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How To Get The Best Price For Flights

April 22, 2016

Last year a friend told me her experience of booking a family holiday to Spain. She explained that each time she returned to the Ryanair website the same flight had increased in price. I explained that the price hikes were to do with cookies, to which she responded “But I was on a diet!”

Excuse my awful attempt at a joke. My friend's actual response was more like “huh?" I gave her a simple tip to avoid being overcharged in future, which is explained in this post.

We begin with examining the reason for our flight, and determining our flexibility.

We will then look at when we should travel and when should we book. 

What Is The Reason For Flying...And When To Book (Part 1)

Understanding the reason for our flight will determine our level of flexibility.

  • Are we travelling for our annual Summer holiday?
  • Are we travelling to be with friends or family for Christmas?
  • Are we travelling with no fixed itinerary, just to explore?

If you can fly at any time of day, any day of the week, and are willing to fly anywhere, you are about as flexible a traveller can be, and can get yourself a great deal. If this is you, try the following:

  1. Visit skyskanner.net
  2. Enter your departure city / airport
  3. Enter “anywhere” as your destination airport
  4. Enter travel dates
  5. Explore where you could go and for how much.

When I did this for 7 days time I found I could fly from London to Oslo for £10 return, Dubai for £224 return, and Orlando for £244 return.

The Orlando flight is with Thomson.

Searching specifically for an Orlando flight one month later, the price rises to £339 (+£95 / +39%), also with Thomson.

Searching for an Orlando flight five months forward (avoiding Summer peak to get an even comparison) the price rises to £430 (+£186 / +76%), flying with KLM.

Guideline #1: more flexible you are, the cheaper you can get a flight.

If you are flexible both in terms of when you travel and where you travel to, you may benefit from booking later.

Each Christmas I fly from London to Dublin to spend the holiday with family. I usually book in October, and when I do I pay around £120, usually travelling with Ryanair. 

When I’m less organised and don’t book until November I pay £150+.

Today is mid-April. If I were to book today there is a flight available with BA for £79. I would benefit from BA frequent flyer points, better quality service, and a free check-in bag.

In this example I plan to travel around a major holiday. I want to be there before the holiday begins and return shortly after it, and will therefore travel when there is a high demand for seats.  Therefore I am better to book as early as possible as these flights are guaranteed to move in an upward trend as we move closer to travel dates.

Guideline #2: When we have low flexibility (destination and dates), book early.

Guideline #3: When low flexibility is coupled with a peak period, book as early as possible.

When To Fly To Get The Best Priced Flight...And When To Book (Part 2)

When you know your destination, you’ll need to consider when to fly.

Say you want to visit New York. You don’t mind when you go, and you’d like to benefit from the best price possible so you have extra money for Barneys or whatever.

In your browser enter www.skyscanner.net/flights-to/JFK

(replace JFK above with any three letter airport code - to find any airport code visit World Airport Codes https://www.world-airport-codes.com)

Scroll down the page and find a month by month graph of prices like the one below. Hover over each one to reveal price predictions by month.

chart of skyscanner predicting flight prices by month

In SkyScanner, instead of entering actual dates, click inside the date field to find a handy by month selection which tells you which month is cheapest to fly.

SkyScanner will look across the whole month to find the best prices.

KAYAK also has a price prediction feature. It also searches hundreds of airlines and sites to find you the best price and will recommend to buy now or wait.

Kayak price prediction and buy recommendation features

With KAYAK you can also set up a price alert to receive notifications of price changes by email.

set up price change email notifications for flights with kayak

 

Finally, my favourite price prediction tool is Hopper app (https://www.hopper.com/).

Hopper will track your planned trip and send you notifications telling you the right time to buy. It’s super simple to use as it works on a user friendly mobile app. As Hopper proudly display's on their homepage, the app won Apple’s Best Travel App of 2015, and once you begin using it you'll understand why.

Below is an example of Hopper's results page for a February 2017 flight to LAX.

example of flight price predictions from hopper iphone app

Referring back to my Christmas flight from London to Dublin, when I plugged it in to Hopper it gave the recommendation "You Should Book Now". Spot on Hopper!

Which Day Of The Week To Book To Get The Best Priced Flight?

We’ve looked at when to fly and how far in advance to book. Now we’ll look at which day of the week to book, if any.

There is a lot of talk online about Tuesday being the cheapest day to purchase flights. The rationale goes like this: airline managers return to work on Monday, do their weekly sales reporting and forward occupancy review and make pricing decisions, which are then entered into their systems. I’m assuming it takes an overnight update for price changes to propagate to all systems, with new deals coming available for consumers on Tuesday. 

Greg Schulze of Expedia is quoted as saying: “I personally would shop at the weekend and the beginning of the week and avoid Friday.”

The reason Friday should be avoided is because deals that were made available on Tuesday have been snapped up. Airlines are reluctant to release more deals before the weekend in order to take advantage of business travellers booking before the end of the business week.

Saturday and Sunday are also cited as good days to book as deals are made available for savvy weekend shoppers.

It is very difficult to answer such a micro yet mammoth question of when in the week to book. I wish I could give the perfect answer, and this question probably deserves a blog post of its own for some in depth empirical analysis.

How To Avoid Being Overcharged By An Airline For Your Flight

If you take just one lesson from this post let it be this one, as it will potentially save you thousands over the years.

Thanks to cookies, websites know when, how often, and what activity we make on their sites.

To learn more about cookies check out this article on cookies from the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/webwise/guides/about-cookies

Cookies aren't all bad as they improve browsing experiences, and the good news is that they can be blocked at will. 

When visiting airline websites to book flights, follow the steps below. It is much simpler than it sounds.

We will use Google Chrome, but all browsers have a similar feature, usually referred to as a 'Private Browsing Window' (Safari, Firefox) or 'Incognito Window' (Chrome)

To stop an airline (website) from recognising that we visited previously and searched for a particular flight. In Google Chrome,

  1. From the Menu bar, Click File
  2. Click New Incognito Window 
  3. Visit your preferred airline
  4. Search for your flight, book if you’re ready
  5. Close the window

If returning to the same airline to check the same flight, repeat steps 1-5.

The most important thing to avoid is returning to the same airline again and again to check the same flight without searching in a private browsing window.

Failure to do this is the reason that each time my friend returned to the Ryanair site, the price of her flights had risen.

Closing Comments

Researching this post I wondered if there was a mathematical formula for the ideal time to book a flight.

Out of interest I searched the web to see if others had tried. It seems they have and have come up with answers like ‘eight weeks in advance’, which are just unhelpful.

Now that we know what we know, the answer is not as simple as eight weeks in advance.

From what I have learnt through years of observation in addition to researching this post I think it is much more helpful to plan with flexibility and demand in mind.

To recap, the there main factors to consider when deciding when to book a flight are:

  • Travel Dates
  • Destination
  • Demand for seats at time of travel

If we assess these three factors, and make use of tools like Skyskanner and Hopper to help us predict and track prices, we are in a better position to get the best price.

Bonus Tip

A website called Skiplagged has been disruptive in the market - and sued by airlines - because it helps users find cheap flights with layovers at the traveller's final destination. The traveller hops off at the layover destination and enjoys a cheaper journey than he/she would have paid for the shorter equivalent flight. This is strictly for hand luggage only travellers.

To check out Skiplagged visit: https://skiplagged.com/

Do you have a flight booking tip or resource which you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below and tell others.

Next You'll Want To Know: How To Get Cheap Deals On Hotels


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