Best Time to Buy Plane Tickets on AirTran

This article continues a series I have been working on about the best time to buy airline tickets on specific airlines.

My plan is to first concentrate on low cost U.S. airlines — like the best time to buy Southwest Airlines tickets — and today I am tackling AirTran.

Quick Background on AirTran

AirTran Airways is a low cost U.S. based carrier that started back in 1993 (under the name ValuJet).

Today, AirTran flies to more than 70 cities in the U.S. and Caribbean; its largest hub is Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson (also home to Delta, which aggressively matches ticket prices on competitive overlapping routes). Other major focus cities: Milwaukee, Baltimore and Orlando.

The AirTran fleet consists of Boeing aircraft (737 w/137 seats and 717 w/117 seats) along with Bombardier Canadian Regional Jets (seating 50) — yes no props.

The Weekly (or Every Other Week) AirTran Sale

For much of this year, AirTran has kicked off a new 3-day airfare sale every Monday night in the 8pm eastern domestic airfare distribution (there are three weekday distribution times – 10am, 1pm and 8pm eastern time); these sale prices then hit AirTran’s reservation system shortly after being filed.

More recently AirTran has been experimenting with airfare sales that come out every-other-week, and these sales are good for the entire two week period, which bucks the trend of most airlines who file their airfare sales kicking off on Tuesday and ending three days later on Thursday.

In either case, the drill for shoppers is the same.

Tuesday Morning is a Good Time to Shop

If you’re a regular reader of our air travel deals blog (if not, take a look), you’ve seen a post or two start off with these words: “It’s Tuesday once again. That means it’s time for some airfare sales…” No surprise, really.

Tuesday afternoon, after all, is the best time to buy airline tickets. And this is true for low cost carrier AirTran as well. If you want to fly on AirTran, it’s smart to shop Tuesday mornings once the carrier’s latest sale gets underway.

But please note: you may not always get the cheapest advertised price – on AirTran or any other airline – and here’s why:

Airlines Never Put All the Seats on a Plane “On Sale”

When airlines hold an airfare sale, the sales are often limited to certain routes or sometimes certain flights that they have trouble filling. In any event, an airlines never puts all the seats on any one plane “on sale” or it wouldn’t be profitable to fly that plane.

Typically, the cheapest tickets are limited to about 10% of the seats, which is why you have to act fast whenever you hear the word “sale”. If you want to learn more about how airlines price their tickets, the details might just answer a few questions you’ve always had about why prices change so much.

Tuesday Afternoon – Another Good Time to Shop

Once AirTran launches a sale, you will typically find other airlines with the same or overlapping routes matching these newly discounted prices; “matching” activity that is usually completed by the 1pm eastern distribution period, meaning these fares show up on airline reservation systems by about 3pm eastern.

That’s the time to shop – when the maximum number of cheapest seats are in the marketplace.

Extended Travel Period

AirTran is one of the few airlines that discounts seats for longer than a 3 month window of travel.

Earlier this spring, they were the only airline that didn’t have a cutoff date of May for their sales, in fact they extended them through the fall which is very unusual for airlines that tend to manage their cheapest seats in a 3-month departure window.

Even better, is the fact that competing airlines also tend to match this longer window, so be aware of this fact especially if you’re looking for winter holiday tickets in late summer.

How to Keep Up with All Airfare Sales

As mentioned, you can keep up with airfare sales on our airline ticket deals blog which posts advertised sales for worldwide airlines every day (follow with a RSS reader or on Twitter @farecomparedeal).

If you know exactly where you want to go, you can also sign up for our real-time email airline ticket price drop alerts. This way, you can follow all the airlines’ prices on routes you’re interested in, without being chained to your computer (we do all the heavy lifting for you).

Facebook and Twitter

AirTran has a presence on Facebook and Twitter (@AirTranFares) but are not very active at the moment, which is a bit unusual considering how active other low cost airlines like JetBlue and Southwest are on these social media networks. One hopes they will jump back in as other legacy airlines are tending to do more recently.

They were very active on social media for a short time period when they launched Wi-Fi service across their fleet in June of 2009 and hired a comedian to live on an airplane for 30 straight days and use the new Wi-Fi service on board to tweet and frolic on Facebook.

They sometimes announce special deals there that are not available via their email communications (the airline’s AirTranU on Facebook is a favorite of the 18-22 crowd, explaining how they can fly standby to snag super cheap deals).

Plus, airlines respond quickly to social media, so if you have a problem or need a question answered quickly, try posting on Facebook or Twitter first.

Bottom Line for Finding Cheap Airfare

For the cheapest tickets on AirTran or any airline – the best time to shop is Tuesdays at about 3pm eastern – specifically on AirTran your departure travel window is a bit longer than other airlines.


Published: June 28, 2010