There’s an awful lot of bullswool talked about finding cheap airfares. All manner of self-styled “experts” will tell you how to find that absolutely amazingly cheap air fare.
Sorry to give you a large slosh of cold water but here are some questions with answers you mightn’t like:
- Is there a “best” day to buy air fares? No.
- Is there a “best” site on which to find the cheapest air fare? No.
- Do airlines track your browsing habits and up the fares accordingly? No.
- Can some websites predict price movements? No.
- Is there a “best” time to book? Maybe.
A lot of these ideas may have had some validity in the early days of online booking. Like, “Tuesday is the best day to find a cheap fare”. That probably came about because airlines used to upload inventory on the same day each week and if you were quick, on that day, you could grab the low-priced offers.
These days however, airlines use incredibly sophisticated algorithms to set fares. As a consequence, prices change by the day, by the hour and even by the minute.
If, for instance, the Rolling Stones announce yet another tour with dates and cities, airlines will detect that very quickly and fares to those cities will rise within minutes.
So how do you find the best price?
Much depends on what you are looking for. If you are one of the privileged class – when someone else is paying the fare, usually a taxpayer or shareholder – and you turn left on boarding, you are less worried about a mere detail like price. If, however, like me you are one of the peons on the other side of the great divide, then what you pay will depend very much on your view of the world of air travel.
As an example, when I head off to Europe and/or the UK I’m damned if I’ll save a handful of dollars by enduring a 40 hour flight as against a 25 hour trip.
Research has shown that there is actually precious little variation between highest and lowest fares on any given flight. Maybe $50. Maybe, less often, $100 or even $200. Where you can find bigger price variances is between airlines, flight times and time of day and day of week.
For instance, Monday mornings and Friday nights, especially on shorter hauls, can be more expensive because those are peak business travel times. Long, multi-stopover flights will usually be cheaper than direct, shorter flights. Full service airlines with strong customer loyalty will command more than no-frills carriers. For obvious reasons.
Airline survival, especially in these weird days, depends on maximizing the revenue from every seat on every flight. Those el cheapo airfares depend on the airline filling nearly every seat on the plane.
There are only a set number of seats available. They can’t quickly add a few more if there is a strong demand. The law of supply and demand – to paraphrase engineer Scotty on Star Trek “Ye canna break the laws of supply and demand, Jim” – dictate that supply and demand will be balanced out by pricing.
One of my favourite fellow travelers, blogger Matt Kepnes, aka Nomadic Matt, discusses 5 myths about booking a flight that you need to ignore in his latest post. It’s well worth a look at https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/flight-booking-myths/