I'm putting together an 16 day itinerary (two weeks plus two travel days) for a group of 4 to southern Germany around May 14-30 ish 2019, with flexibility on the exact dates. Flying out of Salt Lake City but open to the arrival airport (draft itinerary lands us in Frankfurt). I'd like to keep the flight under 17 hours and 2 stops or fewer if I can.
Here's my issue, I'm a novice flyer. I'm tech savvy but have only flown a handful of times, all direct and domestic (super straight forward). I'm finding looking at international flight totally baffling. It's not a small part of the budget so I really want to purchase wisely (to me that means cheaply). Here are some of the things I could use some pointers on:
open jaw v. round trip. I see the logic of landing in one city and flying out of another, but round trips seem to be consistently cheaper (by $200-$500 per ticket). The cost difference more than covers an extra train ticket or even hotel stay. What am I missing? We are staying in southern Germany so maybe round trip is okay since we're never getting too far from the originating airport?
Where to buy. Right now I'm using the Google tracking feature. Is it better from a consumer protection standpoint to purchase tickets directly from the airline? Or are the third party sites better for their prices? Which do you use?
traveler status. I hear about TSA prechecks, becoming a global traveler...I don't even know all the different clearances. Anything I need to worry about considering that I'll have travel companions and likely won't be traveling internationally frequently? (I'll be sure to have a valid passport and ID of course)
connections to a European carrier. It seems like this is a necessity. Will the connections built into my ticket allow for sufficient time? Will checked bags have to be claimed and re-go through security? I really don't know how that works. Pitfalls to watch out for?
I feel pretty comfortable with figuring out the rest of my itinerary, but I feel in the dark on airfare. I am trying to learn though! Is it worth it to consider recruiting the assistance of a travel agent? Am I just needlessly freaking myself out?
Feedback is much appreciated. Thanks in advance!