No Free Lunch: The Ugly Truth About the Best Day to Purchase Airfare

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren on 20 November 2014
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When it comes to purchasing airline tickets, it seems that nearly everyone has his own tried and true method for snagging the lowest price. We’ve heard them all at some point or another, and some are more outlandish than others: Sundays after 5:00 p.m., sixty-two days seven hours and 43.2 minutes before departure, at 3:00 a.m. on the third Wednesday after the first full moon of the year, and so on.

While some people’s strategies may appear to be a mixture of urban legends and wishful thinking, conventional wisdom has long held that Tuesday afternoons and evenings are the best time to buy a ticket, thanks to the common practice of airlines announcing sales on Monday evenings. Competitors react, matching or beating the price the following day, resulting in lower prices by Tuesday afternoon.

More recently, studies from the Airlines Reporting Corporation and Texas A&M University have shown that Tuesdays are out, and weekends are in. Both found that passengers paid the lowest ticket prices on Sundays, leaving Tuesday in a distant third place.

Closer examinations, however, reveal that many thought to be tried and true methods are more myth than reality.

“It’s all just silly,” said Brett Snyder, a former pricing analyst for major airlines and owner of , an online travel booking service based in Southern California.

In actuality, prices are a result of multiple factors, a Delta Air Lines spokesman said. These include the “number of seats available within a particular fare class for people traveling on the same itinerary; the cost of providing the service, the cost of jet fuel; time and date of purchase; the route flown; and the fare class purchased.”

Jonathan Spira, who runs Accura Media Group’s research arm (Accura is the parent of Frequent Business Traveler, and Spira is this publication’s editorial director), points out that there are three factors that have had a greater impact on airfare pricing than anything else. These are a combination of yield management software that monitor and change prices, sometimes multiple times per day, along with the 1978 deregulation of the airline industry, which is credited with a 50% drop in prices over a 35-year period, and the effect of the Internet. “The end result is that virtually no two passengers sitting next to one another on a flight will have paid the same price for the same type of seat.”

Click here to continue to Page 2Why the Studies Miss the Big Picture

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