Whats the Best Way to Make Flight Arrangements?

Submitted by xtramelanin on April 17th, 2018 at 10:40 PM


As we enter OT season I figured this might be a question that the many uber-smart and experienced minds on the board could weigh in on.  I am an infrequent flyer these days, taking maybe one flight every couple of years at most.  I am working on booking a flight for oldest son and I for a father-son trip and I am have this feeling that I am missing 'the best way' to book it.  I have googled flights and get a list of flights.  I have contacted a travel agent for help, and candidly, they didn't seem to come up with anything that's too helpful.  I would welcome your suggestions on the best way to find and book flight reservations.

My question is simple:  What is the best way to book flights, what website, travel agent, airline, whatever is the best way to figure this out? 

Thank you for you help.  Hoping others on the board benefit from the sharing of the collective wisdom. 




April 17th, 2018 at 11:38 PM ^

At least according to 60 Minutes. They had a story about them this weekend. 3 and a half times more safety incidents than average. Discount carrier that saves money by flying really old planes and pressuring their pilots not to report mechanical issues. I can't believe anything could be worse than Spirit, but apparently they are.


April 18th, 2018 at 12:28 AM ^

Spirit has one of the newest fleets amongst all carriers.

If you think Spirit is bad you are either an inexperienced traveler or B you want lots of extras with your flight. Why would you pay $60 for a Coke and Pretzels?

If you fly often enough and know how all the carriers work and what you need for each trip, any carrier will suffice.


April 18th, 2018 at 12:41 AM ^

I wouldn't pay $60 for a Coke and some pretzels, but I'm 6'0", so I would pay $60 to get a seat that I can fit semi-omfortably into.  The only such seat that Spirit offers is their Big Front Seat, and it's generally more than a $60 upcharge.  (They also don't serve my local airport, so I haven't had to make this choice yet).

YMMV, but "any carrier will suffice" is only true for a certain subset of people.

I would actually turn it around and say that experienced travelers know that Spirit is bad, not because of a lack of extras, but because of their limited schedules and lack of interline partners for recovery during irregular operations.

Spirit flies many fewer flights a day between destinations than the legacy carriers (United, Delta, and American).  Furthermore, if a Spirit plane has a mechanical issue -- which can happen to any airplane, regardless of age -- you will wait for another Spirit plane to get you to your destination.  If a Delta plane has a mechanical issue, they can endorse your ticket for travel on United or American, or they can route you via another hub, etc.

I was once flying American from Austin through Dallas to Detroit on the last flight of the day Friday night, with the intention of seeing the Arizona @ Michigan basketball game, which was a noon Saturday tip.  There was an issue with the flight, and I was going to miss my connection.  I convinced AA to rebook me and my wife on AA from Austin to Los Angeles, and then on DL from Los Angeles to Detroit, in order to make it to the game on time.  If we'd been flying Spirit, we would have had to turn around, go home, and request a refund.


April 18th, 2018 at 7:44 AM ^

I'm 6'6", Spirit is great for tall people because you can pay $20-30 and get exit row, and have tons more room than normal seats on other carriers, while still paying less. I think there are two setups in Spirit planes, but one of them on my way back from Orlando I literally could not kick the seat in front of me if I tried. I had to unbuckle just to put my backpack under the seat in front of me.

Also, the fact that the seats don't recline is great for tall people. When seats can recline, everyone sacrifices knee space which is where it matters.

Naked Bootlegger

April 18th, 2018 at 8:02 AM ^

I thought I was the only person who scoured Seatguru to make sure I sit *behind* seats that don't recline.   Nothing worse than the getting trapped in my seat by recliners. 

As I've aged, I now upgrade myself to whatever economy comfort seat is available.   I'll further upgrade myself to business class on longer flights partially for the leg room, but mostly for the seat width so I can actually work on a laptop.

Regarding flight searches, I'm restricted to Delta 99% of the time.  I use their web site almost exclusively.   I'll periodically check Kayak, Hipmunk, or some other site if I'm originating from an airport that provides choices.   But I usually pay up for Delta since I'm a captive audience and  Delta frequent flier.


April 18th, 2018 at 8:35 AM ^

6'5" here. If exit row or bulkhead seats aren't available, the reclining seat thing causes a huge battle every dang time I fly, without fail.

You short people do not know how apocalyptically pissed some people get if they don't get ALLLLL 37 millimeters of travel out of their seat back, and screw whoever's knees might be in the way, because they're going to slam the shit out of you without apology. If you muster the unmitigated gall to say something like, "um, excuse me sir, I really hate to be a bother but my patellas are now in my socks and I'm supporting your entire weight with the shreds of what's left of my meniscus", you will see disgust and contempt like you've never experienced in the eyes of another humanoid being because by virtue of your pathetic Orc-like existence you've denied them the real estate of reclinement divined to them by God himself.

Flying sucks.


April 18th, 2018 at 1:31 PM ^

6'5. Flew a middle seat on Spirit a couple of months ago. It was horrid, but it was very cheap and they could not be more clear on their website about what you get; I might pay that extra next time.

And I flew United even more recently, on a plane (737, eerily enough) with DirecTV in the seatbacks. Because there was a screen, the armrests were locked into place. I was with my wife, which allowed me to lean into her, but I had every bit the same space constrictions I had on Spirit with far fewer options to change.

Anyway, I don't resent Spirit. I do concur with my above 6'5 colleague about seat leaning to some extent, though I should point out that with where my knees are people in front of me find leaning back physically impossible and stop trying after a while. There is physically nowhere for my legs or their seatback to go.

The bruises go away after a while.


April 18th, 2018 at 12:46 AM ^

and were on my no-fly list, but I agree that with the fleet upgrade and an overhaul of the website such that all their hidden fees are actually somewhat transparent while booking, they're actually pretty good now and I've flown them into and out of Detroit a couple times recently.


April 18th, 2018 at 6:10 AM ^

If you can squeeze all your stuff in an 18" x 14" x 8" bag and your trip is short and uncomplicated *and* you have some flexibility, Spirit is often the most affordable -- by far -- choice. On a recent West Coast flight their ticket -- which I purchased -- was in the high 2s and everything else (even SWA) was in the high 4s.

If you need to check multiple bags or you just *can't* do without a free Diet Coke, the math might get a little complicated.


April 18th, 2018 at 9:30 AM ^

I don't fly spirit because of unreliability. Their model has them flying less flights and using all available planes at all times. If anything goes wrong you are absolutely fucked and considering spirits on time/cancellation numbers something goes wrong somewhat often.

However if you are slightly more flexible with your travel spirit can be an option but you have to be very aware of all costs. Go through all of their costs and price everything out before you decide if they are actually cheaper. Will you have to check bags? If so weigh it at home to see how expensive it will be to price it out. Are you 6 feet tall or over? If so you won't fit in spirit economy so you have to upgrade your seat and factor in that cost.  The thing with spirit is being very aware about what they charge and pricing it out to see if its actually cheaper. And my advice with them would be that if its not at least $100 cheaper it isn't worth the risk of having your vacation ruined relative to other airlines due to delays/cancellations.


April 18th, 2018 at 3:08 PM ^

In my experiences with Spirit, you're playing with fire the later in the day your depature is. 

When everything is running on time, the flight is direct, and you don't need much luggage, Spirit can be a great deal.  But if youre on one of their last scheduled flights for a day watch out, my 7:45 departure has turned into 11:00 PM departure for no other reason than running severely behind schedule.  

All of my experiences were 4-5 years ago between DFW & DTW. Flew them once form DTW to Ft Myers with absolutely no issues. So things may have improved. 

The bulk of my worst flying experiences have all been Delta though. A couple years ago on the way back from Vegas our plane's AC was not working and the cabin was over 100 degrees and we had to make an emergency landing in Salt Lake City.  Paramedics and Police were the first people on the plane.  There were likely lawsuits from that incident, I know I received about $400 in perks for just complaining. 


*** Shoutout to SUN COUNTRY AIRLINES (based in Minneapolis I believe) for being by far the best cheaper/smaller airline experience I've had. 


April 18th, 2018 at 10:19 AM ^

We only fly them if going to Florida on a direct flight, but for that Spirit is decent. The main thing to be aware of with Spirit is for those with connecting flights; they don't have reciprocity agreements with other airlines. So, if something happens and your flight is canceled for any reason, you will have to wait until Spirit has another flight going to your destination. This can be anywhere from a few hours, to a couple days, and you're completely at their mercy. For that reason, you only want to fly through their "hub" airports when flying Spirit. 

Other than that, they're okay for what you pay. Seats are small, and uncomfortable, but I can deal with that on a short flight. Anything over three hours though, and I'm paying extra to be comfortable. 


April 18th, 2018 at 10:40 AM ^

This is why I don't get the hate for Spirit. It's an option that's actually different than the other airlines. Delta, American, United, are all essentially the same with different hubs. Spirit lets you sacrifice comfort, availability, etc, for cost. Maybe saving $200 means the trip your considering is actually affordbale. Maybe you'd rather be uncomfortable for a few hours and stay in a suite instead normal room during your vacation.

Are the other airlines nicer? Yes, but you pay for it. And I would need to have "always first-class" kind of money before I'd ever completely exclude Spirit as an option like some people do.


April 18th, 2018 at 2:07 PM ^

Well you also start paying a bag earlier with spirit, it costs more if you don't do when you book online (not a problem for most but can catch inexperienced travelers). But if you have a bag that is larger than a backpack but fits in an overhead its free on delta and you have to pay on spirit. So with delta you essentially get the first bag free relative to spirit unless you can pack in a backpack. 

They also charge you to pre-select a seat, not a problem if you aren't traveling with someone/don't care about sitting with them but could be a problem if you are taking a father son bonding trip and want to gaurantee sitting next to them, etc. Spirit can be a lot cheaper, it often isn't nearly as much as it would seem and when you factor in their actual performance is saving 50-75 bucks worth a marked increase in your trip being ruined? Isn't for me, can be for other people.


April 18th, 2018 at 11:04 AM ^

Leg room isn't exactly great on Delta (or UA or AA) in back either.  So, I don't choose on that. 

But as you said, the "lack of reciprocity agreements" is a big thing.  That's the primary reason I shy away from Spirit/Frontier/Allegiant.

If Delta cancels my Denver-Detroit flight, there's another one leaving in 3 hours anyway.  And if they can't get me a direct flight, they have a lot of options through their other hubs.  And if they can't get that to work, they'll consider putting me on United an AA flights to get there.

If Spirit cancels my Denver-Detroit flight, there are considerably less options.


April 18th, 2018 at 12:02 PM ^

I suppose this is the biggest difference for me vs most of the people here who aren't spirit fans.  I think I have flown 4 connecting flights in my entire life.  I always flight non stop and that makes the chances of me having issues with Spriit infinitely smaller.  


Also I mostly fly out of MSP, so possibly much different than SE MI


April 18th, 2018 at 10:52 AM ^

I used to fly 2-3 times per year. I don't consider myself an inexperienced traveler. However, I will admit it has been many years since I flew on Spirit. If they have improved, that is welcomed news. I think I'll let the word of mouth improve before trying them again.


April 18th, 2018 at 12:00 PM ^

I had avoided them for the past decade entirely, but have flown Spirit three times this year and had zero issues (other than lack of comfort). The first two times, it was just because it was literally 300% cheaper than my next best option (and was a short flight). The experience was fine, so used them again last month which was again, fine. Not great, but definitely not terrible either. 

The pilot was pretty funny on the second flight. Just before takeoff, he came on the intercom and said something like: "and to all of you who swore you'd never fly Spirit ever again... WELCOME BACK!". We laughed. 


April 18th, 2018 at 1:35 PM ^

I appreciate airlines with a good sense of humor. Spirit has rated high in that category in my experience. 

Of course, I'm biased. I flew Spirit to Florida and back in 2003 when my Dad died in Fort Myers (after a long bout with cancer, but was on vacation when his body started shutting down). I took an early Spirit flight back up to Detroit Metro the morning after he passed away, alone. We had a long taxi and the stewardess spent most of it on the PA cracking quite funny jokes on the way to the terminal. It was perfect for where I was at the time, and I'm glad I was on that plane.


April 18th, 2018 at 2:16 PM ^

Yeah, good humor can help in most tough situations. Sorry to hear about your dad, even if it was some years ago. I'm not looking forward to that day at all. 

I would stress that I will only fly with them for short trips, like DTW to RSJ or similar. Anything longer, or with a connection and I'm paying the premium to be comfortable. 


April 18th, 2018 at 12:41 PM ^

But my 2 kids live in California and I fly them home several times a year and have been to visit them multiple times. So maybe not as experienced as you but in my meager experience, Spirit sucks. Their seats are based off some medieval torture device and their pricing and web site are both deceptive.

Furthermore, my mom booked a flight and upgraded to their big boy seats. Some dude has a medical emergency ( can’t recall what she said happened, wanna say heart attack) mid flight and ex ER nurse Mom takes care of the guy until they land. They don’t even make an emergency landing instead opting to fly to destination. The whole time Mom is next to the guy on the floor, not in the seat she paid extra for. Do you think Spirit comped her anything for taking care of their passenger? Do you think they even thanked her? Do you think they offered her money back she paid extra for the seat she didn’t occupy? Spoiler alert: the answer to each question is no. Fuck Spirit.


April 17th, 2018 at 10:50 PM ^

I like Hipmunk and Kayak as places to get a pulse on the market.  When I find the specific airline/flight that I want, I go to the airline's site and book there.

If you're planning ahead, start checking flights and prices as soon as you can.  Get an idea of how far it may drop and how far it may rise.  When you feel comfortable with a price, make the buy.

In terms of price variance through the week, Tuesdays tend to have the lowest prices in the week.

True Blue Grit

April 18th, 2018 at 8:17 AM ^

This.  Be aware that the airlines know when more people are looking at airline reservations (Sat/Sun) and will charge higher prices on those days.  They'll drop a cookie on your computer and know what you've been searching for.  So, if you see some weird price differences when checking the airline sites, clear your cookies and look at it on Tuesday.  

House Mother

April 17th, 2018 at 10:51 PM ^

Kayak.com and cheapoair.com can give you comparison costs. Since you live in northern Michigan, be sure to check with Delta.com. They have the most flights in Michigan. You will probably have to go through Detroit or Atlanta. Be sure to read all of the travel restrictions (3 oz. max liquids and must all fit into a 1 quart size plastic, see-through bag for carry-ons,  etc.)

If your dates are flexible, be sure to check that box, as opposed to exact dates box on Delta.com. You will see that the days and times you travel can vary the cost greatly.

UM Fan from Sydney

April 17th, 2018 at 10:50 PM ^

I am the person who likes to book ASAP via the airline site, simply to ensure I have a ticket. The dare devils wait until the last minute to book to save money. Prices will certainly drop that late, as airlines take whatever they can get at that point.


April 17th, 2018 at 11:44 PM ^

My experience is that prices rise when you book with less than 2 weeks to your departure date. The airlines figure you don't have time to comparison shop so they jack up the price. Many routes are dominated by a single carrier anyway. Once the competition is sold out, the dominant carrier can raise the fare.


April 18th, 2018 at 12:08 AM ^

Correct, anything within 2-3 weeks will start skyrocketing because the majority of people booking flights that last-minute are business travelers/people that need to travel and are price insensitve so the airlines jack up rates. The exception is Holiday travel that will often rise much earlier than 2-3 weeks out so it's often worth booking that as early as possible.

If you're more than a month out, prices will fluctuate pretty frequently so it's usually a good idea to check periodically to see where they're bottoming out (if you want to save the most).

The cheapest days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, in general, so you can save money by being flexible with dates as well.

Other than that, agree with all the other people that you should search an aggregator like Kayak.com to find the best price and then book on the airlines website directly so you don't have to go through a third party for any issues.  Make sure to check Southwest directly as they still don't list on the aggregators.

Good luck!



April 18th, 2018 at 12:13 AM ^

Generally, I find the best domestic coach fares to be 14-28 days prior to departure, but there are a ton of factors here.  In some markets, you can buy discount no-advance-purchase fares for a lot less than you'd expect if load is light.  In others, even if the plane is empty, they won't discount.  It's all extremely competitive, in a certain weird oligopolic way: the major airlines try to match each other's fares, so if one of them decides to add a discount Detroit - Orlando fare, they'll likely all follow.  And if one of them later decides to cut the discount Detroit - Orlando fare, they often follow that too.  They'll often do this with no regard whatsoever to the Detroit - Tampa fares.  It makes no sense, but... that's airline pricing. :)