Booking a flight is usually a simple matter of visiting a website, using a travel agent, or calling an airline. Reservation made, you head to the airport, boarding pass in hand, find your gate, and fly to your destination. When problems arise, like a need to change your flight’s details or cancel it altogether, the airlines have rules in place covering any eventuality, and will do their best to accommodate you.

What Information is Needed to Book a Flight?

Airline choice, ticket price, and travel dates are the basic requirements for a plane ticket purchase, but the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the airlines themselves have a few specific requirements for booking a flight and boarding a plane. Make sure you have the following information at hand or you won’t be able to make travel arrangements.

  • The passenger’s legal name and address exactly as they appear on their identification. However, the TSA is flexible about variations in suffixes between boarding passes and IDs. For instance, if your ID says Jane Doe, MD and your boarding pass says Jane Doe, TSA will accept the difference.
  • Travel dates, departure airport, and destination.
  • Contact information. Provide the airline with your email address in addition to your phone number so they can send you a copy of your itinerary and updates.
  • Identification. Passengers must have a verifiable form of identification to pass through airport TSA checkpoints. A driver’s license, passport, military ID, or trusted traveler card (NEXUS, Global Entry, SENTRI, FAST) are commonly used, though there are other acceptable forms of ID.
  • Beginning May 7, 2025, all forms of identification must be REAL ID compliant. Check with your state department of motor vehicles to ensure that your ID complies.
  • If you forget to bring your ID to the airport, TSA agents follow a process that includes gathering your personal information in an effort to verify who you are.
  • If your driver’s license or state-issued ID card has expired within the past year, TSA will accept it as a valid form of ID.
  • Children under 18 do not need ID to clear TSA security, though your airline may have rules regarding forms of identification for younger people. Check with them when you book the flight.

Before you head to the airport, make sure you have your ID, paper tickets if they’ve been issued, and the confirmation number for your reservation. You’ll need a boarding pass to get on the plane. Most major airlines allow you to download a boarding pass to your phone or print it at home 24 hours before the flight. You can also print your pass at a self-serve kiosk at the airport or have a ticket counter agent print it for you.

Booking for Others

The process for how to book a flight for someone else involves gathering their personal identification details, contacting the airline to add them as a passenger to your itinerary, choosing suitable flights and seats based on their preferences, and being prepared to make the payment yourself using your own valid form of payment. In essence, you’ll need the same information you need to buy a ticket for yourself. Confirm that you have the name exactly as it appears on the flyer’s ID. On rare occasions, agents at the airport might flag the ticket for verification on arrival and will ask to see the credit card used to make the purchase. You can avoid this by purchasing the ticket through a travel agent or a website like Priceline or Expedia.

As long as it is strictly a gift, you can use your frequent flyer miles on a ticket for someone else. That traveler may be asked if the ticket really is a gift because airlines have strict rules prohibiting travelers from selling air miles.

If the ticket is for a minor traveling alone, check with the airline before you buy to see if they have rules governing unaccompanied minors.

Types of Flights

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Scheduled Flights

The most common types of flights are scheduled flights. Search for the flight that matches your departure and destination airports, your preferred flight times and dates, and what class seat you want at an airline’s website. Find your flights through your travel agent or at a travel search engine. When you find a good match, pay for your tickets and you’re good to go.

Chartered Flights

There are two kinds of chartered flights. The first, mostly associated with tour groups, involves chartering an entire plane for your organization’s travel as you would a tour bus to see the sights in a city. The advantage is having all members on the same flight, airport to airport. On the second type, called fly-sharing, you share the plane with other passengers you may or may not know who are headed to the same destination. You can schedule a chartered flight directly with the company that operates the airplanes or use an open marketplace like JetASAP or FLYJETS that operate like travel search engines.

Connecting Flights

When researching how to connect flights, it is important to check that the layover between flights allows enough time to change planes. Be aware if the flights are separate tickets that require rechecking bags, and confirm any visas needed for international connections to avoid issues during travel. You’ll need to budget enough time between flights to retrieve your luggage from the domestic leg and check it on the international leg.

You may find a cheaper fare if you book different legs of a trip on different airlines. If, for instance, an international carrier is having a sale on flights out of one of their hubs, search for a cheap domestic flight from your home airport to that hub.

Frequent flyers should try to book both legs of connecting flights on airlines that are in the same alliance. Booking on Lufthansa for an international leg and United for the domestic leg earns miles on both legs because both are part of the Star Alliance.

Most airlines will penalize you if you use a method called skiplagging, where you purchase a leg of a trip you don’t intend to use in order to get a lower fare. For instance, you may want to fly from New York to Charlotte but discover the fare is lower if you purchase a ticket between New York and New Orleans with a stop in Charlotte.

Choosing Travel Dates

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If you have flexible travel dates, you can avoid the busiest travel days, but if your travel days are set be aware that there are times when airports are overflowing with passengers and airplanes are full. The Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after are usually near the top of the list of busy travel dates. Summer vacation and the Fourth of July translate to Fridays in June, July, and August seeing a significant increase in passengers. Airports bustle around Christmas and New Year, but because of variables like what day the holiday falls on it’s hard to predict which travel day will be busiest.

Memorial Day and Labor Day, the bookends of summer, see an uptick in passengers as people leave for summer vacation and return home at the end of vacation. Millions of college students travel to the beach or the mountains for spring break in March and April. Mardi Gras celebrations culminate on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, so you may find you’re sharing a plane with spring break and carnival revelers.

Open Ended Tickets – Rules for open-ended tickets vary from airline to airline. Choosing this option allows you to book a flight without a specific return date, but you’ll need to read the fine print to avoid unexpected fees. These seats can be more expensive to purchase and the airline might charge an additional change fee for the return flight. When you’re booking, look for seats listed as unrestricted, flexible or fully refundable.

Last Minute Departure – Most airlines allow passengers to buy tickets online or over the phone up to two hours before the time the plane is scheduled to take off, but if you’re within the two-hour window, you’ll most likely have to buy your ticket at the airport. Be aware the ticket will probably be very expensive and that a last-minute purchase may trigger scrutiny from the TSA.

Choosing an Airline

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A pleasant flying experience is a critical part of a business, vacation, or personal trip. While you cannot control all the aspects of your flight, there are considerations you may find important before you book.

  • Customer Satisfaction –‌ Knowing which are the airline’s safest airlines and which are the most on-time are frequently top of mind for passengers. The safety record includes fatalities as well as onboard incidents that threaten safety. has a useful tool to compare both domestic and international airlines.
  • Where They Fly –‌ Choose an airline based on knowing that their routes correspond to the destinations you want to go. If you plan to travel frequently, joining the airline's frequent flyer program can get you some rewards.
  • Types of Plane‌ – If you’re traveling a short distance, you may have no choice but to take a small propeller plane or a regional jet, but you may be able to choose the types of planes you fly on if your trip is longer. A large plane like the Boeing 777 can be configured to carry up to 550 passengers in three classes and can make very long flights without a need to stop for fueling. The Airbus A380 has a wide-body, double-deck design, giving passengers more room onboard.
  • Comfort‌ – Check before you book if a meal, Wi-Fi, onboard entertainment, or complimentary in-flight socks are important to you. First class passengers may receive pajamas, slippers, and an amenity bag with toiletry items, or an eye mask and ear plugs. Bare bones, economical flights won’t offer many amenities.
  • On-time Statistics‌ – Airlines must publish their on-time data, but it can be hard to find. A flight is considered late if it doesn’t reach the gate within 15 minutes of its scheduled time. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics has granular data on on-time records going back decades.

Ticket Types

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One-way, round-trip, and ticket class are the most common types of flight tickets available. If you’re certain of your travel dates, book a round-trip ticket. If your plans are open-ended, a one-way ticket allows you to make alternate plans for your return. Buying a one-way nonrefundable or unrestricted ticket may be more expensive than a round-trip flight, but you’re less likely to pay extra fees if you find you need to book a return ticket on the same airline.

  • First Class – First Class tickets are generally the most costly, but they come with benefits like larger seats, access to an exclusive airport lounge, better food, and extras like free Wi-Fi. Seats in First Class may convert to beds on longer flights. Some long-distance flights have luxury suites or private rooms with individualized service.
  • Economy/Coach – Economy/Coach tickets are the most economical on a flight. Seats are smaller, drink and snack options are limited, and entertainment might be limited to the airline’s magazine.
  • Business Class – Business Class passengers have larger seats than Economy or Coach Class travelers. They may have better dining options and upgraded inflight entertainment. Note that some airlines have eliminated First Class and converted those seats to Business Class.
  • You may find variations in these classes from airline to airline. One might offer Premium Economy where seats are a little larger and another might offer “Legroom+” or “Extra Comfort” seating.

Check how full the flight is before you reach the gate. If there are many empty seats, you may be able to score an upgrade if you ask the gate agent for a better seat. It’s free to ask — just be on your best manners when you do.

You may have a paper ticket or, more likely, an e-ticket. Both are simply receipts proving that you’ve paid.

Standby Flights

There are some misconceptions about how to fly standby because it no longer means that any passenger can show up at the gate and expect to snag a seat on a plane at the last minute. Now the expression refers to passengers who have made a same-day flight change and are hoping to find another flight on that day.

Buddy Passes‌ – The traditional interpretation of standby tickets is only available to travelers who have a buddy pass, a hard-to-get perk available to friends and family of airline employees. If you have a buddy pass, you can show up at the airport at the last minute and pay only the taxes and fees due on an empty seat.

Call your airline before you attempt to use a buddy pass or to fly standby. Rules about when and where to show up as well as fees charged vary from carrier to carrier.

How to Choose Your Seats

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Expect some competition when you select your seat. First, check how many seats are available because that will determine what you have to choose from. Some passengers want a window seat for the view or an aisle seat for greater legroom. Emergency exit seats may have a little more space, but you’ll need to be confident you can help out if there’s a reason to use the exit. And, the flight attendants will check in with you to be sure that you agree to the extra responsibilities of sitting in an exit row. Seats in the last row on some planes don’t recline, but it can be a good advantage if you want to be close to the galley so you’ll be first to be served when the meal cart comes out.

If you’re not given the option to choose a seat before you pay, check the airline’s website for a graphic of the interior of the plane and find your assigned seat. If it’s not acceptable, call the airline to see if you can have it changed. There may be a fee to make the change.

  • Safest seats – The debate over where the safest seats are in an airplane cabin continues, largely because there’s not tons of data to pore over. Flying is overall very safe. Generally, closer to an exit is better, seats at the back of a plane might be marginally safer, and sitting in an aisle seat provides quicker access to an exit.
  • Least turbulence – If you’re prone to motion sickness, consider a seat over the wing, where turbulence might be less severe. Choose an aisle seat so you can get to the lavatory quickly if necessary.
  • Best in First Class – First Class flyers get more legroom in the first row of seats and may be closer to the exit, making embarking and disembarking easier. Window placement varies from airline to airline in First Class cabins. Some seats may have a single window or two windows. If this is important to you, check with the airline.

Buying Your Flight

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A majority of airline passengers use credit cards to pay for their tickets, whether online, with a travel agent, or directly with the airline. However, passengers without a credit card can still purchase airline tickets. You can go to the airline desk and purchase the tickets in person. Or you can visit a travel agent and purchase the tickets in person that way.

If you’re hesitant to use a credit card on a website, check for the symbol at the left of the address bar on your computer that represents a lock. This indicates a secure site where your credit card information is encrypted. Make sure you’re making the transaction from a secure network, like your home or business network, rather than using the Wi-Fi at the local coffee shop or fast food restaurant.

Another way of purchasing airline tickets without a credit card is to use a debit card. A debit card with the MasterCard or Visa logo can be used exactly the same way as a credit card except that the payment will come out of your bank account immediately. Some airlines accept PayPal; airline gift cards and prepaid debit cards work as well. Some airlines take traveler’s checks and personal checks, and they all accept cash, though you may pay an extra fee for using cash, and you may elicit some interest from TSA.

Understanding Fees & Charges

The listed price of a ticket is rarely the final price you pay. Expect certain fees, taxes and other additional charges. You may be able to circumvent some of these fees if you have an airline credit card. The card may come with benefits like a free checked bag or an annual allowance to cover other fees at no charge to you.

  • Baggage fees vary widely from airline to airline. In general, the number of bags, their weight and dimensions, and airline policy determine how much you’ll be charged. If you’re an active military member, some bag fees may be eliminated. Economy airlines may also charge for carry-ons.
  • More than a dozen different federal taxes and fees are added to airline tickets to cover the cost of things like infrastructure, security and airway operations.
  • Booking fees, boarding pass printing fees (if you need to have your pass printed at the airport), seat selection charges and even meal preferences can all incur an extra charge.
  • If you need to change your flight or cancel it, expect to pay a fee.


According to airline lore, Tuesday is the best day to book flights to find a low fare when you’re buying a ticket, but there’s little evidence to back up this claim. Prices are changing constantly, sometimes as part of a sale, a change in the number of seats available or because an airline hopes to gain a competitive edge by lowering fares. There is, however, evidence that Tuesday or Wednesday is usually the cheapest day to fly. If your itinerary is flexible, flying on Tuesday rather than Sunday can save you more than 20% on a domestic flight.

Bereavement‌ Last-minute bereavement fares offering lower fares for passengers who need to fly at the last minute because of a death or serious illness in the family used to be common, but it no longer is. Check with your preferred airline to see if it offers this discount, and confirm the rules for that discount. You may have to fly during a set timeframe like a week to 10 days from the time of booking.

Airline Miles & Points‌ ‌‌ Frequent flyer programs reward repeat passengers with perks ranging from free flights to airport lounge access. Each airline’s program has a unique set of rules so you should search for one that fits your travel habits. Once you’ve chosen an airline, sign up for their branded credit card. You’ll earn more rewards when you use it. Programs no longer match flights mile for mile — you won’t get 1000 miles by flying 1000 miles. They’re typically weighted toward how much money you spend, rather than how far you fly.

How to Change Flight Details

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Go to your airline’s website if you need to change flight reservations, even if you’ve bought your ticket through a site like Expedia or Travelocity. Look for a button that says something like “My Trips” or “Manage My Flight” and use your confirmation number to find your itinerary and make the necessary changes. Generally, it’s better to change your trip rather than cancel and rebook because the fees are lower. If you have a travel agent, they may be able to avoid fees completely if they make the changes. Call the airline directly if you need to make last-minute changes.

If you find you need to extend flight return date beyond the date on your ticket, you can do it online or with a ticket agent over the phone. Expect to pay a change fee unless you’re flying in first class or business class or if you’re an elite frequent flyer. There is no fee if you need to make a change within 24 hours of your ticket purchase.

How to Cancel Your Flight

Airlines provide certain cancellation rights for travelers when the airline causes a cancellation. As a passenger, you can cancel a flight through the airline’s website, just as you would if you were making a change. Most airlines will charge a fee, and a refund may be issued as a travel voucher rather than as a credit to your card. The amount of the fee depends on the ticket class and the airline’s refund policy.

The carrier must explain how to get a refund if they cancel the flight, cause a significant delay, or reschedule. Baggage fees are refundable if the airline loses your luggage. Fully refundable tickets are, as the name suggests, refundable. Ask a ticket agent or other appropriate airline employee to put your refund request in writing. If you bought your ticket through a travel agent, the agent must make a refund.

  • Airline specific – Check the cancellation policy of the airline through which you purchased your ticket: United Airlines, Delta, etc.
  • Via Agency – Check the cancellation policy of the agency or website through which you purchased your ticket: Hotwire, Travelocity, Priceline

How to Transfer Your Flight

You may be able to transfer a ticket to another passenger. Check the ticket for the words “restricted” or “non-transferable.” These indicate that you will probably not be able to transfer the ticket. If the ticket is first or business class, you may be able to change it.

Contact the airline to discuss transferring your ticket. Some will allow you to make the change while others will ask you to cancel the original ticket and pay the cancellation fees. You can then use the balance to buy a ticket for the other passenger.

The Bottom Line

Book early if you can, know your rights, and read the fine print. If problems arise, don’t hesitate to call the airline directly. Familiarize yourself with the airline’s rules, and have your confirmation number and itinerary in hand when you call. Remember that customer service representatives are people, too, and treat them as you’d like to be treated if the roles were reversed. But also, don’t be afraid to be the squeaky wheel if the airline isn’t following its own rules.