Best Time to Buy Plane Tickets on American Airlines

This is the latest installment in a series about the best time to buy airline tickets on specific airlines.

My first report concerned the best time to buy Southwest Airlines tickets.

Now, we’re going to take a look at American Airlines.

Quick Background on American Airlines

American Airlines is the world’s second largest carrier (after Delta — soon to be 3rd after the United/Continental merger). Eighty years ago, American was incorporated as American Airways; it settled on the name we know it by today back in 1934 and serves 250+ cities worldwide.

The Ft. Worth, Texas-based carrier has its largest hub at nearby DFW – other hubs include JFK in New York, Miami International and Chicago’s O’Hare. The airline has hundreds of aircraft in service around the world.

Lesser known fact: Back in 1981, American pretty much invented the “frequent flier” miles club when it instituted its AAdvantage program – which today boasts more than 50 million members.

Most airlines have been cutting back flights over the past few years, but one active area for American has been flights to/from Central and South America mainly via its hub in Miami.

Airline Ticket Pricing Sophistication

After analyzing airfares daily for the past 7 years, it has been pretty clear to me that American is one of the most sophisticated at pricing in the airline industry.

They have historically had both technology and analysts that are highly esteemed by their peers and were pioneers in the area of airline ticket “yield management” which allows airlines to maximize profit on each seat (take a deeper dive on how airlines price their tickets if you are curious about the gory details).

This sophistication means that prices change quite a bit and you have to be ready to buy when a good deal pops up.

To underscore how volatile prices can be — let’s take a quick look average cheapest roundtrip ticket prices from American’s biggest airport (DFW) to the top 50 U.S. cities by airport traffic:

You’ll note that prices are up over last year’s decade lows and are trending up — since these are averages those swings in the graph mean a truck load of daily airfare change activity.

American’s Airfare Sales and Deals

From time to time, American offers sales on domestic flights and on some international routes, but not with the near-weekly regularity of Southwest, for instance.

However, when other carriers offer sales on routes that overlap AA’s, the carrier will generally match those lower prices aggressively and in certain cases undercut them.

American also has special weekender airfares it files that are typically good for a two or three night stay, departing the next two weekends at very steeply discounted prices — unfortunately, they typically require that either the departure or return be on a less desirable “long” weekend day (like Thursday or Tuesday).

The cheapest day to fly is Wednesday domestically and American is one of the few airlines that have historically put a travel restriction on their cheapest fares that require departures after noon on Monday and before noon on Thursday (preventing business travelers from buying these cheap seats).

Good Time to Shop: Tuesday at 3pm

Familiar with our air travel deals blog? If so, you’ve probably heard this before – “if it’s Tuesday, it’s airfare sale day”. There’s a reason why we say Tuesday at 3pm Eastern is the best time to buy airline tickets and that’s because typically one airline will begin a sale late Monday evening, and during the following morning and early afternoon, the other carriers – including American – are likely to join in.

But please note this important information:

Airline Sales Never Mean ALL Seats are “On Sale”

You’re never going to see a plane that has every seat on sale – where every passenger gets a 50% off ticket – not on Southwest, and not on American. Just doesn’t work that way (and for those of you who want to delve a little deeper, here’s how airfare pricing does work – it’s a convoluted yet fascinating tale).

Only about 10% of a plane’s seats are ever tagged with the very cheapest prices, so when you hear about a sale, and you like the prices you see, you must grab them quickly. Good prices simply do not last.

Know American’s Sale Restrictions

A recent American airfare sale to the Caribbean and Bermuda required a 7-day advance ticket purchase, and often “legacy carriers” like American require a 14-day advance purchase (typically, the low cost carriers require 7-day advance purchase and sometimes just a day or so).

This particular American sale required travel anytime from Monday through Thursday for the cheapest tickets, which is somewhat broader than the low cost carrier’s frequent requirement that travel take place on Tuesdays or Wednesdays only. This makes a lot of sense when you know that Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are generally the cheapest days to fly.

Stay in Touch with All Airline Airfare Sales

As noted early, check out the airfare sales on our airline ticket deals blog which is updated daily (and you can easily stay in touch with an RSS reader or on Twitter @farecomparedeal).

Plus, if you have your destination in mind, sign up for our real-time email airline ticket price drop alerts, so you’re not stuck at your computer checking prices day after day. As I always like to say, let us do the heavy lifting for you.

Get on Facebook, Twitter and Email

American Airlines is quite active on Facebook and Twitter (@AmericanAir) and this is a great place to go for exclusive deals – it’s easy – let us show you how to follow your favorite airline.

Even better, it can be a great place to go for help, as American employees monitor it closely as a customer service tool. A recent Twitter query from a passenger with problems got this response: “We’re sorry to hear you had such trouble. We’re flagging with Customer Relations so they’re aware.” Can you get that kind of service on the phone, or from email?

However, American does have a very active (and enthusiastic) email following, and you can sign up for a variety of communications from the airline.

Bottom Line for Finding Cheap Airfare on American (and Others)

Sign up for airfare alerts – follow the airfare deals – shop Tuesdays at 3pm – and get into American’s social media. You will find savings – maybe not all the time, but there will be deals out there.

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Updated: November 3, 2014