I recently read a great article from CNN Travel about airline fares, and the ways that they price them. The article was very interesting and explained a lot of things that I did not know about how airlines determine what fares to offer at different times leading up to a flight. If you have ever searched for airfare then you know that the prices can vary wildly from day to day, and some airlines are able to offer much lower fares on identical routings than others. There is a science to it, complex algorythims and computer programs are constantly calculating the correct prices to offer to potential customers.
After reading the article I had learned a lot about what airlines are doing when they are publishing certain fares, then drastically different prices just a day or two later. Lots of things that I did not learn while working in the airline industry for more than 10 years.
Basically, the airlines are betting that most travelers will be looking to buy as soon as they have listed the highest prices. There are many metrics that are involved to come to that conclusion, but it is a system that is helping to keep most US based airlines very profitable, along with the continual additions of fees. Their strategy is working.
Thankfully there are a lot of things that you can do as a potential passenger before booking to ensure that you are getting the best deal possible when you book. The airlines are constantly competing with each other for your business, and they want you in their empty seats, so it is likely that you’ll be able to find a good deal when you decide to book your next flight.
When you are looking to book, take some of these steps to find yourself a great deal. Flying isn’t always cheap, but you don’t need to overpay either.
- Check Multiple Sites
Look at many different websites that are offering fares. The more searching you do the more likely you will find a good deal on your flight. I like to start with TripAdvisor, they search several sites to find the best deals available. Make sure to check out fares direct through the airlines, they will often times offer the lowest fares available.
- Use A Price Alert
Many websites like Expedia and Kayak have price alert tools that you can utilize. You will put in your flight dates and destinations, along with your email address, and the site(s) will notify you when the fare prices for your destination have dropped. It will be automatic and save you some search time.
- Go During The Week (or Saturday)
Starting your vacation mid-week may mean a lower air fare. Lots of people fly places for weekend trips, so Friday, Sunday, and Monday are busy travel days. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are typically slower travel days and you may see some lower fares available.
- Travel Off Peak
If you are traveling to a destination that is heavily touristed in a certain time of year then you will save money by going there at a less popular travel time. Less travelers could mean that the airlines will lower their prices to attract more customers. Popular travel times vary by destination, so you will want to do some research to find out when the peak season is. Generally, traveling between holidays and summertime is good time to go. (September to Mid-November, February-April) Kids are usually in school during these times, so there are less families going on vacation.
- Consider Alternate Airports
Some airport will be more expensive to fly into than others. If there are several airports near your destination then you should see which one has the cheapest flight options. Going a little out of your way could save you some serious bucks. Think Chicago-Midway instead of O’hare, Newark instead of JFK, Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami.
- Take advantage of flexible 24 hour policies
Most airlines offer a flexible cancellation policy within 24 hours of booking. You can book a fare today and do another search a day later. If you find a lower fare then book the new one and get a refund on the first one you booked. Fares can change daily. Tomorrow’s deal could be better than today’s.
If you do all of these things while you are searching then you should have a better chance at locking down the best possible fare. As always, you will want to pay close attention to what you are booking, a super low fare is not always a great deal. Make sure you are not doing an excessive amount of layovers, and ensure that you have adequate connection times if you do need to make a connection. It’s usually not worth missing your flight or making 3 stops and taking 16 hours to get to a place that you could have flown to non-stop in 3 hours. Weigh the benefits of the fare you eventually book.