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Use These Tips to Improve Your Flight Search Game


Flight searching tips infographic

From pandemics to pilot shortages, the airline industry has taken a beating in recent years and passengers are often left paying the price through canceled flights, intolerable delays, and airport frustrations. There’s no way to guarantee you’ll never encounter a single mishap on your journey, but you can minimize several risks simply by searching just a bit smarter when selecting itineraries. From better budgeting for layovers to enlisting a pro, here’s what you should consider when searching for your next flight.

delta plane seen through airport window

Delays can spring up for unpredictable reasons like weather, but they can also recur due to poor airline operations, so it pays to pay attention to an airline’s on-time arrival history. Among the three major carriers in the US, Delta Air Lines leads the pack with an 83.63% on-time rate for 2022 and United Airlines is not far behind at 80.46%, but American Airlines is only about 5% lower than the top at 78.29%. In short, if you’re flying with the majors, there isn’t much to consider here. If you branch out to budget carriers to score a deal, though, you’ll encounter significant drops, like JetBlue’s 66.35% on-time rate, giving yourself a one-third chance that you’ll arrive late. Aside from getting to your final destination on time and not spending all day in an airport, avoiding delays can also help ensure you make connections without issue.

group of travelers waiting with luggage

Missing a connection will not only guarantee you arrive late to your final destination but can also leave you with an unplanned overnight in your connecting city, and US-based airlines are not legally required to compensate you. Beyond delays, major airports may require up to 30 minutes to transfer between terminals, or even between two gates in the same epic concourse; international connections often require you to clear customs and border control before flying onward, as well as complete an additional security check; and ground crew issues may keep you stuck on a plane far beyond your actual landing time, eating up your valuable minutes. Many airlines impose minimum connection times to avoid some of these concerns, and those are built into any flights you’re offered, but some airports recommend additional time for their busier facilities, so it never hurts to check their websites for this intel, too. Even if you’re a fast walker and like to live life on the edge, it’s wise to give yourself at least an hour for a domestic connection, and two hours for international.

couple waiting in small airport

It’s tempting to search flights only from your nearest airport, but many addresses aren’t much further from second or third airports, even if they’re in another city. Searching additional airports can uncover upgrades like cheaper flights or more convenient schedules, and if you’re able to fly from a smaller airport instead of a behemoth, you should also experience less traffic, shorter security lines, and a calmer airport experience overall. Similarly, being flexible with your travel dates can yield dramatically different costs and flight availability, as airlines base their cost on demand. Popular flying days like Friday and Sunday typically cost more than oft-overlooked Tuesday and Wednesday, so even a date change of a single day can benefit your bank account and you’ll typically find fewer people at the airport on these days, too.

delta website and app

It may be tempting to save money by booking legs on different airlines, but keep in mind that any disruption will derail the rest of your journey. When booked on a single reservation, your airline will work with you to rebook whenever necessary, but they won’t work with each other if you’re shopping around. Multiple reservations also means any checked baggage won’t transfer all the way through, so you’ll need to exit the terminal, collect and recheck your bags, and clear security again before moving on to your next flight.

girl smiling looking through plane window

AAA Travel Advisors can provide vacation planning guidance to make your next trip unforgettable. Find a Travel Advisor

These tips are generally easy to implement on your own, but if you really want to eliminate as much stress as possible, you can leave your entire trip to the professionals by working with a travel advisor. Not only do they already know how to locate the most painless itineraries for you, but they’ll often handle rebookings and other logistics when unforeseen travel disruptions do head your way, keeping the stress off your own shoulders. If your goal for this getaway is total relaxation, hiring a pro may be the way to go.