It’s not really a secret that airfares have become very expensive these days. It’s exactly the reason why people are interested in knowing the best day to book a flight – to get discounts.
Commercial airline passengers pay extra fees to check their bags, and even a single suitcase can cost as much as $50. You have to pay more for extra legroom, or even for a pair of headphones, a blanket, or a meal. It can also cost another $200 to change reservations and your itinerary. And it’s not as if you’re getting more for your money. The percentage of canceled flights keeps increasing, and 19% of flights don’t arrive within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival time.
Airlines can do these things because they’ve merged and consolidated. The four major US airlines (American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines) now hold 80% of the US domestic market. Even discount airlines can’t help lower the prices of airfare significantly.
In any case, perhaps knowing the best day to book flights can help. It definitely can’t hurt to try, right?
The Best Day to Book Flights is Tuesday
Don’t just mean that you should fly on a Tuesday (because a flight ticket for this day is actually cheaper). We mean that Tuesday is the best day to book your flights.
But why Tuesday? What makes it the best day to book a flight? The reason for making Tuesday the best day to book flights is because in general the airlines tend to issue sales and discounts on Monday or very early on Tuesday morning. They don’t do it on weekends.
When one airline does this, the other airlines need to compete for your attention. After all, they’re also competing on the very same routes as the airline that issued the discount. They’re not doing this for benevolent reasons or because they want to be nice. It’s because when you go online Googling for «discount airfare», they also want to get to that all-important first page of results. They don’t want to be on the page 4 of Google results, which virtually no one bothers to check out.
So when they see that one competitor airline launches a discount, they scramble and issue their own discounts. They’re very quick about it, and it only takes them the morning to figure out what kind of discounts to offer. By 3PM Eastern Time on Tuesday, every airline that’s going to try to match the discount has done it too. For those in the West Coast, that’s about noon, Pacific Time.
So there’s no reason to wake up early on Tuesday. Just relax and take your time. It’s not a Black Friday sale after all.
But when you do see a great discount, you have to take advantage of it right away. These discounts are not going to last long. It’s very likely that if you take the time to discuss the matter with your spouse over dinner, then by the next day the discount may be gone.
But It Can Also Be Wednesday
But other experts say it’s not really Tuesday. While they do admit that Tuesday is the day when you can get a discount online, it may still not be the lowest price possible. These experts suggest that you instead buy your ticket at exactly 1AM on Wednesday. This is the 1 AM Wednesday in the time zone where the airline is located, and not where you are. So you’re going to have to do some online sleuthing and figure out where the airline is based.
Why Wednesday, and why exactly at 1AM? That’s because by midnight Tuesday, all the discounted fares that weren’t bought are brought back into the computer system of the airline. So the airline officials know that there are still some tickets available that weren’t bought, and now you can take advantage of this.
But this is not about getting a discount online. You have to get someone on the phone who can make you an offer about those discount fares. Because they weren’t sold, the airline official at the other end of the line may be tempted to make you an even cheaper offer on those seats you need.
Not Too Early But Not Too Late
What is the best day to book a flight? Now we are talking about how long before the flight you should buy your ticket. How many days before the departure day is the best day to book a flight?
Now this is a topic of considerable debate among experts. What they do agree on is that there’s a window of opportunity for you to get the best and lowest price.
The first thing you need to know is that if you delay too much it will cost you quite a bit of money. According to most reports, if you book your flight just two weeks before the departure date, you’re going to pay an average of $111 more. Buy the ticket only seven days in advance and you’re going to have to pony up $174 more.
But being too early carries its own penalty as well. Airlines are merchants, so they don’t offer their best price right away. When they first offer the ticket, on average it’s about $50 more than the optimum price. It’s only when they want to spur sales that they begin to offer discounts, and then you can find the best day to book flights.
Most airlines offer flights for sale about 11 months in advance. Even if you know that much ahead of time that you’re going to need a flight, it’s too early for you to book a flight. It’s just too expensive.
So exactly what is the best day to book a flight? How do you narrow down when you should buy the flight?
Determining just how far ahead you should book your flight can be complicated, but some experts have tried offering some clarifications on the matter. One study suggests buying a ticket precisely 54 days (about 8 weeks) ahead of the departure date.
This suggestion is backed by a 2013 cheapair.com study that monitored 4,191,533 trips. That’s about 1.3 billion separate airfares tracked. What they found was very revealing:
From 11 months to 7½ months ahead of departure, the price is pretty much even. The price is rather high, and during this period there’s no real change because the airlines aren’t feeling the pressure yet.
By around 225 days out, the airfare then begins to drop steadily. By 104 days out the airfare is within $10 of the cheapest price for the flight. That’s a period of 7½ months to 3½ months ahead of the flight departure day.
From that point, the price still drops, more slowly but still steadily. It will reach the cheapest price by about the 54-day mark. That’s a few days short of 8 weeks in advance.
Once it reaches the lowest point, it will again slowly rise. But it will stay within $10 of that cheapest price until it is only 29 days ahead.
The rate of increase accelerates until it’s just two weeks ahead of the departure date, and that’s when the price really shoots up considerably. The price of a ticket just one week ahead is very exorbitant.
So the window of opportunity is from 3½ months ahead to just 1 month ahead. That’s the period during which on average you have a great chance of snagging a price that’s within $10 or so of the cheapest price possible.
Take note, however, that these trends are about averages. For a specific airline, the rate of airfare change can be very erratic. So track the prices across multiple websites to get a more accurate idea of what the lowest price can be.
When is the Best Day to Fly?
Now you may have come to read this article because you thought it was going to be about which day you should fly to get a significant discount. There are some tips here which can help.
The best thing here is if you’re flexible about your departure date. Airlines offer discounts frequently, and it can help if you have a three- or four-day window to schedule your flight. If you’re determined to fly on a specific date, then you’re limited in the number of opportunities you can get.
Then you also need to understand that the cheapest days to fly are those days on which most people don’t want to fly. It’s the law of supply and demand. Since there are comparatively fewer people who want to fly on certain days, then the prices of flight on those days can be less expensive so that the airlines can attract passengers.
The most expensive days for you to fly are on Fridays and Sundays. Fridays are the best day for people to fly when they want to get out of town for the weekend or go on vacation. They can maximize the time they can spend in their destination.
Sundays are when they go home, and it’s also the best day for business travelers who have an out-of-town Monday meeting. These business travelers fly on Sunday so that they can rest and get rid of their jet lag sufficiently, so that by Monday morning they’re clearheaded and fresh for the meeting.
Mondays are also not the best because some people delay going home by flying on this day. Some business travelers also take Monday flights instead. And Thursdays may not also be the best day because some holiday vacationers take an early vacation or take a day off on Friday to really maximize their weekend plan.
And that leaves us with the best days to fly – Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. If you can’t get any of these days for your departure, then try to get them on your way back.
Here are some more tips which can cut down the airfare even further:
- Get a red-eye flight. These are on limited routes, so they’re generally the cheapest time to fly. Other really cheap flights are the first flight in the morning, the flights during or right after lunch, and flights around dinner time.
- Use several websites to search for deals. No single site can give you a truly comprehensive view on low-cost airfare. It’s not like using a single search engine. Use Google, and then check out those links one by one.
- Make separate ticket purchases for groups flying out. When you go to the supermarket, you get discounts when you buy in bulk. That’s a rule that doesn’t apply to airfare.
- Let’s say there are 4 of you flying out. If an airline is offering two seats for $200 and other seats for $250, when you get your 4 tickets at once they will be priced at $250 each.
- So what you do is to search for 4 seats first, so that you know that the flight can accommodate all of you. Then search for just two at a time (or just for a smaller group). If you find a discount, you can get the cheaper seats and then do a separate search for that flight for the rest of the group. Even if the other seats still cost $250, by getting a couple of seats for just $200 you get a $100 discount.
- Keep on checking for discounts after you’ve bought the tickets. There’s a 24-hour window for you to cancel a flight or rebook it without having to pay any penalty. So when you buy your tickets, check the prices the very next morning. If the price did fall overnight, you can call the airline to cancel your flight so you can take advantage of the cheaper airfare.
Here’s hoping the tips we’ve provided will help. With the way airfare costs are increasing, airline passengers like you and me need all the help we can get!