When is the Best Time to Book Flights?
You’ve got your sight set on on that piece of tropical paradise – or perhaps you’re looking forward to a trip back home to visit your family and catch up with old friends. You’ve secured your accommodation, booked your time off, and you just can’t wait to start packing your bags! After meticulously planning out the who, where, and how (all the while keeping your budget in the back of your mind, of course,) you’ve finally got your vacation destination plans in the bag. Now it’s time to hurry up and book that flight! But wait – is now actually the best time to book flights?
Many of us aren’t even aware of any possibility of significant fluctuations in airfare prices. We simply try to compare the cheapest available flights and go for the least expensive one as soon as possible – the sooner the better, right? After all, we’ve all been told that it’s better to buy your airline tickets well in advance because last minute travel reservations can be incredibly expensive. But what if we told you to hold off on that airline ticket purchase for just a few days, or even weeks longer? The best time to book flights can change by the season, day of the week – even the hour! You might be surprised to discover that you can actually save yourself a considerable amount of cash if you know just the right time to pounce on that airfare.
- Airfare can change by the day, week, even the hour.
- Sales on flights are common, it’s just a matter of finding a sale for the flight you want.
- Sometimes it’s better to wait for a dip in airfare prices.
The truth is, airlines change fares quite often.
Airlines set the prices, and quite often it’s the travel agencies who are either lavished with praise when a price drops, or on the receiving end of a lot of frustration when a price is suddenly raised. Sometimes a prospective flyer will see a good deal on a flight, and by the time they try to make their reservation that fare has shot up by $25 or even $100. The travel agency is then accused of the old “bait and switch,” and it’s easy to see where their frustration is coming from! The best time to book flights can be tricky. Imagine seeing one price online, and by the time you try to reserve that flight you’re being quoted a completely different (and significantly more expensive) price by the travel agent! It can begin to feel like you’re being taken advantage of.
Conversely, a customer may have settled on an airline ticket price they considered acceptable, contacted the travel agency to book their flight, and was pleasantly surprised to be told that between the time that they booked their flight and the time that it was processed their fare went down by $50 or $100. Talk about a bargain! Without realizing it, this customer inadvertently stumbled upon the best time to book flights and might praise the travel agency for such great service. The purchaser comes out of the experience on top, and feels they owe it all to the agency’s top notch authority on airfare deals.
Realistically, travel agencies do a great job presenting the best prices on airfare they can find, but they aren’t in charge of the fluctuations in prices. It’s the airlines who set these prices and make changes to them, and the travel agencies simply do their best to present you with the lowest fares available. Travel agencies might be receiving the praise or the criticism, which they are well used to handling, but the airlines are the ones behind the fluctuation. This process makes the best time to book flights difficult to nail down. Travel agencies do not have the ability to set the prices, however they do sort through tens of thousands of options to find you the best deals.
So how do you know when to start checking fares? Why is there even a fluctuation in airline ticket prices in the first place – why can’t a fare be a fare?
What causes these prices to change?
So, why exactly does it seem like you’re playing the stock market every time you check out airfare rates? Up one minute, down the next, with no logical impression of rhyme or reason? Here are a few tips on finding the best time to book flights, and a little insight on airfare pricing to give you a better comprehension of what’s really going on behind the scenes as you watch those fares rise and fall:
- Airlines employ a slightly sophisticated strategy called yield management.
- Yield management aims to intentionally charge different prices for the same flights.
Yes, you read that correctly, their intention is to sell the same tickets cheaper or more expensive at different times of the day or week. The best time to book flights could be tomorrow, when the price drops another $50.
But why do airlines consciously do this? Doesn’t a flat rate for each seat make more sense?
Why would the airfare suddenly plummet $100 for the same seats as last week? Wouldn’t it be easier to just charge the same rate for every seat they have? After all, they’re the same seats!
- The intentions behind yield management are to ensure that the flight is making the airline as much money as possible.
- The name of their game is maximizing total revenue for every single departing flight, and they know they are generally dealing with two types of travellers: Those who try to wait for the best time to book flights, and those who will fly at any cost.
The “fly at any cost” crowd consists of business travellers, people with family emergencies, and customers who simply aren’t concerned with the price of the flight. Instead of waiting for the best time to book flights, they will book what they want when they want. The price of the airfare is not an issue to them.
Travellers who wait for the best time to book flights will typically hold out if the price isn’t right, find alternative methods of transportation, book with different airlines offering better deals, or simply not travel if it isn’t that important to them. Savvy airlines know that in order to obtain their business, they need to offer seats within their price range.
The bottom line is: The airline wants those seats filled. If they priced their seats at fares only the “fly at any cost” group could afford, they would surely have a lot of empty seats. However, if they made the cost of their seats cheaper to accommodate the type of travellers who wait for the best time to book flights, they would be missing out on the revenue they know they could be getting from the people who take no issue with the price of their flight and would have paid a lot more without batting an eyelash.
This is how you end up with a fluctuation in airfare prices!
Seats will end up being sold for the same flight at a fraction of the cost that some passengers are paying – so if you’re looking for a bargain on airfare it’s easy to think “I’ll just take the cheap seat please!” – but it’s not as simple as that. If you’re waiting for the best time to book flights you will notice the airline will offer some seats at a higher rate, then funnel ticket buyers through a process of lower and lower price ranges until the plane is full. If ten people pay $1200 but no one else can afford those seats, the next passengers might be paying $800 for the following twenty seats, the next ones $600 and so on. But it doesn’t always trickle down that way.
A section of seats may have been designated as the “cheap seats” with a lot of restrictions such as being non-refundable, and have already sold out – which would reflect a jump in prices and seem as though the airline simply raised it’s price without reason. The bottom line is an airline would rather sell the last seat on the plane dirt cheap than let it take to the skies empty, so if any of the more expensive seats (keeping in mind these are all the same seats!) go unsold, you’ll witness a drop in the price again, making that window of opportunity the best time to book flights.
The airline’s yield management system will notice when a flight is booking seats at a solid pace, and fares might remain high or jump even higher. But what happens if sales slow down, or a family suddenly cancels leaving four seats empty? The yield management system will catch on to this right away, and seats will be offered at a much lower rate.
So when is the best time to book flights?
Now that you understand the reason why airlines offer different prices for the same seats, you’ll want to know exactly when you should be ready to jump on the cheapest airfare.
You will typically notice over time, that fares on any particular flight will increase higher and higher as seats get booked and more fare levels sell out. If you watch these prices, there will be short term blips of temporary low fares all the time
- If you look at your flight hour to hour or day to day, there will be moments when fares temporarily dip before heading back up once new bookings come in. Make your move when you see those dips.
- Airlines will constantly be promoting sales – which are essentially just unsold seats they need filled for certain flights. Some sales are very good deals.
- Booking that flight to your dream destination well in advance might not save you money, in fact you might be paying three times as much as the passenger sitting beside you. Pay attention to rises and dips in your flight’s airfare.
- The best time to book flights for season holidays can vary – holiday seasons can offer both the absolute most expensive airfares as well as the cheapest deals. Keep an eye on those trends and check out what last minute sales are being offered.
- Keep in mind, with every great deal there are some drawbacks. Typically, very cheap flights will have limitations. These limitations might exclude you from inflight meals, flight insurance, or make it impossible for you to get any of your money back if you cancel your flight reservation.
- There are various theories on the “right” day of the week to buy a flight. Some say the weekend is the best time for those great holiday sales – some say Tuesdays are the day when the most prices drop. But your safest bet is to simply follow the trend in airfare rates and strike while the iron is hot!
For more ways to prepare your vacation, visit the Travel Planning category.