When is it best to buy a plane ticket? There are a few things that will help you score the best airfare to your destination. Some things you clearly need to avoid. Remember that all of what I am about to say is from my own experience and is more art than science. Some of the tips will only work if you are not traveling on a holiday. Christmas travel is very hard to get great deals. Deals can be found if you look hard enough, but don’t expect them around every corner. You will have to search for them.
Tip 1: Search for tickets on Tuesdays or early Saturday mornings (very early).
Tuesdays and early Saturdays seem to be the best day to look for flights. I am not certain why these times seem to get the best bargains. Over the last twenty years of looking at thousands of flights (yes, thousands as I owned a travel agency for many years), these specific times seem to be the best time to look for cheap flight. And on the contrary, never look on Friday afternoons. The airlines seem to know you have had it with your job and will book what is there so they raise their rates.
Watch these trends for a few weeks and you will see what I mean. Watch airfares between two cities over two to three weeks and you will notice either slight or large jumps on Friday afternoon. As a matter of fact, you will see air rise all week and then drop back down.
Tip 2: Try to include a Saturday stay. Weekend travel almost always brings you a cheaper fare.
Saturdays are magic for airlines. The indicate to the airlines that you are a leisure traveler. Business flights are almost always more expensive because the airlines know companies have no choice but to pay the fares to get their employees between cities. These flights almost never include a Saturday stay. Many destinations will give a discount for travelers staying over a Saturday night. Check your dates of travel with both a Saturday and without. You will likely see a difference in price and it might be significant. I like to save even small amounts on the flight because it means more to spend on other parts of my trip.
Tip 3: Check your fares both one-way and round-trip.
It is important to check your airfare both via one-way flights and round-trip flights. Some destinations require a round-trip purchase to get the cheapest fares. Other locations allow for one-way tickets each at half the airfare. You may see differences of hundreds of dollars between the two options. Many city pairs allow for two one-way tickets. New York to Orlando is an example of a city pair that allows this. Usually cities that have a lot of carriers that travel to the destination will give you this option. If this option is available, look at multiple different airlines to get the best total flight price. This may mean you need to book two separate tickets but to save money, I am all for it.
Tip 4: Check a variety of websites to see the widest selection of airfares.
Always check a number of websites to get the best fare. Along with airline websites, I use the following websites to check the fares:
Tip 5: The best airfares are usually six months before travel, but I start looking at about nine months out.
Most airlines offer flights 330 days before a scheduled flight date, but contrary to popular belief, flights are not cheapest when they first come out. Many airlines do not release their schedule that far in advance. You may not start to see discounts on seats until about six months before your travel dates when the low cost carriers release their schedules.
The one time this might not be true is during a school holiday or holiday weekend. Those holidays require more planning, so watch those fares as soon as they come out especially if you are going to use miles for your tickets. If you are searching closer to traveling, I would suggest that fourteen days seems to be the latest you should check to get the best ticket prices.
Tip 6: Always search using an incognito browser so websites don’t track your searches.
Searching incognito allows you to search anonymously. If you don’t go incognito, the airlines “magically” raise prices in just the city pair you happen to be traveling. Many people will tell you this appears to happen. Not all websites track you with “cookies”, but the ones that do, can send that information to the third party sites and it seems that air somehow rises automatically. If you view the same city pair from another computer the fare is return to normal.
Tip 7: If you are flying and want to upgrade your trip, ask your Travel Agent to check your flights in business or first class with a wholesaler or consolidator.
Business class or First class is the best way to travel long distances. I can’t imagine a 24-hour flight in coach. I know some people do it, but I just can’t. I save for a trip until I can afford business class. Consolidators help get significant discounts on business class air. They can’t assist on economy flights. I always can save hundreds and sometimes thousands on business class tickets in this manner. I saved over $1,800 on my recent flight from Los Angeles to Ho Chi Mihn City by using a consolidator.
Tip 8: Keep checking.
Check every day until you are satisfied with a price. I tend to check sites like Kayak which will tell you if the current price is a reasonable price to buy a ticket. I also check to see what tickets went for to that destination over the last 90 days to see what the best price is and set the price I want to pay.
Tip 9: Buy directly from the airline.
When you can, buy your ticket directly from the airline if they have the cheapest price. Buying from the airline gives you extra benefits. You may get extra miles, and certainly an airline is much less likely to bump you from a flight if you buy it directly from them. If your flight is canceled for some reason, the airline looks to re-accommodate the passengers that booked directly through them first. That might make the difference in whether you arrive in Las Vegas today or tomorrow when more flights open up for those that booked through Expedia or Travelocity. There is nothing wrong with these on-line agencies, except it is really hard to call them when you are stuck in an airport and your flight just got canceled due to weather.
Tip 10: If you see a good price grab it.
Always grab good flight prices when you first see them. Flight prices change by the minute. Airlines usually have a limited number of seats at each price point and when they are gone they go to the next fare class. If the person before you buys the last seat in the cheapest fare class, the price could bump up in seconds. Some airlines will tell you how many seats that have available at the price listed on the screen. Once those seats are booked, you know the fare is going up. So my final piece of advice is if you see a phenomenal price on a flight, grab it while it is there. It may be gone in minutes.
Looking for flights is both art and science. You also need some luck thrown in there. I set calendar entries to look for flights when I am scouring for specific flight pairs and dates. This helps remind me to look at certain times. Otherwise my week would be gone before I realized it. It would be Friday afternoon and I would be ready to get out of town and I would pay anything for a flight…