This post is part of the series, SmallBusiness.com Guide to Business Travel: You can browse other posts in the series below.
Like most business travellers, we are always looking for the best time to purchase airline tickets in order to get the lowest price possible. According to an analysis of 19 months of ticket purchases through July of this year, Airlines Reporting Corp. (ARC), which processes tickets for travel agencies and handles about half of all tickets sold, says the best three days of the week to purchase round-trip tickets based on the day’s average cost of all roundtrip tickets purchased on each day are:
- Sunday (average cost of a roundtrip ticket $432)
- Saturday ($439)
- Tuesday ($497)
In a roundup of new data related to airline ticket fares, the Wall Street Journal, says the Sunday savings findings “is a departure from the conventional wisdom of recent years, when Tuesday was considered the best bet.”
Two reasons ticket prices are now lower on the weekend
- Email and social media has given airlines the ability to get discounts in front of consumers at any time. Knowing that online weekend shoppers are less likely to be business travelers who typically fly on more expensive tickets, the airlines can use Saturday and Sunday to offer vacation travelers discounts and then raise prices during the week when business travel plans (translation: more expensive tickets) are made.
- Airline executives come into work Monday looking to raise fares, not discount them with sales to fill seats, suggests the Journal.
Tuesday is still the best day of the workweek for lowest airfares
Yapta Inc., a firm that alerts travelers and travel managers to declines in ticket prices says 21% of the price drops it has recorded happened on Tuesday and 19% on Wednesday. According to airline pricing executives, the historic pattern has been for airlines to add up sales over the weekend and decide on Monday whether to stimulate purchases with discounts they promote on Tuesday.
Buy your tickets two months in advance of your departure
According to the ARC research, the cheapest time to buy domestic trips was 57 days—about two months—before departure. Most people don’t buy that early: The average purchase date was just over one month before departure. By then prices have started their climb.
However, international ticket prices didn’t fluctuate much between 10 months and three months before departure. But don’t kick yourself if you wait until that three-month window closes: Most people book too late to get the lowest price. International tickets get sold, on average, two months before departure.
Advice: Don’t spend as much time shopping for the best deal
According to Hopper, a Cambridge, Mass., firm that analyzes prices and reservation flight searches, the average consumer spends 12 days shopping for airline tickets. During that period, they watch prices bounce up and down, or at least hope they’ll drop, even though increases are more common. On average, prices rise 5% in that 12-day shopping window, Hopper said.
Tip: One way to get over your procrastination due to a fear that the ticket you buy will suddenly fall in price after you purchase it: The Department of Transportation requires that airlines provide passengers one of the two options below (but don’t look for the airlines or booking sites to mention either prominently). Either option provides as penalty-free way to cancel and rebook a flight if there’s a sudden fall in price right after you book your trip.:
- A refund for tickets canceled within 24 hours of a purchase (Delta, United, US Airways and JetBlue provide this option.)
- A 24-hour hold, for tickets bought more than a week before departure (American Airlines provides this option.)
(Illustration: SmallBusiness.com from photo by Andrew Magill via Flickr CC BY 2.0)