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 (does anyone else remember that one?), which 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 PCs, 2400 baud modems and airlines changing fares once a week are long gone. Prices change from one second to the next, depending on if there’s a difference of any one of many factors that go into the formula the airlines use to set their price.
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.
For example, we’re hoping we’ll get to go to Japan and I need a flight from San Francisco to Orlando to get us home after flying from Toyko to SFO.
There aren’t many airline choices airlines for this route and we’re not looking to take a red-eye flight since we’re landing relatively early in the morning. I searched for two tickets on Delta and set an alert with Google Flights to let me know when the price changes.
Over two months, I’ve been tracking this flight, and the number of emails I’ve received alerting me of a price change is incredible.
The price for two tickets has bounced between a few days at $375 (but that was for a flight with a lousy schedule) to a high of $555. For a while, it felt like every time someone bought a ticket the price went up, only to go down a few days later when no one was buying tickets at the higher price.
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.
One of the most important things in finding a good price is knowing 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 of 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 of getting the best trip for the least amount of money. I’ve gotten better about balancing being frugal while still making smart travel decisions. That’s why booking airfare drives me totally crazy. For my own sanity, I’ve learned 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.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary
Feature photo created by Kues1 – Freepik.com