As holiday travel is at its peak and as so many are already planning their vacations for next year, I think it's time we address the age old question of, "When should I purchase my airfare?"
Bloggers and travel writers have filled cyberspace with all sorts of theories and schemes related to when a person should be purchasing airfare for their next trip. But what we have determined is that most of these theories and schemes are nothing more than that...theories, conjured up schemes and even myths.
Some will argue that Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days to buy airfare. Some devise entire websites for the sole purpose of tracking airfare and predicting when it would be best to buy a given flight or flights to some chosen destination. Some will say that you should wait until about 30 days before a trip before you hit the purchase button.
But here is what they don't tell you. They don't tell you that airline's use computer programs to adjust prices down OR up. Those programs adjust based on seats sold. It's a supply and demand thing. When seats on certain flights start to sell early on (usually when pricing is at its lowest), the program simply raises prices to meet the demand for that given time and route. And here are factors that can cause prices to fluctuate quickly and steeply:
1. Route popularity. If you are looking for a flight from Omaha to Rochester NY in late January, prices for that route may not fluctuate as fast and as widely as say...a route from NYC to Orlando or Chicago to Miami during that same time of year. Naturally some routes are more popular than others which means prices can jump quickly as seats are being sold just as quickly.
Maybe you want to head to Italy in July. Flights from major US cities to popular European destinations in the middle of peak summer season can generate high prices as soon as 6 months from the date of travel. That means buying as early as possible can sometimes yield the best pricing in that case.
2. Number of connections. If you are open to leaving from one city, connecting to a flight in another city, maybe even connecting to yet another flight in another city before arriving at your ultimate destination, then there is a high chance your fare will be lower than someone flying non stop from their city to your same destination. Airlines that service smaller airports like to fill those planes as much as possible when there is no non stop flight from that smaller city to a destination that is not one of their hubs. For example...a flight from Des Moines that connects through Chicago before connecting to a flight for Rome, will usually be cheaper than someone starting their trip from Chicago on a non stop to Rome. The airline knows they can fill the Chicago to Rome flight, but they would also love to have a full flight from Des Moines to Chicago so they price it more attractively to get that leg of a flight full.
3. Time of year. This is tied to the idea of route popularity but any time you are flying to a destination that has seasonal popularity, prices will fluctuate a lot and again fairly quickly after they are published. Flying to Hawaii around the Holidays, Europe during the summer, Jamaica in the winter all will cause airfare to be higher than going to those same destinations during their off peak seasons. Flying to London in February will be a lot cheaper than flying to London in July.
4. Day of the week. There is a common sense reason why flights on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday may be cheaper than flights to the same destination that depart or return on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and even a Monday. Weekend getaways, vacation schedules and business travel tend to cause the weekends to be the most crowded when it comes to flights and airports. Again, it's a supply and demand kind of thing. Business travelers tend to come home on Fridays and leave back out again on Sunday evenings or Monday mornings. Weekenders will try to leave out on a Friday and come back on a Sunday or Monday. A lot of work vacations start on a Saturday and end on a Sunday. So midweek flights are less crowded and tyowially cheaper overall.
So you can hopefully see that buying airfare is not some hard and fast rule. Waiting to buy on a Tuesday or Thursday etc is not going to guarantee that you are getting the best fare. Waiting until a certain amount a days from a given trip starting point will also not guarantee the best pricing. Tracking prices on some app will not guarantee that you will get the best price. So many simple economic factors play into airfare.
In fact, in our opinion, waiting and waiting and waiting to buy your airfare may end up not only costing you more money, but it may mean the best flights with the best times and connections get sold out before you ever decide to pull the trigger. Our advice to our clients will depend on all of the factors we mentioned above. How popular is the destination that they are wanting to travel to? If it is somewhere like Orlando...we need to look at pricing as soon as it's published. If someone is looking to travel over the holidays...waiting may mean sold out flights so we usually advise looking again as soon as possible. And if the flights are great times and connections and the price fits the travel budget...then we say, waiting is a risk so why not go ahead and book the flights and know that piece of the travel puzzle is now taken care of.
So to summarize...don't pay attention to myths, pay closer attention to the details. Look at the factors that play into air travel and ultimately effect pricing and buy with those details in mind. Don't trust the idea that Tuesday may be a lower price or waiting until 30 days out may offer better pricing etc. Trust your travel professional and let them help you understand.