(CNN) — Searching for the cheapest airfare may be the most popular way of deciding on a flight, but secret extras baked right into the ticket may bring extra value to your booking, no matter how much you paid.
Follow these three lessons to ensure that you’re maximizing the value of a travel booking for more than just the flight alone.
1. Know the code
A single letter of the alphabet lets the airline know where in the hierarchy of airfares your ticket ranks.
This is known as the fare basis code, and though passengers typically overlook it, this miniscule mark is the key to unlocking important information regarding your booking, including how easy it is to make a change to the ticket, how eligible you are for an upgrade, and how many frequent flier miles may be earned.
Airlines do not make it easy to research fare codes, as they are often in the fine print, but taking an extra minute to locate and research what it means for your ticket can make all the difference.
As Ma tells CNN Travel: “Knowing the fare code means knowing whether or not the ticket you just purchased will earn frequent flier miles, which help you to see more of the world for less.”
Ma cites a flight he booked to Jordan as an example.
“Most of Royal Jordanian’s cheap fares are ‘R’ or ‘N’ fare codes, which earn no frequent flier miles in [its alliance partner] American Airlines’ program,” he says.
“When the airline offered a sale with higher ‘L’ fares on offer, I booked that, and I’ll earn American Airlines miles. This means miles for either future travel and upgrades, and a chance at elite status for further airline perks.”
While deciphering a fare code and what it means for your ticket may take a bit of squinting at your computer screen, there’s always the option to call the airline and have an agent explain the fare code and fare rules in plain terms.
They’ll also be able to advise on higher codes for the same flight, for a little more money, but potentially yielding more frequent flier miles and fewer change restrictions.
2. Schedule a stopover
Icelandair Stopover Buddy program
In the realm of commercial air travel, there are layovers and there are stopovers.
A layover involves the typical rigamarole of getting off one flight, waiting a few hours at an interim airport, and boarding another flight to your destination. You may have time for a meal or to catch up on a good book, but layovers are hardly a vacation.
A stopover, on the other hand, is a full break between flights, where the passenger gets off of a flight at an airport, and has meaningful time, often multiple days, to explore that city before rejoining their itinerary to continue on to the true destination.
Stopovers essentially allow two-for-the-price-of-one trips.
“Stopovers are even more valuable on award bookings as, for instance, you can have a free stop along the way, requiring no additional miles, but maybe modest extra airport taxes.
Some airlines promote their free stopover policies in the name of travel marketing, encouraging visitors to spend time (and money) in their hub.
Take in the sights while flying Hawaiian Airlines from the US to Asia.
To discover if a free stopover is possible with your ticket, and get two destinations for the price of one, attempt a “multi-city” search on the airline’s website or call the airline to inquire about stopover rules on both paid or award tickets.
3. Save that boarding pass
The flight is over and you’ve claimed your luggage. That’s the end of it, right? Wrong, if that boarding pass you stuffed in your wallet is one from an airline offering post-flight discounts at destinations.
While the ancient city of Petra is simply a famous archaeological site to most of the world, for university professor Sami Alhasanat, it’s home
Saving your boarding pass now means saving on the total of a tooth whitening regimen on the other side of the world.
“We encourage travelers to fly right into the resort town, rather than drive, and then use our boarding passes to jumpstart their ski vacation,” says Elliott Pesut, Alaska Airlines’ director of product marketing.
“The ski passes and the wine programs are such cool benefits for our guests. We know they’re passionate about these leisure activities, and we know that we can give them a great experience beyond the flight.”
Cynthia Drescher flies more than 200,000 miles per year in pursuit of destination and transportation stories. She regularly scuba dives with sharks and shipwrecks, and has visited all seven continents (plus the North Pole).
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