My eyes roll and I sigh every time I see a study or opinion about “the best day” to shop for low airfares. Gimme a break!
For many years, Tuesday was supposedly the “best day” for airfare shopping. A recent study shows that weekends, especially Sundays can be even better. I’ve heard some people advise staying up until 1 a.m. on Wednesdays. According to some experts, you should buy your ticket 42 days ahead of time. Oh, wait, the latest study says 57 days.
That advice is even more bogus as peak summer travel season approaches— a time when all “rules” get thrown out the window. (Peak summer season this year starts about June 15 and ends around August 21.)
The fact is that there is no “best day” for buying airlines tickets because each traveler and trip is different.
One bit of good news right now? Airfares are trending down due to lower fuel prices and overcapacity. But don’t think you are going to find any real bargains if you are planning to travel in July or August this year. While fares will probably be about the same or slightly lower than last summer, they are still painfully high during summer season and this year will be no different. (For example, I just booked a midweek trip from SFO to New York City- to get the nonstops and time that worked for my schedule, my client is paying a whopping $740! Ouch!)
The best time to find true fare deals is during slower fall “shoulder” season and airlines roll out deals to help keep all those seats full. Fall is one of the best times of year for those with schedule flexibility to troll for last minute fare deals– or last minute “deals” on frequent flyer mile redemptions. Fall shoulder season begins the week after Labor Day.
Here are 6 steps to remember when fare shopping:
1) Determine the “going rate” for the trip on the dates that work best for you– and keep in mind that Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are generally the cheapest days for flying. Shop for fares on your airline of choice and also on fare comparison or shopping sites (my favorite is the ITA Matrix, but it’s kinda geeky). Google’s Flight Search tool is great for a cursory glance. And don’t forget to check Southwest.com since Southwest fares don’t show up on most comparison sites.
2) Factor in fluctuations in demand for your target price. For example, you won’t find that $300 transcontinental round trip in July or August…but you might find it during the slower fall months, or dead weeks of early January. You’ll likely find decent summer fare to Europe in September… but feggedaboutit in July or August. Subscribe to blogs like TravelSkills or follow our Facebook & Twitter feeds to stay on top of periodic fare sales.
3) Set up fare alerts for price drops— fare shopping sites such as AirFareWatchDog, Kayak, Hipmunk, FareCompare or major online travel agencies will do this for you. Based on your research of the “going rate” set a fare level that feels comfortable for you (based on demand), and you’ll get an email if the fare drops below that. Don’t forget to include all the airports near your destination– some can be significantly cheaper than others (such as Oakland instead of SFO, or Long Beach instead of LAX).
4) Once you see a fare that fits into your budget and timeframe, BUY IT. Feel good knowing that you snagged a good seat on a convenient flight at a reasonable price. Don’t sweat it. By waiting, you’d likely not find the most convenient flight for you. Convenience is worth paying for.
5) Monitor for fare drops during the 24-hour grace period you have for canceling reservations without penalty. In the rare case that you find a lower fare within 24 hours, cancel your original reservation without penalty, rebook, and repeat. (Tip: Clear your cookies before doing another search.)
6) If you are still worried that you might have paid too much, Yapta.com will monitor your fare and help you get a refund if you discover you overpaid. (But Yapta can’t get you out of paying cancellation or change penalties.)
Watch TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis offer his fare shopping advice on this CNN segment!
What are your best tips for snagging the lowest fares? What’s the best deal you’ve obtained this year? Please leave your comments below.
NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights