Ask The Staff: When Is The Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets?
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Introducing a column where you get your chance to ask a full-fledged, all-travel, all the time editorial staff questions that you have about travel. Tweet your questions to @travelpulse or hit us up on Facebook.
Q: I'm looking to buy plane tickets for a trip this summer. Any advice on the best time to do that? It used to be that Tuesdays were the best days to buy. Also does it depend on how far in advance you buy? Do they get cheaper as it gets closer or should you buy now because they go up? Flying the family of four from NY to the Northwest and want the best deal. Thanks! – Tricia in New York
A: Hey Tricia! There are many theories on when the best time, day of the week and dates out are to buy airfare that it is really tough to tell. Most recently, a report from ARC poked a few holes in the long-held theory that Tuesday was the best day to buy airfare.
In addition to putting Sunday (and Saturday as well) ahead of Tuesday, the report also said that the prices are cheapest when purchased further out. They say the optimum time is actually 57 days in advance so you may want to go ahead and start looking now.
There is another option you might want to consider: looking at neighboring airports and the rental car / car service to your final destination. The good news is there are tools out there on the internet that you can use to keep abreast of the best rates, dates and destinations and how to compare them. One of the resources that I use is Kayak’s Explore feature. It is an interactive map that shows flights all over the world and you customize when and where you want to fly to and from and it will change the pop up balloons accordingly.
I like this graphical approach because this gives me neighboring airports to choose from. A perfect example: Using all the NY airports as my starting point (you can break it down to the individual airport if you want) using the generic time period of “summer 2015” (again, you can be more specific) the prices around the area vary greatly.
If Portland was your final destination, it is $437 per ticket. Vancouver is $505. But Seattle is only $284. Even if Seattle is not your final destination, you could rent a car for $100 and drive the two hours and 39 minutes to Vancouver or the two hours and 41 minutes to Portland and save over $500 dollars. Don’t forget when doing this kind of comparison, make sure to count in all of the fees you are going to pay, especially with luggage, for a family of four.
I would also consider using Google Flights. It has a similar interface with a map, etc. but it also adds in a bar graph where you can see how the price changes over the course of the month. Here is where this gets really cool. Google Now users will notice flight price drop alerts pop up on their devices if they have enabled them. This works once you have booked as well. Every time I fly, I send my itinerary to my wife’s Gmail account and she automatically gets information on the flight sent to her phone. On my last trip, she knew my flight was canceled before I did.
There also seems to be a segment of the population that is dedicated to their favorite travel websites that they use and that is it; they don’t go anywhere else. If you think that all travel websites are pretty much the same, you would be mostly right. But where you are missing out on is not all airlines are on all sites. So you may want to find out which airlines your favorite website is withholding and go to their website directly to look at rates. Even Kayak doesn’t show all of the prices; for instance Southwest Airlines’ flights are shown, but prices are not.
The other thing that I would recommend if you are not already doing it is to set up airfare alerts by email. Almost all of the major travel sites have some way where you can put in specific destinations, prices and sometimes even dates and you will get an alert if all your criteria are met.
Sometimes predicting travel is just a crap shoot. The one thing I will say is that shopping for airfare is not like shopping on eBay. On eBay, if you see something you like and lose it by a hair, don’t worry; it will show up again at some point down the road. With airfare, you need to strike while the iron is hot and don’t wait. That price may never be seen or heard from again.
I hope that answers your question and let us know how it all turns out.
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