Timing a Ticket

Timing a ticket

When is the best time to buy an airplane ticket?

As a frequent traveler, experience has taught me that the best time to buy a US domestic ticket is mid-week. Flights always seem to be more expensive when purchased on the weekend. I tend to book flights on Tuesdays.

A Wall Street Journal article seemingly supports my intuition. The Journal used the travel-booking site Kayak to check fares daily in ten markets over two weeks and found mid-week prices were the lowest. The article quoted Harrell Associates, an airline consulting firm, which tracked 90 days of fare changes and found prices drop mid-week.

The website Farecompare.com makes an even more specific claim: Tuesday at 3 PM ET is the best time to buy. They base this amazingly precise claim on three year’s worth of airline pricing data. 

On the other hand, Airfarewatchdog insists there is no special time to purchase plane tickets.

If the mid-week phenomena exists, it might be a holdover from the days when most people bought tickets from travel agencies and fare sales were announced in the local newspaper. Sales announced on a Friday couldn’t be acted on for several days so they were typically announced on Monday.  As a result, most tickets were bought mid-week.

While this is a plausible historical explanation, it doesn’t explain why the pattern still holds. Tickets can be purchased online at any time; airlines market directly to consumers. Increasingly, search engines and web sites remember what flights you’re looking for and likely show you prices based on your interest. It’s no longer an “everyone gets the same price” world — or, at least it won’t be for long.

So what’s the best advice for timing a ticket?

Like trying to buy stocks on a dip, timing the purchase of an airline ticket is an inexact science. For US domestic travel, my advice is to buy mid-week, two to three months before you want to travel, and to schedule your travel for early or late in the day.

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2 Responses to Timing a Ticket

  1. Anonymous April 22, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    At first, I thought we shall sell our BA, Mobile and HANA to those web vendors… 🙂

  2. Andrea Carson April 26, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    I read somewhere that some airlines post their sales on Monday night and competitors respond by Tuesday morning, which would totally explain why tickets are cheaper on Tuesday, or even Wednesday. By the end of the week – sales have usually expired.

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