I’ve booked a fair amount of airfare over the years and always try to get the best price for the flights I want. At first, I used a program called Easy SAABRE (anyone else remember that one?), that linked into the same system used by travel agents to book flights. I remember the amazement in my travel agent’s voice when I’d call her 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 if there’s a difference of any one of many factors that go into the formula the airlines use to set their price.
So how do you beat the system?
I don’t think there are any “secrets” 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.
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, but 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 Allegiant’s fees were added in).
The Delta flight was pricing around $180 when I finally finished searching for options around 1:00 AM. I went to bed and decided 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 triggered the fare to increase. 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.
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 at how much, and how often, the price changed over the course of 2 weeks.
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’re searching. If it’s a flight you take often, you’ll know what the typical price is, but for a flight you rarely or 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.
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 airfare 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’s a fare drop on a flight you booked with them, you can re-book 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.
Feature photo created by Kues1 – Freepik.com
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