed, tickets with United were now much more expensive at $420 per person.
Worse and worse
I should have booked the United flight. Instead, I made another bad decision to turn this whole booking into a complete comedy of errors.
Now that the price had gone up on those tickets, I decided that I absolutely didn’t want it. If I had bought them for $420 when I could have had them for $323, I would feel like I paid too much. It’s a mistake, I know, but that was my way of thinking. The obvious solution, at least for me, was to find a different and better flight.
Of course, that didn’t happen. As time passed and I had to book something, I reluctantly had to admit flying United was clearly the better option. So I bought two tickets, now at $508 each. I earned more points on one of my credit cards, but would have much preferred to save $370.
How could I have handled this better
Looking back, the worst thing about this situation was that I could have locked in the low price of United tickets and kept shopping.
The Department of Transport has a flight cancellation rule that would have covered this. When you book a flight to or from the United States at least seven days in advance, you can cancel or change your ticket free of charge within 24 hours of booking.
What I should have done was buy the United tickets straight away. Then I could have used the next 24 hours to see if something better was available. If so, I could buy it and cancel my United tickets. Otherwise, I would be safe, because I had already obtained tickets and I would not have to worry about the price increase.
An expensive lesson
It wasn’t my proudest moment, but it was a good learning experience. Here is what I learned from my reservation incident:
- Flight prices may increase at any time. Don’t assume a deal is going to stick around until tomorrow or even later today.
- If you find a plane ticket that suits you, book it. You still have 24 hours to cancel if you change your mind or find something better.
- “Good enough” is good enough. I wasted a lot of time looking for a perfect option that didn’t exist, only to accept the offer that first caught my eye.
About a week ago I found myself in a similar situation. It was late, I was looking for a plane ticket and found a great deal with Alaska, but I had to call my card issuer’s travel portal to earn the most credit card points. So I called at 1:45 (yes, I’m a night owl) and booked tickets. Not only did I save time booking the first deal I found, but I got peace of mind by getting a low price.
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