The Process Of Buying International Airfare

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Sailing from ports other than those which conveniently serve North America, cruise travelers will need to buy international airfare.  No one drives from Omaha to France, Germany, Italy, Spain or other countries commonly  the beginning points for European cruise vacations.   In North America, we can decide “should we fly or drive to the port?”.  Across the pond, this is not an option.  On buying international airfare, the best strategy is to use multiple sources for pricing research to get an idea on what it costs to go where you want to go.
It’s a process that I look at, very loosely, like this:
  1. Airports- Frankfurt - 00038Where, When and How: Obviously, a destination, flying dates and the airport(s) you will fly to/from are needed to begin the process.
  2. Pick A Ship-So you need to pick a ship and sailing date you might like to go on and check air for it.  Don’t buy yet.
  3. Connection Times For first time International airfare buyers, I suggest at least 2 to 3 hours between connecting flights, just to provided extra time for travel delays that will happen; they always do.  Example: We fly from Orlando to Atlanta then on to Paris on the way to Nuremberg on our December  Christmas Markets Viking River Cruise.  I know that anything less than an hour between flights in Paris is just asking for trouble.  Booking far in advance we can get more generous connection times.  On International airfare, we really need to pay attention to flight times.
  4. Book Cruise Far Out, Air Closer– Booking your cruise far in advance then looking for air gives plenty of time to get it, at a price you like.  While booking 6 months in advance or more is recommended for all cruises, a good amount of time is needed when airfare, especially international airfare, is part of the buying process.
  5. Check with Airfarewatchdog.com – there, flight alerts can be set that will send an email to you when they see good pricing.  That can help get an idea of what pricing will be like
  6. One Source: The Cruise Line -Check with the cruise line airfare too- Traditionally, the cruise line airfare was not a good value.  Today, cruise lines have re-entered the airfare business, often offering competitive prices.    I suggest this check primarily for information purposes.
  7. Cruise CompeteGet What You Want- The down side of booking cruise line airfare is that unless you pay an extra fee, called a deviation fee, you have no control over the airline, flight times or dates….the cruise line just guarantees to get you there.
  8. Ticketed Tickets– Another down side of the cruise line airfare is that they don’t actually buy your tickets until later.  They may guarantee the rate but as soon as you “buy” they try to find better fares, keeping the price difference as profit.   That’s called having the airfare “ticketed” and that has to happen before you can pick seats; something that is way more important to us than it is to the cruise lines.
  9. Cruise First, Air Later– Sooner or later, you will get an idea of what airfare costs, decide on flights and book the airfare.  First, you need to book the cruise though.  Nicely-priced airfare to a cruise that has gone up in price and is no longer attractive is what we are trying to avoid here.
  10. It’s A Balancing Act– Look at airfare, look at cruises, look at airfare, look at cruises; back and forth you go until you have the numbers needed to meet your budget…or not; some times the numbers just don’t align with our budget and we put a trip on hold.
  11. Complementary Hold- Remember- you can hold airline tickets for 24-hours under Federal law.  That 24 hours can give you some critical time to find a better deal.
  12. Got It, Now Forget It- Booking air is not like booking a cruise then a better deal comes along and you can get that.  Once air is sold, you are done.  I strongly suggest forgetting about it for now, other than picking your seats.
  13. But Look Again- Later, take another look at your booked airline reservations from time to time.  Once a week should do it.  Be sure the flight times have not changed.
  14. Use Points-  Another advantage of booking far in advance is the opportunity to use reward miles points to offset or pay for airfare.  Checking for discounts too, senior, resident, or any other discounts can help too.  At least keep that in mind.  British Airways, for example, offers an AARP discount.  Some do, some don’t.

Cruise fares appear to be rather simple but upon closer examination need the educated eyes of a travel professional on your side to see the real value, discounts available, special offers and more.  International airfare can be more complicated than cruise fares, have more critical variables and requires a different thought process.

An Agent Can Do This For You

Travelers can find travel agents who do airfare.  Expect to pay between $50 and $100 more per ticket for this service.  I do not recommend using a travel agent for this though.  Cruise: yes. Airfare: No…unless focusing on a seamless package from door to door is the priority, rather than the best value.  If so, let the cruise line do it all for you, hope for the best and have a nice trip.

Why You Don’t Want An Agent To Do This For You

The number one reason why I am steering you towards doing airfare on your own is for when things go wrong, and that happens.  It’s just part of travel that has probably kept many travelers from making the jump from North American sailings to the rest of planet Earth.  When flights are delayed, missed, rescheduled or canceled, it is going to be YOU and the airline gate agent working out what your next step will be.  Not the cruise line.  Not your travel agent.  It’s how business is done and the recipe for fixing an airfare problem does not include agents or cruise lines as ingredients.

Yes, It’s Worth It

Don’t get me wrong, traveling internationally is very much worth the extra work needed to make that happen.  The world of travel is not a checklist; we do not have to have visited a pre-determined number of North American places before we are allowed to travel internationally.  That you read this far indicates you have already traveled internationally or have made the decision to get serious about trying it.    That’s a good thing.


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