Flying internationally can be pricey. Here are some tips to help you find an affordable and convenient flight.
Note: KU study abroad programs may offer a group flight, as will some student-initiated programs. Look into this option first because it may be easier, cheaper, and have some benefits. They aren’t always available, but when they are they can be a good deal.
Step 1: Do some research.
A flight is usually the most expensive single purchase you will have when you plan to travel (unless you get a really expensive rail pass). To find the lowest priced flights, you will want to do a lot of research. Flight prices can vary by day, by the time you are searching, and by the airport you are flying in to or out of. If you are hoping to travel in Europe, don’t just look for flights in to London. Check a lot of different cities–Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, Brussels, Zurich, Vienna, Berlin, Dublin, etc. Some airports are more expensive to fly into or out of. For more information about when to buy your ticket, check out this article on HuffPo.
Although no one website is perfect, some useful websites are Kayak.com, STA Travel, Student Universe, and Expedia. Everyone has a favorite method, but I like to recommend searching sites like Kayak first and then buying the best flight through the actual airline. Sometimes flights booked through other sellers can be problematic. (Although this is rare, I’ve been kicked off full flights before because I bought my ticket through a third-party, and once after a flight was cancelled I had trouble getting on to a later flight.)
Don’t always book the cheapest ticket first. Consider other costs, like how much an airline charges for luggage, how convenient the arrival and departure times are, how many layovers you will have, and how easy it is to get to and from the airports you choose. Sometimes an extra $50 can get you much better departure times, better layovers, or an in-flight meal. Choose what works best for you and your budget.
Step 2: Open Jaw or Standard Return?
“Open Jaw” flights can be a great deal for travelers. The idea is that you fly into one city (maybe London?) and you fly home from another city (maybe Paris?). This can be a great option if you are traveling between two places and don’t need to return to your original starting point. When I studied abroad, I flew into my host country, but flew home from Paris. After the semester ended, I traveled for a few weeks before eventually ending up in Paris to fly home. If you fly open jaw, you might need to fly on two different airlines (possible, although frustrating), and you should check flying in and out of a lot of different cities if you have some flexibility.
If you aren’t planning to travel, or you don’t want to deal with carting your luggage from your study abroad site to another location, it’s probably best to fly on a standard return flight (arrive and depart from the same city).
Step 3: Decide if you want a Student Ticket
STA Travel and Student Universe both sell student tickets. Sometimes the fares are cheaper (which is great!). If you buy your ticket through STA Travel, you might want to get an ISIC card (available in the KU Study Abroad office).
Step 4: Figure out how to fund your ticket
STA Travel offers the “Book Now, Pay Later” option which is really convenient if you are saving for a ticket or waiting for a student loan/scholarship to come through. If you are responsible with your money and feel comfortable using a credit card, you could also buy your ticket with a credit card (try to find a low interest rate!) and then pay it off with loan/scholarship money if needed. If you have steady income and can make payments, this can be a good way to pay for a higher-priced items like flights and rail passes.
Step 4: Buy that ticket!
Don’t wait too long to purchase your flight. Ticket prices tend to go up the closer to the departure date.
Step 5: Check in
Don’t forget to check in online and enter your passport information. Get to the airport early (arriving 3 hours before an international flight is recommended), and don’t pack anything that won’t be allowed on your flight or in your carry-on. Read all the rules and luggage requirements so you aren’t surprised when you get to the airport.
Step 6: Arriving in a foreign country
Make plans before your flight for how you will get to where you need to go from the airport. Consider printing a map of the airport to take with you so you know where to go once you arrive. Look into taxis, train or subway lines, buses, or airport vans to get to your final destination.