The airline industry has changed a lot in the last few years, but one thing has not changed. It is still cheapest to shop for a domestic airfare on Tuesday afternoon.
This confirmation of a common belief comes from Rick Seaney, airfare guru and CEO of Fare Compare.com, who has been watching airfares for years.
While airlines have developed sophisticated algorithms to closely control inventory and prices, apparently they still introduce fare sales late Monday or early Tuesday, with competitors matching fares by Tuesday afternoon. Find a fare around 3:30 Tuesday, and you’re in the golden hour.
It also is still true that the cheapest days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday on both domestic and international flights, Seaney’s data show. Are these timing tips infallible? No. But they, along with other knowledge of how airfares work, may give you an edge.
Free Press readers have been highly frustrated with airfares and fees in the last three years. I have heard from so many of you who feel that since all the mergers, airlines seem to hold all the power, jacking up the average round-trip fare to more than $500 in 2014, industry data show. Now, it seems consumers may be gaining a tiny bit more leverage.
One reason? You may have heard that the U.S. Department of Justice has begun an inquiry into possible collusion among U.S. airlines. That move came after airlines bragged nearly identically to stockholders that they were maintaining “capacity discipline” in supply and pricing. That inquiry alone is putting pressure on airlines to prove they’re not in lockstep.
Meanwhile, jet fuel prices keep falling. There is room for some price wiggle. And since Aug. 26, airlines have now morphed to their less busy fall season, with lower prices to match (it’s a great time to fly from Detroit to Amsterdam, Paris or London, by the way, with nonstops going for about $1,100 round-trip).
So, for once, the news on airfares is trending positive. And here are some more timing tips for booking that flight.
More inside tips
The best time to book a domestic flight is 3½ months to one month ahead, Seaney’s analysis shows. The best time to book an international flight is no more than 5 months ahead, but at least 6 weeks before travel.
Here is why: Book too early, and airlines likely are still fooling around with the schedule and not showing their best price. You might book, only to be notified that the flight time has changed or the flight has vanished. But book too late, and you tend to pay a premium. (In another study, the Airlines Reporting Corp. last fall found that the least expensive time to buy a domestic fare was exactly eight weeks ahead, with the lowest international fare 24 weeks ahead).
Of course, if airfares were that transparent on pricing, there would be no need for analysts. Unexpected sales, price hikes and mysterious schedule changes can make fares unpredictable.
Last spring, for example, Easter fares booked between Detroit and Florida cities soared to more than $700 round-trip. It did not matter if you stood on your head by the light of a full moon on a Tuesday night or not. There were a lot of tears from outraged Free Press readers, believe me.
Conversely, low fares can spring out of nowhere, and my policy is, grab the deal if you can, regardless of any advice about timing.
This week, for example, I am seeing nonstop fares from Detroit to Orlando for next March for $230 round-trip. That is 7 months away, but it’s also a fantastic price that will not be beat. Meanwhile, flights from Atlanta to Detroit booked now to fly next week are as low as $171 round-trip. Why? Nobody knows. How long will they last? No idea.
If you follow your favorite airline on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll often spot these deals early. But sometimes, they just appear like magic.
After many years of monitoring airfares, I am certain that timing days of travel and purchase do make a difference. A small difference, perhaps, but hey, we’ll take any edge we can get in the airfare game.