Shopping for air travel can be both confusing and frustrating — airline ticket prices change frequently (with seemingly no particular rhyme or reason).
Let’s face it — your time is too valuable to be laboring over a computer screen for hours searching for a great deal — our company mission is to take the mystery out of shopping for cheap flights, so let’s get started.
We have boiled down hundreds of our tips from a decade of airfare research specifically to educate fliers on how to make the best ticket purchasing decisions for each and every trip (checkout the video and the air travel insider tips below):
Cheapest Day to Fly – Wednesday
We did an in-depth study of our proprietary historical airfare database (world’s largest) and pinpointed the cheapest day to fly is Wednesday for domestic travel (gory details at the link).
Wednesday is one of the three cheapest days, the others are Tuesday and Saturday (Friday and Sunday the most expensive days to travel). The cheapest day to travel internationally are a bit different — we are working on this research and it should be up shortly.
The cheapest time to fly is typically the first flight out in the morning – yes, that means you have to get up at 4am. Next best times are flights during/after lunch and flights at the dinner hour (of course the absolute cheapest time to fly is on those limited routes with red eyes).
Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets – Tuesday 3pm Eastern
Another of our studies shows that the best time to buy airline tickets and shop for travel (domestically) is Tuesday at 3pm Eastern – yes shopping on Tuesday is the the best time to buy airline tickets, but be careful as most of these discounted airfare are pulled on Thursdays, so your probably paying too much if buying on the weekends.
There is a significant difference between shopping for domestic and international airline tickets (we are working on now), but here are a couple of recent research articles on international travel that should shed some light on this complex topic:
Shop One Passenger First and Save on Trips for Two or More
Airline reservations systems must sell everyone in your party the same, higher price — even if there are a few cheaper priced seats that could be had by a portion of your group.
This seemingly simple reservation system glitch (or feature, depending on your perspective) is why you should be shopping for one passenger first for airline tickets in order to save on trips with two or more passengers on the same itinerary.
You’ll have to split your ticket purchase into two transactions as shown in the linked detailed story — this minor hassle can save you hundreds.
Understand How Airlines Price Tickets
I bet you’ve chatted at one point or another to your seatmate about how much you shelled out for your ticket — let me guess, you didn’t remotely pay the same amount.
Unusual? not really — you know excruciatingly well that shopping in the morning for your trip yields one price — then trying an hour or two later and voila! a completely different price appears. This behavior is both maddening and at the same time oddly exhilarating — as the gauntlet has been thrown down on your new quest to beat the airlines at their own game.
Ah! but do you really understand the rules of the pursuit you agreed to engage? If you don’t understand how airlines price their tickets the playing field is tilted (pitch for my UK friends). You can level the field by simply learning that tickets are priced in a fashion somewhere between shopping at Macy’s (Harrods) and selling lemonade — check out the preceding link to dive into these fascinating set of rules.
Don’t Forget to Check Low Cost Airlines
Some low cost airlines like Southwest in the U.S and Ryanair in Europe don’t allow tickets to be quoted on popular comparison ticket websites. Don’t forget to check them separately for potentially lower prices. I recently wrote a piece on when to shop and buy Southwest Airlines tickets (check it out if you are near one of their 70 cities).
“Potentially lower ticket prices” is important here — because low cost airlines don’t always have the cheapest ticket prices nor the best schedules — their legacy airline brethren aggressively match on competitive routes, so do you homework and check both. Also be sure and check airline bag fees on European low cost airlines they can send total trip prices soaring if you don’t pack light.
Fly First Class at Coach Prices
Recent global economic issues have made air travelers more price sensitive than ever — but that doesn’t mean you should forgo a big comfy seat, especially if it costs less than the same one in coach.
Domestic U.S. airlines file hundreds of thousands of discounted first class airfares called “Y-Ups” that you can use in a variety of travel situations and in some cases are cheaper than last minute or emergency purchases (even cheaper than close to sold out popular travel dates).
Flexibility is the Main Key to Scoring Cheap Tickets
I know many of you have specific times (like spring break) when you must travel in order to get the entire family together. This means you are taking one of the variables of flexibility off the table — “departure flexibility”.
Don’t despair you still have “destination flexibility” (like Disneyland being half the price of Disney World), so don’t get stuck on a perfect destination, be adventurous.
The day you decide to pull the trigger on your ticket purchase is paramount, so check out the following tips to hone in on the best time to buy your airline tickets.
Avoid Days When Airlines Hit You with Peak Travel Surcharges
When seats are seats are in short supply, like this summer, airlines like any other business on the advantageous end of the demand curve look to pocket a premium for their seats.
Normally airlines would do this by raising ticket prices, but that hasn’t been so easy in tough economic times, so they have resorted to very targeted departure day increases they call “peak travel surcharges“. Luckily we track these peak travel surcharges and show you exactly which departure dates to avoid being hit with ticket premiums.
Don’t Shop Too Early or Too Late
Did you know that you can actually shop too early for airline tickets?
It turns out airlines don’t start releasing cheaper seats until 3-4 months before departure for domestic travel and conversely 4-5 months before international travel. Our When-to-Buy SM airline ticket guide, walks you through the details.
Use Technology to Notify You When Prices Drop and Track Price Trends
You can’t go wrong when you sign up for our real-time email airline ticket price drop alerts which notify you every time an airline drops prices on your favorite routes.
Many of you already keep a sheet of paper next to your computer, so you can write down the prices you see in order to get a feel for current costs and how they change. Better idea: let us help.
We can take this bookkeeping hassle of your hands and notify you exactly when prices drop on over 500 airlines, in real-time. For social network fans you have to check out real-time airline ticket price updates for departures from your city to destinations worldwide.
Smaller City International Travelers – Fly from a Nearby Hub City
Bigger airports, mean more competition, especially for international travel from both U.S. and internationally based airlines.
Unfortunately, airlines charge a $150-$400 premium for commuter connecting international flights — this means larger groups of travelers can overpay by thousands of dollars by leaving from their nearby smaller airport.
Take a close look at driving to a bigger “hub” city, but don’t forget to factor in fuel and parking costs into the equation (and note: there are some isolated cases where this premium isn’t charged).
Save on Last Minute Emergency Flights
At the worst of emotional times you can be hit with eye-popping prices for last minute emergency flights.
Airlines assume that procrastinating travelers have their company foot the bill — and assume they can afford $1000 tickets!
Don’t despair — there is some hope you can minimize that hefty cost:
- Call for Bereavement Rates – most airlines don’t have these anymore, the ones that do typically only discount $50 or 10% — but it is worth a try
- Use Miles or Points – this is the perfect time to use those miles or points you have accumulated (or even those of friend) – if you don’t have quite enough you can buy them on many airline sites to top off your account
- Last Minute Specials – typically airlines have cheap last minute deals for off peak travel like roundtrips from Thursday to Monday or Saturday to Tuesday
- Shop Air+Hotel Packages – many packaging sites (including those within airline sites) negotiate rates that are much less expensive than walk up rates (pick the cheapest hotel and toss it if you don’t need it)
Much, Much More
These are but a few of the tips we write about weekly on FareCompare.com, so join our community and shop for air travel on a company whose sole mission is help you make the best buying decision every time you shop for airline tickets.