One of my least favorite things when planning a trip is figuring out when to book a flight.  The inability to easily cancel and the frequent fluctuations in price make this process feel as if I am on a torturous episode of Deal or No Deal.  There has been so much analysis and study surrounding the right time to pull the trigger.  Should I purchase on a Tuesday?  Is it too soon to purchase?  Should I return on a Sunday or a Monday?  Does any of this even make a real difference to my wallet?  As someone who has spent more money on flights in the last year than I care to admit, I’ve decided to finally look into the following three questions that I always tend to ask myself when booking flights.

1Right Day to Purchase Flight?

Most articles and research conclude the best days to buy are either Sunday, Tuesday or Wednesday.  Here are the reasons for each:

  1. Sunday:  Business travellers are not booking and as a result demand/prices are down
  2. Tuesday: Airlines advertise travel deals on Monday evenings and by Tuesday competitors are looking to price match.
  3. Wednesday: The deals that weren’t snagged on Tuesday  trickle into Wednesday.

Personally, I have noticed real benefits the earlier in the week and this still somewhat drives my purchase decision date.  However the price difference has never been to the point where I believed I saved a significant amount.

Verdict: I still generally stick to the beginning of the week but this is probably not worth stressing over.  If you find a flight that you are comfortable purchasing on Thursday it’s very likely it won’t be worth the risk waiting until the following week to see if it is cheaper.

2Right Day to Fly?

Yes, there is a right day to fly.  Or at least a better day over others.  While this depends on a lot of variables, the consensus is typically to arrive or depart mid-week (Tuesday or Wednesday) either at dawn or overnight for the best bargain.  Travelling on a Saturday may also potentially save some bucks as most people would like to maximise their trips and avoid travel in the middle of the weekend.

On a recent booking from New York City to London, returning on Tuesday morning was approximately $100 cheaper than returning on Sunday.

Verdict: I absolutely recommend making full use of travel sites flexibility tools which shows a range of prices for different arrival and departure dates.

3How Far in Advance Should I Purchase?

Your purchasing window is from the time an airline announces a flight to the day the flight departs (or sells out).  When an airline announces a flight, they are measuring demand and making price adjustments accordingly.  This guarantees that the price will decrease at some point.   But given the variables like destination and the amount of fluctuations in pricing, it’s impossible to narrow this down to a specific number of days prior to buy.  In their annual airfare study, Cheap Air, analyzed nearly 1 billion airfares and 3 million different trips, and derived the prime booking window to be 21 – 105 days before a particular trip.

Verdict:I tend to monitor 4-6 months in advance of a known trip to observe trends and book 2-3 months prior.

There are two important points here: 

  1. Avoid the edges of the purchasing window.  There is such a thing as too earlier and certainly a thing as too late.
  2. If you are traveling during popular travel periods (holidays, music festivals, etc.) book sooner rather than later, as prices are unlikely to massively drop.

Ready, Set, Fly

For more analysis and detail per geographical area, Expedia and the Airline Reporting Corporation have conducted a study aggregating large amounts of flight data to derive 2017 predictions.  In a future post, I’ll go through the best resources to help you monitor and track this information in order to make the best decision to save money.  At the end of the day, I cannot emphasise enough that these are averages and general guidelines, not concrete rules.

What is your strategy to get the cheapest airfares? How long do you wait (if at all) before purchasing?

What are your thoughts?

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