Let’s talk about cheap flights. We all know airlines are out to screw us over — and no one wants to be the person who gets stuck paying the highest fare. That’s why we spend hours upon hours in front of the computer, researching articles on airfare, and trying to game the system like we’re attempting to outsmart a used car salesman.
There’s a lot of articles out there that will list “secret hacks” that will save you thousands.
MYTH #1: You Should Search Incognito
Lots of websites will tell you to use a browser’s “incognito mode” to avoid this. Turn them off, stop being tracked, and trick the system, right?
Except this is not true at all.
There’s no evidence that airlines behave that way and numerous studies by booking companies have shown there is no variance in pricing when you use incognito mode.
And, typically, when you abandon your cart, businesses discount prices to get you to complete your purchase not raise them higher.
Another study by CheapAir found the same thing.
The average economy fare changes 61 times each day. Airlines use sophisticated software to change prices based on demand. Additionally, they put their inventory not just on their own website but also on hundreds of third-party websites so millions of people are looking at the same flights at any given moment. The system is constantly updating itself based on ticket sales and demand.
After all, there are only so many seats on a plane. You just can’t add more!
That’s why prices change.
Searching in incognito mode is simply not going to help you find a cheaper flight.
MYTH #2: It’s Better to Book on a Tuesday
Back in the day, most airlines used to drop flight deals on Tuesdays and that would lead to other airlines following suit. Thus the old adage to book on Tuesdays.
Myth #3: There is a Perfect Time to Book
Airfares don’t actually change that dramatically. Until about 21 days before a flight, they are pretty steady. I remember talking to the Google Flights team once and they found there’s only typically a $50 difference between the highest and lowest price point.
That doesn’t mean it couldn’t swing more radically. As I said, airlines change prices based on a lot of factors. Sometimes that $50 swing could be $100 or $200 — but, barring an event that drives up demand, airfares tend to be in a narrow range up to 21 days before a flight.
After that, thanks to antiquated rules, the system thinks that a “last-minute” flight — three weeks away or less — must mean a business traveler and so fares rise. (So never book less than 21 days before leaving!)
Generally speaking, the best time to book a flight is about 2-3 months ahead. Why?
Most people book about 2-3 months before they go away. If you’re a family going on vacation, you don’t just do it on a whim. You take time off work and plan months in advance. So airlines know that and about 2-3 months before a trip is generally when prices reach equilibrium between supply and demand.
MYTH #4: Websites Can Predict Prices
Websites that predict prices are just taking an educated guess based on historical pricing. Don’t put too much stock in these predictions. The past is not prologue and a spike in demand or a concert or other event can change the price of a ticket outside its historical range.
Airfare is incredibly volatile. There are a limited number of seats on planes and dozens of variables — from overall economic conditions to the price of oil to competition from new budget airlines to the difficulty of predicting travel interest for a specific flight 11 months from now. No one knows what the future holds.
MYTH #5: There is One Best Booking Website
Why do you see prices vary from website to website? Third-party websites often buy tickets in bulk and the prices depend a lot on what booking class they’ve purchased (usually they buy the cheapest and most restive fares which is why those flights are always unchangeable). Plus, again, thousands of people could be booking at once and so as the cheaper seats go, the prices go up!
That’s why, while I love Skyscanner and Momondo, I check lots of other websites before I actually book.
But, while I love them, remember: there is no single best website out there for flights.
Prices vary among all these platforms. That’s why you have to search multiple websites and meta-search engines.
There’s no single best booking website, only the best one at the time of booking.