The Prime Time to Find Airfares Has Changed; How Early Does the Lowest Price Pop Up?
Looking for an airfare deal? Your odds improve if you buy on the weekend.
A new deep dive into airline fares suggests Sunday is the best day to find low fares. This is a departure from the conventional wisdom of recent years, when Tuesday was considered the best bet.
Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes tickets for travel agencies and handles about half of all tickets sold, tallied up ticket sales. Over a 19-month period ending in July, 130 million domestic and international round-trip tickets worth $94 billion showed the lowest average price, of $432, was on Sunday. At $439, Saturday’s average is also lower than Tuesday, which averages $497.
One factor behind the change: Airline executives come into work Monday looking to raise fares, not discount them with sales to fill seats. Just this week airlines put through a $2 each-way across-the-board fare hike, even though prices for oil—the largest expense for airlines—have been plunging. Prices are still going up due to increasing demand for the limited number of available seats.
The lower Sunday and Saturday prices also result from the ability social media has given airlines to throw discounts in front of consumers at any time. That turns vacation shoppers surfing the Web on weekends into ticketed passengers without discounting tickets business travelers might buy while at work. And the findings reflect the lack of corporate sales over the weekend, since business travelers typically fly on more expensive tickets than vacation buyers.
When searching for the lowest fare, don’t give up on Tuesdays. It’s the day with the most frequent price drops, leaving the door open for good deals.
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. That’s often the result of fare sales launched early in the week. Airline pricing executives say 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 tout in ads in Tuesday’s newspapers.
Tuesday also turns out to be the busiest day for domestic ticket sales and the cheapest of the workweek, though all weekdays hover around $500.
Andrew Watterson, vice president of network planning and performance at Southwest Airlines , says carriers still go out with sales and emails on Tuesdays. But many stay open over the weekend due to increased shopping by leisure travelers, especially as tablets make airfare shopping more accessible. “Tablets are changing consumer purchases quite a bit,” he says. “Customers have more personal time on weekends to look for personal travel.”