Of all the world’s great mysteries — how did Ancient Egyptians build the Pyramids? Why do washing machines eat socks? — perhaps the greatest is this: flight prices. Buy a ticket one day, it might cost $150; buy that same ticket a few days later, it could be much much more. But why?
Well, this is one mystery we can solve.
In return, if anyone has an answer to the sock thing, please let us know.
How do airlines price tickets?
It’s in airlines’ best interest to make sure people can afford to fly with them, so they want to offer good prices. But they also need to find the right balance between (a) making sure they fill up a flight; and (b) earning enough money to justify all the costs that go into operating the journey.
For this reason, ticket prices will drop and rise very regularly, depending on lots of different things that are specific to that particular flight. Those things can include:
- Whether the route is typically used by business or leisure travelers. If it’s a route that’s used a lot by business travelers, airlines might start by selling tickets at lower prices to tempt leisure travelers (so they can fill up the plane). They may then raise prices as the flight date nears, because business travelers usually book at the last minute (and on their corporate credit card).
- How booked up the flight is. If it isn’t selling well, the airline might be tempted to sell off more seats at lower prices, so they can fill up the plane. They’ll save the high fares for last-minute buyers, as those people probably really need to be on that flight, no matter the price — and those high fares help the airline to cover the costs of the journey.
- Real-time bookings and cancellations. These days, airlines use complex computer software to adjust their prices, so they can respond to supply and demand in real-time. For example, if some bookings get canceled close to the flight date, the software might automatically offer those seats at a very low price to make sure they get filled. That’s why you’ll see prices constantly dipping and climbing as you search for the perfect fare.
How many days before a flight is the best price?
Of course, this depends on a ton of different and ever-changing factors, like how well that particular flight or route is selling. But here at Skyscanner, we love a bit of data analysis, so we crunched some numbers and found a few patterns, which should help you find the best possible price for your trip.
- For international flights, booking as far ahead as possible usually gets you the best price. For domestic flights, the sweet spot is between 3 and 6 weeks ahead. Prices either side of that time period just aren’t as good.
- We found that, on average, booking a domestic flight a week before the flight date costs $100 less than if you book the flight on the same day it takes off. In the same scenario for an international flight, the average price difference is $85.
- We also found that tickets are cheaper when bought in the afternoon, and more expensive when bought in the morning.
What day of the week is the worst time to buy airline tickets?
Our analysis shows that flight prices go through a weekly cycle. Typically, the lowest prices are made available earlier in the week, and the highest prices are offered later in the week.
- Thursday is the worst day to buy an airline ticket. This is usually when airlines start raising prices, to make up for the lower fares they offered earlier in the week.
- Weekends are also a bad time to buy. That’s probably because it’s the airlines’ last chance to offer higher prices, before they drop back down as a new week begins.
Do flight prices go down on Tuesday?
According to our data — yes. It seems most airlines launch their discounts on Monday nights, so you can pick up the best prices on Tuesday mornings. Typically, you’ll save somewhere between 15 and 25 percent.
What is the cheapest day of the week to fly?
According to our data: midweek. Flights that take off and land on weekends, Mondays and Fridays generally cost more.
So, how can I find the best deals?
OK, so what if you need to book closer to the flight date than we’ve suggested? Well, don’t despair. We’ve got a solution: our Skyscanner ‘Price Alert’. And, in more good news, it’s totally free.
See, because we’re always tracking flight prices in real-time with our own software, we can let you know when prices on the flights you like change.
This means that, if you’ve got your eye on a particular destination or flight, we can let you know exactly when the price rises and falls, giving you the best chance of finding a sweet deal (and avoiding a budget-busting fail).
We can text or email you these alerts, depending on what you prefer. And, seeing as we don’t want to pester you, you can turn off your Price Alert anytime you like.
Want to try it out? We’ve got an easy guide to setting it up right here.
Some other things to know:
- Some airlines, like Southwest, offer seasonal flight sales, which means prices drop across their routes if you book within a particular time window. The catch? There’s only a limited number of seats available at these sale prices. Lucky for you, we keep track of Southwest flight sales and promo codes on this page. Hey, you’re welcome.