A lot of travel pages and writers will tell you it’s simply a myth that booking an airline ticket is cheaper on certain days of the week; that’s one of those stories that circulates around the travel world, they’ll say. I’m not going to lie and tell you I know how every airline works for every destination worldwide, but I am going to tell that being a frequent American Airlines traveler (I just achieved Gold, and I’m pretty sure the world knows that by now! 😂) who doesn’t make a ton of money, I don’t just log on and buy a ticket; I stalk my tickets. I have been known to place my tickets on hold day after day… after day (AA is the only airline that allows a free hold, and it’s one reason I choose them over the other airlines). And at least anecdotally, I can tell you, prices have consistently gone down on weekdays and up on weekends.
A ticket I priced yesterday (I’m actually using miles for it, but I always want to know the prices) was $334 for economy, not basic economy (that’s a big nope), yet when the calendar turned Monday, the same ticket turned to $310. I can almost tell you that as long as it’s 21 days or less out, it will continue to do this Monday or Tuesday-Thursdays, rising to anywhere from $324-$334 or even $351 on weekends, then dropping again (it’s a route I fly routinely, with pretty consistent pricing).
Google flights actually tracks the 12-month price history for you. In my case, it’s showing me that prices are currently “typical,” meaning prices range from a low to high range, as you can see. That’s quite a range, though, and I have not ever encountered $520 pricing when purchasing an economy ticket in advance. First class sometimes can be found for that pricing.
But the $235 low is also quite misleading for the average traveler. I do wish these sites would change the way they present information because these ranges list basic economy (BE) and many of us refuse to fly it, especially we who are frequent fliers who are trying to earn or maintain status (that’s a post for another time). As a primer, BE means: no seat selection, no carry-on for some airlines (AA allows it, as does Delta; United does not others sometimes do not) and absolutely NO ticket changes or refunds–barring something like a hurricane of course–even with a change fee. I would never buy a ticket that did not allow me at least a chance to change it with a fee.
So when I search through Google and see the low price, it’s always misleading because it’s always for a price I will never be able to get or be willing to pay. BE is not a ticket many will be willing to cave to for a number of impractical reason; this pricing was created to make the airlines competitive with Frontier and Spirit and other ultra low cost carriers (ULCC) to attract people who fly them onto the bigger airlines, less than it was for us, because if those airlines could meet our needs, we would have been there! That said, the regular pricing on the fall break destination is actually normally priced at $70 more than BE, which is crazy (of course, add a bag each way to that, and it’s now $60 more anyway). But that’s the typical pricing and always has been, honestly–though $70 is not stanard for every city; some are less, some are more–I can’t find rhyme or reason. Please! It’s the airlines. Were you expecting rhyme and reason? Can we all just expect to take off and land and leave it at that?
So back to the fact that $310 is the price. If $235 is the 12-month BE low, then that means the 12-month normal economy low is $305, so $310 is really good, at almost it’s lowest price in 12 months. If I were paying cash, I would know it’s at a buy price. Incidentally, this ticket is for fall break both where I live and where I am going, so that really tells you you can get a good deal even at times that may be more in demand.
There IS a right time to buy, but the key is patience and a willingness to track, which doesn’t mean you have to sit around hunting on 83 travel websites and ticketing sites for hours every day. Google Flights plus the airline website usually covers it. Unless you’re a Southwest fan (I’m not because I don’t do choose-your-own-seat–and I am not even a fan of 737s, which is SW’s entire fleet), you only need those two sites. Be aware Google Flights’ first hit is going to pool BE for the lowest price even when you ask for economy, so you have to manually change it after it displays its first price list. Google really needs to add a fifth option (economy, so we are able to choose up front between BE, the way we are regular and premium.
Recently, I’ve been flying at least monthly and have been seeing this pattern with American, at least, that on standard business day, flights prices drop, then they are back up by the weekend; at first, I was thinking they had just raised prices but as I was vacillating about a particular flight several months ago and watching a price go up and down, I began to notice the pattern. They weren’t raising the prince; it was changing depending on the timing. Sure enough, that pattern continued. But don’t waste time and think, “Oh, I’ll just wait ’til Monday or Tuesday” because if suddenly you are too close to your travel date, it won’t matter what day of the week it is; you’ll see that price jump higher than your plane’s altitude.
Plan ahead, and if you can, watch prices for a full week first to see if a pattern emerges. If so, buy when the price drops. What I find is the times are not always my favorites on the lowest prices, but they are usually somewhat doable if I am penny pinching. Also, now that I have Gold status, I can fly same-day standby for free, so even if I don’t love the flight times, as long as I could live with them if I had to, I have a potential out, which is quite exciting. I am probably going to get more use out of same-day standby than maybe even the free free seat upgrades. On AA, same-day stand-by is $75 without elite status, so don’t take a time you won’t accept unless it’s okay. But ask yourself two question, is it really, that much of a problem to get up two hours earlier or get in at midnight to save $50 per ticket? Or is it really that big of a deal to spend $14 more to get a much better flight time (I have had that happen, the difference between 6:05 a.m. 45 minutes away vs. 12:55 p.m.–totally worth it). Make calculated decisions. Use that free 24 hour hold on American, if you use American. But don’t forget it’s there; the itinerary cancels itself out if it’s not purchased by the expiration, and there is nothing you can do.
Be wise, buy wise, and save your dollars for the fun stuff once you arrive! My favorite fun stuff is local cuisine or special souvenirs–something local to the culture. Not a more expensive plane ticket identical to the one I could have gotten Wednesday afternoon but I didn’t know all this so I bought it Saturday night then had to do the facepalm dance.