This blog post was updated on August 2, 2019.

Taking an international trip is exciting, but it can also be stressful. No matter why you’re flying out of the country — whether for work, for family, or for fun — it’s completely normal to feel a little bit nervous. Even experienced international fliers worry about some snag throwing a wrench in their travel plans. If something goes wrong, you’re far from home and need to find a solution fast. One little hiccup that you didn’t think about could end up ruining your whole trip.

Someone who knows a lot about fliers encountering those hiccups and needing help salvaging their travel plans is Lauren Volpe, a Certified Customer Experience Professional and the Senior Director of Customer Experience at Fareportal, the parent company for CheapOair. A big part of Volpe’s job is leading the team that helps customers who need help fixing an issue with their booking, including minor mishaps (like making a typo in their name when booking tickets) that can keep passengers from getting on an international flight.

“It is not rare at all,” says Volpe, who explains that her team gets many requests for help from customers every day. Most of these requests, according to Volpe, are made with enough time to fix the situation. But there are some that don’t get caught until the passenger is about to board their flight, which very often ruins their trip. “When it’s at the airport,” Volpe says “there is not much we can do except try to rebook.” And that’s a solution that can end up costing a lot.

With that in mind, here are a series of questions (put together with Volpe’s help) that you can use as an international travel checklist to help you get ready for your trip aboard.

Do I Need a Visa to Visit My Destination?

When to Ask: Before You Book
Why It’s Important:
One of the benefits of traveling in the 21st century (especially on an American passport) is that you don’t need a visa to visit quite a lot of countries. In  many places, you just need your passport to legally stay for up to 90 days. But there are still some nations that do require visas for tourists before they arrive and each one of them is different. Some have an application that’s simply filling out an online form, others need to be applied for in-person at an embassy.

“A customer can get halfway to where they are going and get turned around and sent home if they do not have the correct visa,” says Volpe. “This is the worst case scenario as the ticket will have no value and the customer did not get to where they headed out to.”

So when you’re planning an international trip, look up all the countries you plan visiting on the state department’s website, where you can find out what (if any) visas you need. If you do need one, then you should check with the consulate of each country to learn how to apply.

Does the Name on My Ticket Match My Passport?

When to Ask It: Within 24 Hours of Booking Your Tickets
Why It’s Important:
While it might seem like an obvious error that any reasonable person checking tickets and passports would let slide, not having the exact same name on your ticket as the one on your passport will prevent you from boarding international flights. “We’ve had customers assume they’d get through with just one letter missing and they’ve been denied boarding,” says Volpe, who explains that the longer it takes passengers to notice a mistake with their name after they’ve booked it, the more difficult it can be to fix.

The best time to correct any error is within 24 hours of making the booking. But you should still call the agency you booked with or the airline as soon you realize the mistake. “Some carriers will fix the name easily,” Volpe says. “It gets complicated when you have more than one airline on the ticket. When that happens, typically, the airline advises us to request a waiver to process a refund (not guaranteed) and then the customer will purchase a new ticket. This puts the customer at risk of a much higher airfare without a guarantee of a refund.”

According to Volpe, this is why you should triple check all names on tickets to ensure they are 100% correct, right after you’ve booked any international flights.

Ready to start planning your next adventure abroad? See what deals you can grab on international flights! 

Is My Passport Valid for at Least 6 Months After My Trip?

When to Ask It: 1-2 Months Before You Leave
Why It’s Important:
If you haven’t broken out your passport in a while, you may think it’s still valid to board international flights just because it doesn’t expire while you’re traveling. You’d be wrong. Due to international regulation, all passports need to be valid for a period of time after your return flight. “The TSA suggests that the passport be valid for 6 months beyond the return date,” says Volpe, adding that TSA agents will stop anyone trying to get through security with a passport that expires in less than half a year and prevent them from boarding.

“There are disclosures on the itinerary and confirmation to prevent these things from happening,” explains Volpe, but she says that there are still many customers who are caught unaware of the regulation at the airport and end up not being able to take their trip.

The best time to realize your passport won’t meet the TSA’s rule is when you have at least a month or two until your flight. That gives you enough time to get an expedited passport renewal. It’ll cost you about an extra $60 on top of the normal passport fee and you’ll have to make an appointment at a passport agency or center.

Do I Know All the Amenities That Come With My Ticket?

When to Ask: 1-3 Weeks Before Takeoff
Why It’s Important:
This current era of air travel has a standard of low-cost fares for international flights that’s unlike any before it. But those savings might often mean that passengers don’t get amenities (that were previously complimentary years ago) like baggage allowance, meals, and even seat selection included with their tickets.

“Many customers also assume that international tickets always come with luggage and seats,” says Volpe. “This is no longer the case. Many international flights are now charging for bags too.” That means you can end up paying for your luggage and your meals when you fly, which usually cost a lot more than if you’d paid in advance.

“What I’d recommend is to always check with the airline to see what is included in your ticket,” says Volpe. Then you can either pay to upgrade or purchase the amenities ahead of time at a less expensive rate. At the very least, you’ll know what you’re getting and what you’re not and can plan accordingly, without getting sandbagged by unexpected fees.

Can I Check-in for My Flight Online?

When to Ask It: The Day Before Your Flight
Why It’s Important:
Getting to the airport with time to check-in for international flights can be pretty stressful. The fact is that you have until one hour prior to departure before airlines are legally required to close and submit the flight manifest for review. So even if you leave with time to spare, an unexpected delay like a traffic accident or public transit snafu could turn your journey to the airport into a ticking clock scenario to get there before check-in for your flight closes.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of minutes but the airline has no way to allow it,” says Volpe. “What I always recommend is to check in online 24 hours prior to departure.” Not all airlines offer online check-in for international flights, but it’s worth looking into. Volpe also recommends printing your boarding pass at home the night before or getting it on a smartphone app, if you can. “It will speed things up at the airport.”

Have your own questions you like to ask yourself as a checklist before international travel? Share them with us in the comments section below!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

About The Author

Dave Odegard is an ex-army brat turned internet word person, whose work has been published on Maxim Online, USAToday, Buzzfeed, and more. He is currently the Senior Content Writer at Fareportal (CheapOair's parent company) and spends his free time exploring the wilds of Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Sweden.