October 18, 2018

Dispelling Travel Myths: Is There a Magic Day or Time to Book Airfare?

Written by:
Maureen McKamey

Occasionally as travel agents, we have to be the bearers of bad news. It's never fun to have to tell clients something they don't want to hear, especially when it's something we have no control over. Whether it's a flight delay or cancellation, or telling a traveler that there's a hurricane heading to the destination they've booked an upcoming trip to, it's honestly one of the worst parts of our job.

So here I am, delivering bad news again: No, there's no magical day or time to book flights.

In my previous career, I worked at a TV news station. And while I do believe that reporters and anchors do their best to deliver accurate information, they aren't perfect. Every few months, it seemed like a new story would cross our wires, claiming that flight prices are lowest at, say, 9 PM on a Wednesday. Except, a similar story would come out next telling people to book on a Tuesday. Another study would resurface later on, but this time, it said, actually, Sunday is the best time to book. I was guilty of reporting each of them, and at the time, I didn't have the travel expertise to disprove the claims.

Frankly, they were fun stories to share. We were giving them a life hack, a money-saving scheme, a secret glimpse into the airline industry. But here's the thing...these claims are just completely and totally false.

See? You're bummed out now, aren't you? I hate having to break this to people.

The truth is that airfare pricing fluctuates all the time - sometimes even multiple times a day. It's immensely frustrating to give a client a quote and then, hours later, when they're ready to book, have to explain that the price went up.

The reason for the fluctuation is based in economics. It's all about demand, or, more precisely, how many people have already purchased seats on that particular aircraft. If the plane is filling up well, the airlines often bump up prices to see how much more they can make without diminishing demand for the seats. But a half-empty plane is no good, either. So if people aren't buying tickets on a particular flight, the airlines will often lower prices to entice people to buy. Without real-time information on how many people have purchased seats and how the airlines are going to react as a result, it's next to impossible to guess when prices will change, in which direction, and by how much. Even if studies claim that prices have historically been lowest on a Wednesday at a certain time, if, say, a group of 30 people books space on your flight on Tuesday, Wednesday certainly isn't going to yield the lowest prices.

So now that I've shared the bad news with you, I have a bit of good news. There are ways to try to find reasonably-priced airfare. That's what travel agents are here for! Especially on international trips, we have a few tricks up our sleeves to get you better deals than what you're seeing online. And in the cases where we see the same prices as everyone else, we can track live inventory and watch prices for you, alerting you if we see a particularly good deal.

Planning ahead is also key. Did you know that airfare schedules are released about 11 months in advance? So you could book flights for a vacation that's nearly a year away. What we do know about flight price changes is that last-minute deals are rare. The closer you get to your travel dates, the higher the likelihood of prices going up. Prepare to book your international airfare at least 4-6 months before your trip. For domestic trips, we recommend not waiting past the "six weeks out" mark.

So now you know! And look at all of the time I've freed up for you! There are far better things to do on Wednesday (or Tuesday or Sunday) nights than sit in front of a computer looking at airfare prices :)