Five Reasons To Not Take The Cheapest Flight

exiting airplane
Image: Jaako.

With all sorts of bad airline-related stories popping up lately (fees for blankets, Kevin Smith too fat to fly, and the ever present airline strike...this week it's British Airways.) I really got to thinking about the choices we make when we buy airline tickets. Many people simply buy the cheapest ticket available, without regard for other factors. Sure, a cheap ticket can get you from point A to point B, but are you really getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to your entire trip? Keep reading for a few reasons why the cheapest ticket may not be the best ticket for your next trip.

Avoid Connections and Layovers

Your travel time is precious, especially if your vacation time is limited. Every connection you make, the hours you waste on layovers, is time that you're not spending enjoying your trip. Plus, every link in your air travel chain is just another chance to be delayed, or even worse, to have a missed or canceled flight. I've given up finding the lowest price and look for reasonably priced direct flights that work best with my trip schedule. I see that $20 or $50 as a small price to pay to maximize your fun travel time and minimize the grumpy, "I'm stuck in the airport with nothing to do" time.

Arrive and Leave From Best Places for Your Trip

Typically, multi-city flights (or open-jaw tickets) cost more than round trip itineraries. But, if you're planning on hopping around to different cities, I'd strongly recommend considering looking at your transportation costs overall, and don't overlook multi-city flights. For example, let's say you're going to Italy for two weeks and you've found a really cheap flight into Milan. After you visit Milan, you go to Venice, Rome, Firenze, and then you plan on heading back to Milan to fly home. In addition to spending a lot of transit time on the train getting back to Milan for your return flight, you're also spending significant amounts of money. I recommend considering an open-jaw ticket, so that you can spend more time enjoying yourself, less time in transit, and perhaps even save money.

Time Arrival To Avoid Jetlag

The cheapest flights, especially long-haul flights, are typically ones that put you at your destination at inconvenient times: red eye flights, early morning departures, late night arrivals...I've done them all. But after a while, I've started to wonder if the savings is worth it? After all, whenever I suffer from jetlag (and can't shake it), I waste time stumbling around, half dead, desperately wanting to sleep. While we may not be able to always afford to make a better choice, I implore you, don't neglect your entire trip for a few bucks (if you can afford it.) Sure, that red-eye flight might save you some money, but is it worth being dead when you arrive?

Avoid Bad Airports

Airport tastes are a deeply personal thing. I hate Dulles(IAD), love Hartford, and don't want to step foot in De Gaulle again. Ask another person and their lists will be different. I can't produce a foolproof list of airports to avoid (although many people have tried) but I can suggest that you do some research on security lines, airport nightmare stories, and ask for your friends' recommendations. Most importantly, stick with your gut. If you hate a particular place with a passion, don't fly through it just to save a few bucks. After all, if you've got to spend hours waiting for a flight, you don't want to be miserable and let those bad feelings leak out into the rest of your trip.

Better Customer Service

In the airline price wars, customer service has been a consistent loser in the war for travel dollars. When low prices are the main concern for the customer and the airline, those slashed prices come with a cost of inadequate services. If a company isn't taking care of its employees, you can tell. And more and more frequently, caring, helpful people have become a rarity on flights. Those who travel often will tell you quickly what airlines they love, and they reward those airlines with their business. In return, frequent business travelers often stick with a single airline, and that loyalty earns them all sorts of perks and special treatment. Infrequent, vacation-only travelers may not have that luxury, but I propose that we'd all be better off rewarding airlines that take care of us and those with reputations for good customer service with our travel dollars.

Please don't mistake this advice as anti-thrift rhetoric. I'm still a cheap-ticket loving guy. But keep your expectations in check, don't expect five star service at rock-bottom prices. After all, you get what you pay for.


love this, was talking about something similar yesterday with a friend here in Beirut.

I would much rather pay for comfort and convenience than have to deal with uncertainty and lack of reliability, esp. in regards to airports and layovers. Unlike you ;) I don't mind Dulles too much and will experience DeGaulle for the first time this summer when I layover there on my visit back to the States (though I did allow for a generous layover based on my notions of what the experience could be like). I do detest Milan and won't fly through there if I can help it.

In the big scheme of things I look at even a $100 or $200 ticket increase a fair exchange for the convenience and peace of mind that I am traveling well, a sort of insurance. One thing that you might make note of is baggage policies and charges that airlines have, esp. if you're using multiple airlines or going through different countries, such as traveling through the UK. A cheap ticket on one airline could turn out to be a more significant cost and headache once you realize the associated baggage costs. When booking a flight from Beirut to DC this summer it ended up being cheaper and more convenient to purchase a more expensive ticket upfront as the baggage costs and limitations for other flights were insane and almost raised the cheaper ticket to the fare of the more convenient one.

Sorry, just my opinion :)

Yes, yes, yes! I couldn't agree more with all of these. I like to fly cheap, but there are other things that are just as important to me when I fly, and you've nailed them all here. Redeye flights are usually cheaper, but I can't sleep on airplanes, and I hate arriving at my destination exhausted, so I know I just need to pay more to fly during the day.

I think you are bang on. The laws of market economics are pertinent here. If the market consistently demands the cheapest fares, then the market will consistently return a bare-bones product. Sometimes it's worth paying a little more. Check out for comparison of seat size and entertainment systems, for example.

Love this article. Only thing I would add is you also avoid hidden fees and costs. There has been such a race to the bottom in airline pricing that it´s been to all of our detriment. I typically the low-cost guys for all of the reasons you mention above. Great article!

Great post Austin! After being delayed more than 20 hours then getting on a plane with broken tv (yep the old school ones that come down from the plane roof), horrendous food and poor service, I turned to Tom and said, "You know for an extra $100 or $200 this 11 HOUR flight might have been better." I just hope we have the option to choose our airlines as usually our flights purchases are directed by cost.

If you are wondering which airline we took it was Aerolineas Argentinas...and, we will do out best not to take it again!

GREAT observations! A couple that I'd add:

If you have to make a connection, be sure to pay attention to how much ground time you have and whether or not you can logistically make the connection. It doesn't save any money (let alone time), if you have a 33 minute connection, to that one flight per day to your destination, and you miss it and have to overnight.

And don't overlook business class or potential upgrades. I flew business to Italy last summer, and when I did the cost/benefit analysis, it was completely worth the cost of the upgrade. I took a red eye, slept beautifully on my lay flat seat/bed, and didn't lose a day in the travel process. It won't work every time, but it's worth checking on.

Excellent points. I travel a lot and everything you mentioned is spot on especially avoiding connections and layovers. It's just not worth it to turn a 2 hour flight into a 5 hour epic adventure. I still search for cheap flights but will pay extra to avoid carryovers and switching planes.