As a general matter I believe the way to get the best airfares is to:
- Know how much tickets usually cost on your route. That way you know when prices are higher or lower than normal. If they’re lower, consider buying. If they’re higher, there’s plenty of time to travel, and not an obvious event driving up demand, it can be advisable to wait.
- Not buy before your plans are firm. Because change fees can eat up any savings.
- Don’t buy too far in advance. Often lowest discount inventory isn’t loaded for flights a year in advance when schedules load. The only time to book super early is for peak holiday travel days where flights do sell out and what limited inexpensive inventory might be available goes early.
- Usually consider buying around 3 months out. There are last minute deals but not predictable enough to bank on, within 90 days airline schedules are firm and discount fares are loaded. One counterargument for booking further than 90 days out is the likelihood of a schedule change that could get you a fee-free cancellation or change if you want it.
This advice has remained largely the same, here are the 8 best ways to save money on airfare and I don’t think it alters much based on new research from the Airline Reporting Corporation and Expedia.
One of the most significant findings was this,
Booking flights three weeks in advance, on the weekend – particularly Sunday – and beginning travel on a Thursday or Friday is the ‘sweet spot’ for fare savings and delivers the lowest average ticket prices with discounts of around 10%;
However claiming that you will get the cheapest fares when you book on the weekend gets it exactly backwards. People are more likely to be booking leisure travel on the weekend than they are business travel, which is more often done at work. As a result the fares that are purchased on the weekend tend to be for individuals not business, and the people booking tend to be more price sensitive. They’ll adjust travel times to get better fares. And they’re traveling when fares are lower.
Though ultra low cost carriers have undermined many of the traditional tools to segment business from leisure travelers such as advance purchase and Saturday night stay requirements, airlines have new tools to separate out different types of customers in order to charge less price sensitive business customers more.
The study also finds that “for around three-quarters of trips, quantifiable savings can be realised by travellers who extend their weekday trip to include a Saturday night stay” which is just to suggest that by traveling when leisure travelers fly fares are lower, not necessarily that Saturday stay requirements are making enough of a comeback at least on domestic US routes.
Probably the most important finding, which doesn’t get nearly as much attention, is that “travellers can often make up to 50 searches before deciding on a flight.” That’s consistent with past research that customers visit at least 10 websites on average when booking a trip. That matters because it undermines calls to regulate what each website shows to passengers, demanding uniformity in how flights, fares, and fees are displayed out of fear that consumers will only see options presented to them on a single site.