Major Airport Fails that Cost Me $900+ (And How You Can Avoid Them)

This post was contributed by Megan Bennett
This past fall, I spent a magical three months in Spain… spent having a dual meaning.
While in Spain, I took three side trips, and each one was riddled with massive fails. One fail right after another kept happening to me. 

I spent money on a missed flight.
I spent money on a jacked up reservation.
I spent money replacing my stolen phone.

These mistakes together cost me about $900 USD. Thank goodness I didn’t have to spend euros… the conversion rate is not on our side at the moment.
Thankfully, most of these blunders are 100% avoidable. So, here are some ways you can ditch the drama and have a stress-free trip.

Get your travel finances straight!

The most important tip is to let your bank know that you’re traveling and where you’re traveling to. This is especially true for international trips. In my case, my card was being super difficult while I was overseas. I had to fight with multiple ATM machines, and I had to deal with some declined purchases –– it was awkward!
That, along with the fact that I was unable to use my phone to call my bank, was a headache and a half.
Instead of having to waste the first two days of your trip making calls to your bank, it is best to get all those details out the way back home, before you leave on your trip. Some banks even allow you to put your travel notice online. For example, Chase does! Just Google search “Your Bank Name travel note,” and you can probably fix this problem over wifi if you find yourself unable to call. 

Confirm, confirm, confirm.

Woohoo! So you booked your flight and you’re ready to go….pause!
Make sure to confirm that you’ve actually made your purchase. Check to make sure you’ve received a confirmation email. Then, check to see if your purchase shows up on your bank statement.
Confirm baby, confirm! Just because you receive a confirmation email does not mean you have bought your ticket.
Exhibit A: my trip to Nice, France. I bought my ticket to Nice nearly a month and a half before the actual trip. When the day had finally come, I was super ready. I was going to meet up with a friend who I hadn’t seen in nearly a year. Needless to say, your girl was excited! After a couple failed attempts at typing in my flight number into the check-in kiosk, I was directed to the help desk. I waited nearly an hour at this desk just to be told, “Lo siento. Usted no ha pagado para la billete. Solo es una reserva.”

UMMMM! Excuse me?

Apparently, my confirmation email was only for a reservation and not a booking (I wasn’t aware there was a difference)! Unfortunately, my payment was never completed.
My eyes filled with tears as my hands fisted up. I spent the next hour bawling my eyes out to the very (un)empathetic clerk. I ended up paying $600 for a round-trip ticket that was originally $250. It is safe to say that my pride and my wallet were hurt that day.
TIP: Don’t be like me. Confirm.

For the love of saving yourself time: write everything down and print it out beforehand… or, use their app!

This embarrassing to admit, but I missed a flight because I thought it left a day later.
I was headed to the Grand Canary Islands for a friend’s birthday. A notification bell sounded with the message, “Gate is now open. Flight leaves in 20 minutes.” Processing this information happened in stages for me:
Stage 1: Confusion. “Why am I getting this message when my flight is tomorrow?”
Stage 2: Panic. *Intensely looks up every message relating to my flight.
Stage 3: Realization. “Oh my gosh. This can’t be happening right now.”
Stage 4: Defeat. The airport was 2 hours away by the fastest means of transportation. There was no way I was going to make the flight even if there wasn’t traffic and if I had a sports car.

Now see, this is what happens when you fail to write down the date of your trip and when you don’t set reminders.

The moment you book your flight, don’t waste any time. Create reminders to begin packing, have your transportation to the airport ready, and print out your necessary documents. More importantly, put the date of your flight into your calendar –– it only takes a few moments. Thankfully, I was still able to fall within the window of changing my flight time rather than buying a whole new ticket.
I love (and hate) traveling with budget airlines. On one hand, it’s food for this cheap girl’s soul but on the other hand, they don’t make it easy for you. Be sure to know baggage allowance down to the dimensions (write it down), have all confirmation numbers and flight info (write it down/print it out), and sometimes even your boarding pass (print it out).
Even if you aren’t broke and bougie and are able to ditch the budget airlines, print out and write down the information anyway. You never know if your phone might stop working… or even worse, if it gets stolen (story to come). Better safe than sorry.

Seriously, come early to the airport.

I normally advise folks to be at the airport 2 hours before their flight, but my recent travel fails have completely kicked that advice out of the window. During my third trip from London to Madrid, I made it to the airport three hours early. Although I was pretty early, I still ended up running to the gate that had technically closed 10 minutes prior. I was the last one on the plane. Thank goodness for this lovely flight attendant that took mercy on my stressed-out soul.

Pro Tip: If you are new to an airport, look at a map of the terminals online and figure out which terminal your flight leaves from. It saves lives, I’m telling you.

Coming to the airport two hours early is a good base, but keep in mind that there are other factors to be aware of. Below is a little system to determine how early to come to the airport (with two hours as a starting point):

  • Add 30 minutes: If it’s your first time at that airport, if you’re checking bags, or you have to go through border control.
  • Add an hour: If it’s high season, you’re traveling with kids, or you’re traveling on a holiday.
  • More importantly, cap it at four hours –– there’s no need to be too extra!

It may sound excessive, but it’s better to come to the airport and be comfortably bored than to just make it on time and be a stressed-out Suzy.

Lastly, don’t get lost in motion.

This tip is more for getting to the airport!
Yes, you don’t want to be wandering around in a place you don’t know, looking lost, because it makes you a target. However, can we agree that walking around lost, trying not to look lost while getting more lost makes no sense?
I’m normally a person that tries to do too many things at once. In Madrid, it was no different. I tried to pack up my bags and navigate through the streets even though I got lost getting to the airport. In the chaos, I forgot that I left my phone in a really loose pocket. By the time I actually needed my phone, it was gone. 
If you’re lost, you’re lost and that’s okay. Go to a café or inside somewhere, so you have a safe place to get your life together. Always remember to take a few moments for yourself.

Have you had any major airport or travel fails?

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Megan likes to spend her time butchering languages, scribbling on napkins, and taking lazy-eye selfies during her travels. Stay updated with Megan on Twitter

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