international flight tickets booking mistakes avoid

How Not to Book International Flight Tickets – $850 Mistake

Raghuram Sukumar Travel 12 Comments

Booking international flight tickets is not a joke. I’m sharing the experience and problems faced by three students during their trip to India in December. By the end of this article, you will learn how to book international flight tickets from the USA.

They learned the lesson hard way and hoped you guys don’t make the same mistake.

  • Round Trip Ticket from the USA to India  – $1500
  • Cost of Mistakes – $850 in change fees
  • Final flight ticket Cost – $2,350


Flight Ticket Booking

Students X, Y, and  Y from the same university were planning to travel to India during December (semester break).

Student X searched for the best flight tickets deal from the USA to India in an online travel site.

He finds a deal (lowest and based on preferred dates).

This is his first trip to India after coming to the USA.

Pays around $1,500 for round trip tickets from the USA to Chennai.

Ticket Details

  • Airline ABC – Wilmington(Name Changed)  to Chicago
  • Etihad Airlines – Chicago to Abu Dhabi to Chennai
  • Etihad Airlines – Chennai to Abi Dhabi to Chicago
  • Airline ABC – Chicago to City X

Students Y, Z – Flight Tickets  to India

After student X books the tickets, students Y, and Z wanted the same flights, same dates.

Student Y is my friend so when he was trying to buy; I gave details of my travel agent.

Travel agent looks at the schedule and warns there could be a problem with this flight booking.

Students Y and Z decided to take the risk.

Within next two days, both student Y and Z booked the flights.

Day of the Travel

Bags packed, I-20 travel signature done, they got ready to travel together to India.

Who wouldn’t be exited to travel to India? Meeting parents and friends after 18 months!

Flight to Chicago was delayed from Wilmington (name changed).

They landed in Chicago about 45 minutes before the next connecting flight to Abu Dhabi.

So, far you must be thinking, 45 minutes should be enough to catch the next flight to Abu Dhabi.

Remember, Travel agent said, this flight itinerary might create problems?

They walk to Etihad Counter to check-in the bags and collect the boarding pass.

Shocking News!

Etihad Airlines doesn’t allow them to check-in the bags.

Reason – They need to check-in the bags at least 1 hour before the flight takes off time for international flights.

Did you figure out the mistake they made with flight booking?

If you haven’t figured that out by now, you might run into similar problems with your international flight tickets.

Mistake 1

By, now yo should be thinking

Why are they checking the bags again in Chicago?

Airline ABC from Wilmington should have checked-in the bag all the way to Chennai.

Why did they collect the bags and tried to check-in the bags again?

Well, that was the Mistake 1.

When X booked the tickets, online travel site issued tickets with Airline ABC and Etihad airlines.

For a student booking the flight tickets from the USA to India for the first time,  they are looking for two things

  • Cheap round trip flight tickets to India
  • Best deal for their travel dates

So, X sees the travel deal, check with other travel websites, this was the best option. So, he books the ticket.

Unfortunately, there is no partnership between Airline ABC and Etihad Airlines.

Online travel site issued two separate round trip tickets.

  • Ticket 1 – Wilmington to Chicago and Chicago to Wilmington(to and fro)
  • Ticket 2 – Chicago to Chennai and Chennai to Chicago(to and fro)

Since there is no partnership, Etihad Airlines don’t care about the ABC flight delay from Wilmington to Chicago.

For them, those 3  are just new passengers boarding the flight in Chicago.

For international travel, they are supposed to check-in the suitcases at least 1 hour before flight takes time.

Since domestic flight to Chicago got delayed, they had only 45 minutes before next flight.

That’s the first mistake.

Mistake 2

There wasn’t enough time between domestic and international connecting flight.

Now, you can see how the simple mistake made by X has cascaded to 3 tickets.

Mistake 3

Students Y and Z would have had an opportunity to get error free tickets, but they wanted to travel together.

$800 Change Fees

Etihad Airlines said, they cannot make changes to the ticket, since it was issued by travel agents.

Only travel agents can re-book the tickets.

Next earliest flight available from Chicago to Chennai was after 2 or 3 days.

If you are planning to travel right before major travel holidays ( Thanks, Giving, New Year, Christmas) expect such problems.

So, Student X had to deal with Online Travel site.

Students Y and Z have to deal with Travel agent to re-book their flights.

So, re-booking fees, plus fare difference have to be paid to change the tickets.

Flight Re-Booking

Etihad Airlines looked at available flight tickets and earliest available flight with three empty seats was after two days.

By the time, X called Online Travel Site and Y, 2Z call their travel agent,twoseats were booked.

So, X booked the flight after 2 days.

Y and Z booked the tickets after 3 days. Same flight, but after 2 and 3 days.

They paid like $700 in Ticket Change Fees and Fare difference fee.

Their initial travel plan was to miss first 2 days of class in Spring semester.  Since there was a 3 days delay due to this problem, they extended the ticket by another 3 days.  They ended up missing (Yand Z) few more classes.


Hotel Stay in Chicago

Since, they are in Chicago, they have to find a place to stay for 3 days.

I searched for cheap hotel near to the Chicago O Hare airport that provided Free Shuttle to the Airport.

Add 3 more days of Hotel expense to already expensive $700 in change fees just for Etihad Airlines.

Return Trip from Chennai to Chicago

Finally,  they reached Chennai safe and sound.

Since, Y and Z changed the return tickets and Airlines ABC ticket was separate, travel date from Chicago to Wilmington had to be changed.

That’s another $150 in Change Fees + Fare Difference.

Finally, after paying close to $800 in flight tickets change fees, they had an adventurous trip.

Mistakes – Flight Tickets Booking

  • Mistake 1 – Not enough time between connecting flights
  • Mistake 2 – Booking international flight tickets as 2 separate bookings without airline partnership.
  • Mistake 3 –  Traveling during major holidays can be huge hassle due to delays and  be painful.

How to Book Flight tickets

Read the following articles

Above listed articles gives a brief overview of what to expect while booking international flight tickets (to and from USA).

If you don’t have patience to read all the links, here are few suggestions to avoid similar international flight travel experience.

Airline Partnership

american airlines jet airways

AA – Jet Airways Codeshare

  • If booking flight through (International) online travel site, make sure connecting flights have a partnership. For instance, major carrier in above travel was Eithad Airlines. Go to their website and check if connecting airlines is listed in their partnership.
  • For example, American Airlines and Jet Airways have a partnership. You can book same flight itinerary from both American and Jet Airways website. If you check both partner airlines list, American Airlines site will have Jet Airways Listed and vice versa.

Time between Connecting Flights

  • With international travel, try to have atleast 3 hours between domestic and international connections.
  • Also, at port of entry (while entering USA), make sure you have 3 hours to domestic airline connection.

Booking Flight Tickets

  • Try to book flight ticket directly at Airline website (if tickets cost the same at travel agent)
  • Try to talk to few travel agents and ask for same flight details and fare cost.

My humble suggestion – If you are talking to a travel agent and if the agent gave the right deal, book the ticket with that travel agent.

Don’t finalize the ticket then go looking for another agent who can offer the same ticket for $5 or $20 cheaper.

You may argue, I’m saving $5 or $20. But, think about the time they spent to find the best combinations of tickets.


  1. Very helpful post, couldn’t have been more easy and helpful post to read for the international students anywhere in the world. We always like the flight with the short connecting time in the transit. But at-least we have to think about the check-in bag processing time while taking the boarding pass in the airport counter or online!!. Also we might try to take the boarding pass of all the transits we have to stop from the travel agent right at the time we issue a ticket. This will help us for having a hassle free travel without caring about the check-in bag, but also it is suggested to talk about the baggage in the counter of the airlines which you are boarding next in the transit. This will help them to follow-up about your baggage. But as you have said partnership of the airlines is important. So when issuing ticket online look for the partnership and when issuing through agent, talk clearly about all this potential issues, so that they can provide you with the best deal and best ticket. And one question for the HSB, isn’t is cheap to issue ticket through the travel agent than online for the international flight?

    1. Boarding Pass is something you can get like 24 hours before the travel time. Travel agents cannot issue boarding pass. It will be from the airlines.

      If booking flight tickets with partner airlines in the itinerary, usually whne you first board the domestic flight, they will give the boarding pass for all your connecting flights.

      1. Yes ^ This depends only If there is only one ticket or only one PNR for the entire ticket. There should not be two different Independent Tickets/PNR’s….tht wld create a problm…thou last week i had two diff PNR’s BOM-HKG-PVG-LAX I& askd the airlines counter to checkin my baggage they said If they find out in time they ll else nxt flight. NOTE : Both Airlines were Diffrent…
        Thank you.

  2. Yea, HSB what you have written is right about airlines having an agreement. Its actually called “Codeshare” which includes a select network of airlines throughout the world. I came in from India about 10 days ago through Jet Airways till JFK and then had a connecting flight with Delta. Since, both these airlines had a Codeshare, I got all my boarding passes at New Delhi itself and was not even charged anything by Delta for the extra baggage scheme that Jet had offered.
    So, its always better to plan the entire itinerary either through the Airlines themselves or through a reputed agent. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.

  3. i don’t think that i will be able to blame that travel agent cause , those three guys were warned by agents , and when you by pass warning you should be prepared to face consequences

  4. Hi i got small doubt after reading this , u mentioned that the guys some XYZ postpone the return flight for 3 dazs right. Then ,they having PortOfEntry in chicago(or example JFK) surely after starting the SEM, in my way u need to answer some questions for MigrationOff. why u r late for 3 daz after ur Sem started right! {{Their initial travel plan was to miss first 2 days of class in Spring semester. Since there was a 3 days delay due to this problem, they extended the ticket by another 3 days. They ended up missing (Yand Z) few more classes.}} . I will give small suggestion for newly coming guys, be in time in usa before ur classes start in ur university,because their is a chance of question u at migration.

    1. That’s very good point. 2 Guys were asked the same question at port of entry. They replied that professors were informed about the delay.

      1. Yes, this question will be raised surely at migration . In my way solution is get permissin letter from university is the best solution. And also if u have any problm at the time of portofauthority ,say reasonable answer, it may be truth or not its not the matter .The officer should satisfy.

  5. Been there.. done the same kind of mistake.. though i had the connecting flights from emirates only.. so i had to pay less i guess 50$ (being it a student ticket) and a wait for 13-14 hours. Though my friend who was not on a student ticket paid more.. which was 400 $. Wish i had read this before having the horrific experiences i had

  6. A great and detailed article. One of my friends had a similar issue while traveling to India. His plane had a layover in Korea and they had to stay there for 36 hours due to a travel agent’s mistake.

    There are many ways to save money on tickets now. One clear way is to directly buy from airlines and get cheap prices. Also, my friend saved money on ticket by using manyship (google it) and carrying stuff for other people. its cool.

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