6 Questions to Ask Before You Book a Discount Airfare Deal


Every day of the week, deal websites like The Flight Deal and Secret Flying roll out one crazy airfare sale after another. While the deals vary in terms of where they go and how much they cost, the setup is always the same: Be willing to fly on specific dates and at specific times and you can save 50 percent or more on your trip.

Here are some examples of sale fares that have been posted recently:

"Newark to Athens for just $393 round-trip!"

"Los Angeles to Atlanta for just $99 on Delta!"

"Washington D.C. to Rome for just $493 round-trip on Alitalia!"

"Chicago to Lima, Peru on United for just $454!"

Sound good? Unfortunately, the deals can be as fleeting as they are outrageous.

Depending on the sale, you may only have a day or just a few hours to book before the low, low prices disappear. Because of this, you have to act fast if you want to score a deal. Unfortunately, the timeliness of crazy airfare deals can cause people to make hasty decisions. Worried they'll miss out on a cheap airfare deal, they go ahead and book without thinking twice.

But, there are real disadvantages that come with booking airfare without a comprehensive travel plan in place — including the fact that canceling your trip isn't always an option. Before you book discount airfare that may not be refundable, here are six questions to ask yourself.

1. Will I be able to take time off work?

Before you spend money on airfare, it's smart to consider how much PTO you have, and the likelihood you'll be able to take time off work. The same can be said for your spouse or anyone else you might be traveling with.

The cost of airfare aside, will they be able to use their vacation days on the dates of your trip? Will you?

2. Can I afford the other travel expenses involved with this trip?

Let's say you score an awesome deal — less than $400 per person round-trip for your family of four — on airfare to Europe or Southeast Asia. That's a stellar price indeed, but have you thought through the other costs associated with your trip?

What about your hotel? Rental car? Train travel? The cost of food, entry into attractions, and other entertainment for the duration of your trip?

If you believe you have all the cash you need, it's still smart to sit down and plan out each individual component of your vacation. Once you add it all up, you might be surprised by how much you'll spend on hotels and other travel costs.

If you don't have any vacation money set aside, you shouldn't book any travel deals no matter the cost. Even if you save money on airfare, the rest of your trip could derail your finances or, worse, land you in debt. (See also: How to Build Your Best Travel Budget)

3. Do I have fixed-value travel credit to cover the cost?

Even if you're scoring cheap airfare, it's possible to use points to cover the cost. With a flexible travel credit card whose points can be redeemed for statement credits on travel expenses, you can use fixed-value travel credit to pay for part or all of your airfare.

Before you book a cheap airfare deal, ask yourself if you have points to spare — or if you'd rather pay cash. If you have a card that offers fixed-value travel credit, the price of your airfare could quickly go from cheap to free. (See also: How Travel Rewards Credit Cards Really Work)

4. Can I cancel this trip if I need to?

Thanks to a rule enacted by the U.S. Department of Transportation, domestic and international carriers that service the U.S. are required to refund your money if you cancel your flight within 24 hours of booking. But after that? You are 100 percent on your own if you need to cancel your flight for any reason.

Some airlines such as American will let you change your flight for a fee, but you'll typically lose your discount in the process since the sale you book will have likely ended by the time you reschedule. Also keep in mind that airlines will not let you transfer a paid ticket to another person. So if you booked a flight for your spouse and they can't get off work, you can't transfer it to a friend instead.

Whenever you book a discount flight, it's important to spend your first 24 hours getting your ducks in a row — making sure you can get off work and that the travel deal is something everybody wants. After 24 hours, changing your mind becomes tricky — and a lot more expensive.

5. Do I really want to visit this destination?

Before you book a travel deal to a place you've never visited, it's always worth considering whether you actually want to go there. Paying just $400 to travel somewhere new for a week might sound amazing at first glance, but is it worth the time off work and the cash you'll inevitably spend? That means you'll have less time off and vacation money for other travel options that might come up later. Are you actually interested in this destination, or is the allure of a cheap deal the only thing pulling you in?

If you're only half-excited about the trip, consider waiting until a travel deal you actually want comes along. Deals come and go every day. If you wait long enough, you're bound to fall into an airfare sale you cannot resist. (See also: 5 Steps to Getting a Free Vacation in 9 Months or Less)

6. Is this a 'mistake fare' that could be canceled?

While websites like The Flight Deal and Secret Flying post traditional airfare "sales" all the time, they also uncover their share of "mistake fares." Unlike travel sales the airlines planned for, "mistake fares" tend to be website glitches that lead to discounted fares the airlines had no intention of offering.

There's nothing wrong with booking a flight that could be the result of an airline mistake, but you should prepare yourself for the fact the airline can cancel your flight. Airlines do have the right to cancel your itinerary, and they often do.

With that in mind, it's smart to wait a few days before you book non refundable hotels, rental cars, or other components of your trip. That way, if your airline does cancel your flight, you won't lose any real money. (See also: 7 Best Websites for Last-Minute Airfare Deals)

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