Airfare pricing drives me crazy

I’ve booked a fair amount of airfare over the years, always trying to get the best price for the flights I wanted. At first I used a program called Easy SAABRE (anybody else remember that one?) that linked into the same system used by travel agents to book flights. I remember the amazement when I would call my travel agent and feed her the flights I wanted to take and told her what the price should come out to be.

Alas, the days of IBM PC computers, 2400 baud modems and airlines changing fares once a week are long gone. Now prices can change from one second to the next, depending on if there is a change of any one of many factors that go into the formula the airline uses to set their price.  So how do you beat the system?

I don’t think there is any “secret” to beat the system. Forget any of those click-bait headlines that claim to tell you when is the “best” time to buy airfare. It doesn’t exist.

deltaplane
No telling when you’ll find the best airfare for a Delta flight

This story begins with my trying to find flights to Tennessee. I’ve documented the beginning of this tale and how I almost bought a flight on Allegiant. Honestly, I always had my eye on a Delta flight for the trip. It did have a connection in Atlanta but the times were good and the price wasn’t too much more than Allegiant was charging, after all of their fees were added in.

The Delta flight was pricing around $180 when I finally finished searching for options around 1:00AM. I went to bed and decided that I’d book the flights on Delta when I got up the next morning. Guess what happened? You know exactly what happened – the flights went up to $230 overnight. I looked at the seat map (you can do that on Delta.com) and saw the planes were still mostly empty; it was just something in Delta’s computers that had triggered to raise the fare. So I went right to Google Flights, put a price tracker on the flights I wanted and decided to wait it out.  Note: you can have Google keep track of the price of any flight you want and even email you if the price changes. It’s a really cool system.

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On Google Flights, after choosing the flights you want, you can track the prices by clicking on the “TRACK PRICE” box.

When I have flights in mind, I’ll usually look at least once or twice a day to see if the prices have dropped. Well, wouldn’t you know, the next day I found flights on Delta with a slightly longer layover in Atlanta for $160. I jumped right on it and booked them immediately. Just for kicks, I did keep the price tracker on the original flights I wanted. Take a look on how much, and how often, the price has changed over the last 2 weeks.

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Anywhere from $179 to $321 for the same seat in the last 15 days.

I know that must make sense to someone; just not to me. In fact, I challenge you to try to figure out a trend of when would be the best time to book. I feel lucky that I caught the low end of the range.

One of the most important things in finding a good price is a knowledge of how much airfare generally goes for on the route you are searching. If it’s a flight you take often, you’ll know what the typical price is but for a flight you never take, you’ll probably need some help. I do like using Kayak for this. It’s not perfect but the website will give you an idea if the prices are running high or low at the moment for that route.

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Kayak.com gives you advice if the price is good or might drop.

I tend to overthink things (edit from Sharon – truer words were never spoken!) so I’ll try to consider every possibility to get us the best trip for the least amount of money. That’s why booking airfares drives me totally crazy. I’ve learned, for my own sanity, to book a flight if I’m happy with it and not to worry about if the price might drop in a few days. That’s one of the reasons why I love Southwest airlines so much – if there is a fare drop on a flight you booked with them, you can rebook at the lower price and get a travel voucher for the difference in the fare. That’s a totally awesome policy of theirs and I’ll be sad if it ever goes away.

What’s your plan when booking airfare? Have you ever had a fare jump on you right before you booked it? Let us know in the comments or write us on Facebook or Twitter.

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