Airline ticket prices can feel as random as pulling the lever on a slot machine. Often times it's a bust, with those occasional jackpots just enough to keep you thinking at some point you'll score big. When is it the right time to cash out?
Fortunately, savvy travel industry watchers have some guidelines to lend you a hand. It's still very much a moving target that depends on your specific trip or when you're traveling, but by following this advice you should be able to avoid overpaying for that next flight.
A recent analysis from CheapAir.com found that the best prices are found anywhere from three weeks to three and a half months in advance, with the savings best for international flights at least two months in advance.
The CheapAir.com site also has a tool that allows you to select the origin and destination airports, and then it gives you a rundown of when you're likely to find the best flight. For example, when I typed in SFO to LON I was given a window of 23 to 110 days in advance. The range is going to vary depending on where you're trying to go, but you get the idea. The best deals are going to be had by those who make their plans and then follow through with action.
Generally, planning travel with a window of about three weeks in advance is going to give you the best chance of getting a better result. Last-minute fares are always a possibility. Sometimes, you just don't have the opportunity to plan your travel that far in advance. For that and other reasons, it's important to look to some of the many flight aggregators out there that are constantly scanning for the best price.
Use multiple aggregators
You can easily kill multiple hours trying out different flight search engines. It's a good problem to have when it comes to trying to ensure you don't pay more than the person who will end up in the seat behind you on the plane.
Some of the top services include Google Flights, Hopper, Hipmunk, and Kayak. New players are jumping in all the time to the incredibly competitive travel space. Whichever service you go with, the key is that you should use one that will save and track an itinerary for you.
For example, Google Flights will ping you from time to time if your itinerary is going to jump up in price. Additionally, the service will predict if the price is likely to go up or down over time. This can give you a clue that it's time to jump on the fare so you don't end up paying more down the line. If you use the Google app on a mobile device, you'll see a card in your stream that will update from time to time about the changes in the price of the itinerary. It can help you decide when it's time to make the booking.
Hipmunk is another good tool for getting the best price. The site will break down the details of the itinerary by price and travel time so that you can decide if it's all about the cheapest flight or if you want to curtail some of the misery that can accompany traveling. You can also sign up to get an email when the specific itinerary that you're looking after drops in price.
Another good site to consider is Kayak. The calendar has a little indicator over certain dates that the system anticipates will deliver a good price. Beyond that, you're able to compare itineraries, airports, and even the prices with different services. Kayak will also track the flight's price over time and email you with updates.
These are just some of the top choices. Priceline, Expedia, and other travel companies are constantly finding ways to try and deliver the best deal to you. When it comes down to it, finding a cheap flight is only possible with research. Be willing to look around, save flights, and compare. Often a good deal can be had, but it takes a combination of patience and willingness to jump on something if it's truly a smoking hot deal.
There's another issue to consider when it comes to finding the best airline price. Things move quickly. It's not uncommon for you to be looking at a price for a flight one minutes, and then when returning an hour late for the price to be higher by $200 or more.
The phenomenon is known as dynamic pricing. Sometimes it works in your favor - after checking out the initial flight, you may find out a couple of hours or days later that the price is significantly lower.
Or other times the news isn't so good. You waited too long, and now the price is higher than when you first looked. This disruption isn't going away, as the travel industry relies on algorithms and numerous data sets to assist in setting prices that are most advantageous given the market conditions.
Dynamic pricing is something that you must count on when it comes to searching for a flight. There's a chance that if you find a good deal today, it may be gone tomorrow. Using tools like Google Flights can tell you if the price is likely to go up or down. If the odds point in the direction of the fare going higher, it may be time to jump on it. Buying an airline ticket isn't like picking up a can of soup at the store - unlike a reliable packaged good, the price is bound to move.
Don't fall for tricks
Recently there was a lot of buzz about the idea that browsing for a flight in Incognito mode would save you money. However, a Travel and Leisure report found that it isn't true.
When you survey the field, there is a lot of conflicting advice that is usually offered without any evidence. Book on Tuesday. Or is it Friday? Maybe Saturday. The whims of the market are subject to change, and the prices are set by the airlines based on what is going to be in their own interest to fill flights.
That's why the aggregator tools and other digital aids are so important. However, this is why using technology as your friend matters so much when it comes to finding the best price. The Internet is full of several different theories about how to get the best price for a flight.
There are some good guidelines you can follow. In general redeye flights, holidays when people don't like to travel (like Christmas), and off-peak travel times like Tuesday and Wednesday deliver better bargains. However, your mileage may vary.
Keep in mind that the guidelines are generally just that - concepts to follow instead of hard and fast rules. The travel industry is impacted significantly by technology, as customer habits and needs drive the prices.
The good news, however, is that according to a Washington Post report, by historical comparison this is a very good time to be looking for flights. Prices are amongst their lowest the industry has seen, even though the experience may not always be comfortable. Some high-profile missteps by the airlines regarding how they interact with customers certainly hasn't helped.
However, you have plenty of tools at your disposal. With patience and some digital assistance, you have a very good chance of landing the flight you're looking for at a much cheaper price than if you take the first thing that comes along.
We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.