I know we’ve done the airfare pricing schemes to death here, but I’m curious if there’s a best time to buy tickets.
I’m looking to go back to Vegas in July, and currently the best airfare I can find is $225 round trip/per person. Now all I know about airfare structures is that it’s all screwed up. Would it make sense to wait for the airfare to drop if I buy closer, or is it a gamble, and I’d have to hope for a price war? Is there a certain time before travel when you’re likely to get the best fare (excluding the aforementioned price wars)?
You should get several suggestions. Here’s one I read in Bottom Line Personal.
They wrote that when major airlines kick in special prices or discounts they will usually appear first at that airline’s website at midnight. Midnight, that is, in whatever time zone the airline is headquartered.
Whatever you do, don’t do what I just did. I wanted to go to Memphis for a ceremony, fly down in the early a.m. and fly back that evening. My office manager usually handles that sort of thing, but as this was personal, I chose to do it myself. Checked the price online and it was reasonable, like two something round trip. I thought if I waited prices would drop even lower. The day before my trip I got online and the best I could do was 550. Bleh.
As **vetbridge **can testify, the day before is too late. Most discount fares have a 1 or 2 week advance purchase requirement. I’ve bought tickets several months ahead when my plans were firm enough to permit it, and I’ve never had a :smack: over missing a later deal.
I fly out of NYC, about 50k miles a year. I keep an eye on fares, though I rarely fly to LAS. The $225 fare has more potential to go up than down. From the basic economics, it’s a long trip - you’re about 90% of the way to LAX, for example, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a transcon flight for $225 that time of year (more like $275+). The flight might go down to $200 on a fare sale, but it’s more likely to go up by $50+ as the cheap inventory gets sold out.
You want to see something really screwed up? Try shopping for a flight and hotel package. I was looking yesterday as I was planning to go to Vegas in October, and the cheapest normal flight I could find SFO-LAS was about $180, but I found flight/hotel deals starting at $150 for two nights and airfare.
Another thing to think about is that often if you have tickets booked and a search shows that the airfare for that route drops, you may be able to have the airline refund the difference if you contact them.
$225 sounds pretty good for what is essentially a cross-country flight. But July is a quite a ways away and it’s always possible that a better deal will come up. My method is to start as early as I can before my trip, and keep checking every day for several weeks to get a feel for the fares. I also look for the exact specifications I want (airline, travel times, etc.) If I find something reasonable that meets my expectations, I go for it. As Billdo mentioned, if the price goes down on the particular ticket you purchased, you can usually get the difference refunded to you. But you should try to get a ticket you are happy with, because if a different airline or route offers a better fare, you won’t be able to get it.
We talked about fares in business school- there are a couple of considerations that are useful to know:
First, the airlines want to charge you as much as you’re willing to pay. In the case of a pleasure traveler, that’s usually a lot less than some business traveler who has to be there TOMORROW.
That’s why if you wait until the last minute, fares will generally increase. They want to gouge those guys who found out about their trip the night before. That’s also why same-day round trips or work-week round trips are very pricey, while weekend round trips aren’t. The weekend people are usually traveling for pleasure, and won’t pay as much as a business traveler will.
This is also why flight/hotel deals are usually cheap- they usually require a weekend and are aimed at pleasure travelers.
Barring figuring out how a particular airline’s pricing structure works, if you book well in advance and make sure to book a weekend night or two into your round trip, you’ll probably come out about as well as can be expected.
If you’re somewhere served by Southwest airlines, they’re probably about as cheap as you’ll find anywhere- their pricing structure doesn’t involve much of that crap above at all- it’s pretty much fixed-price.