Determine your personal priorities. If cost is your primary concern, you may be more willing to take less desirable timed flights to get the lowest price. If money isn’t as tight, or timing your arrival for a specific reason is crucial to you, you’ll make a cost analysis and decide what suits you best.
Given the choice, you want non-stop flights. However, it is quite common for airlines to alter the flight after you booked, adding a stop to increase revenue for the flight. If you book far in advance, check your flights on the airline’s website occasionally.
Non-stop and direct flights are not the same. A non-stop flight means exactly that. A direct flight makes a stop, and you don’t have to change planes to reach your destination.
Having rushed through airports too many times to make tight connections, my best advice is to do whatever you can to avoid those situations. Leave 3 hours to re-enter the US through busy airports like Miami, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago after an international flight. No one likes hanging out in airports, but it’s better for you than being stressed for 2 hours as you make your way through multiple security checkpoints in Houston to arrive at the immigration stadium with 20,000 other people on the Monday after Easter.
Whenever I have an early morning connecting flight out of one of the aforementioned airports – and am connecting to a destination with only 1 flight per day, I fly down the night before. Sure, I have to pay for a hotel room, but using Hotwire I find the cheapest airport hotel with a free shuttle. The $40-60 is a small price to pay to insure I make my connecting flight. You will have to deal with airport security again, but it’s likely you will do that anyway if you have to change terminals. And, this way, rather than getting up at 2am for a 6am flight to Atlanta, I’m up at 630am for a 10am flight to Guatemala and a lot more likely to be at my best from arrival to well into the night.
If you’re flying to meet a group tour or a cruise, it may be worth flying out a day earlier to insure you make it. Alleviate stress whenever possible.
If you’re traveling with children, book early to insure the family is seated together.