I honestly can’t even remember the first time I got a plane. I travelled a bit when I was younger, but my memory of air travel back then is limited. However, over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been on more flights than I can remember. The weird thing is, air travel has changed quite a bit in the last 10 years. From different entertainment options to more fees, flying has become better and worse depending on what we’re talking about.

For many first-time flyers, getting on a plane can be intimidating. They may have no idea where to find cheap flights or they may not know the unspoken rules of air travel. Preparing yourself for your first flight will be easy as long as you follow these tips.

The cost of airfare changes quite a bit

It may sound crazy, but the cost of airfare changes all the time. Airlines have enough data available that they price their tickets based on supply and demand. Despite what you may have heard, clearing your cookies or booking at Wednesday at 2am will not get you a lower price. Instead of spending hours trying to get the cheap airfare, set up price alerts with Google Flights so you can track routes. Once you see a price you’re happy with, you can book it.

Find out what extra fees you need to pay

What you may not realize is that not all airfare includes the cost of checked bags and/or seat selection. How much you’ll pay depends on where you’re flying to but generally speaking, you’re going to need to pay about $25-$50 for a checked bag and $30-50 to select your seat. With seat selection, that extra cost is EACH WAY so you could end up spending an additional $100 when you include seat selection and checked bags. It’s really important to double check which type of airfare you’re purchasing too as certain fares may not be changed or may not allow you to earn loyalty points.

You need travel insurance

If it’s your first time travelling, you may not realize that you need travel insurance when you travel since your provincial health insurance won’t cover you once you leave the country. The good thing is, many employers and premium credit cards typically include travel medical insurance as a standard benefit. However, things such as trip cancellation, lost luggage and hotel/motel burglary may not be included which is why you should always have a comprehensive travel insurance policy whenever you travel.

Have the essentials for your flight and more

Flights can be long so you need to be prepared. Headphones and a battery charger are musts but don’t forget about those comfort items such as earplugs or a sleeping mask. You’ll also want to ensure you’re comfortable on the plane so wear clothes that are relaxing and shoes that you can slip off easily as opposed to dress clothes. If you didn’t know, plane food is typically terrible so you may want to pack some snacks. Finally, it doesn’t hurt to pack an extra change of clothes in case your baggage gets delayed when you land.

Don’t overpack

Most people who travel for the first time overpack. You don’t need a different outfit for every day that you’ll be away. Clothes can be washed and you can simply layer if you get cold. There’s also no need to bring things like a hairdryer and you probably don’t need an umbrella either unless the weather forecast is showing rain. Packing 5-7 pairs of shoes is not a good use of your luggage space so just pack what you’ll need.

Have the right documents handy

Within Canada, you only need your government ID, but if you’re going abroad, you’ll obviously need to bring your passport. Do you have a passport? Has it expired? Make sure you check your documents. Another thing to consider is any visas that you may need when travelling. Some countries require you to obtain these in advance so don’t travel without them. Not sure if you need a visa? Check the government website to find out what entry requirements are for other countries.

Respect the boarding zones

When you’re at the airport and you have your boarding pass, take a look at your boarding zone. It’s a number between 1-6 and when it’s time for you to board, your zone will be called. Many people will line up before their zone is announced and then just create a backlog of people or they’ll block pedestrian areas. This just annoys all passengers. Unfortunately, it’s not just first-time flyers who do this, many seasoned travellers still line up early because they’re worried about overhead space which is ridiculous.

Use a travel rewards credit card

Having one of the best travel rewards cards in Canada can go a long way since they give you amazing signup bonuses and great benefits. For example, the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard gives you $250 WestJet dollars as a welcome bonus, comes with an annual companion voucher and allows to check your first bag for free. There’s also the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card that also has a $250 welcome bonus but includes travel benefits such as lounge access and no foreign transaction fees. Since you’ll be earning points with your card, you can use those points later to reduce the cost of your trips.

Have a backup plan

Hopefully things go smoothly, but sometimes things happen. If your flights are delayed or cancelled, your insurance will take care of costs, but you’ll still likely need to make your own arrangements to get you to where you needed to be. With delayed luggage, you’re at the mercy of the airline, but again, travel insurance will give you some compensation so at least you can start the process of making a claim and find out what you’re entitled to. Things happen when you’re travelling so instead of panicking if something doesn’t go your way, have a few outs in the back of your head so you’re not stressing out.

What First Time Flyers Need to Know

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