I have a serious bone to pick with the airline industry and its price fluctuations. This is a major problem that continues to cause customers problems year after year. Most would be quick to say that long wait times for security are a bigger problem. While you would be right if we were talking about inside the airport – this takes place before the airport. You don’t even have to leave your house to face the struggle of airline price fluctuations.
The Big Secret Club Of The Airline Industry
So what’s my biggest beef with the price fluctuations?
The constant price fluctuations put our money at risk. How are we supposed to know which airline offers us the best deal when the prices are constantly in flux? It would be one thing if only one airline participated in price fluctuations, but they all do. The customer is the one that suffers the most. But I get it. They’re a business and they’re looking to make the most money possible on each customer. However, if we can’t expect to have a price one day that was there previously, then how can we not feel like we’re being taken advantage of?
You have every right to feel this way, but there’s, unfortunately, nothing you can do about it. You can, however, put in place some best practices that we’ll cover in this article. In regards to figuring out the inner workings of how airlines make their prices, I would be remiss to not mention a quote from the late George Carlin:
“It’s a big club and you ain’t in it”.
Yes, we’re at the mercy of the airline’s decisions. This leaves many people wondering… when is the best time to buy a ticket? Or… does it make sense to join a loyalty program? Or even… how can I stay within my budget if the prices can change hour to hour?
All good questions and concerns.
Will Joining An Airline Loyalty Program Be Worth Your Time?
I know the idea of joining a loyalty program with an airline can sound enticing. I did it myself and am still a part of Delta’s SkyMiles program. You would think by doing something like this that it’s going to enable better opportunities for your travels. They certainly know how to market these programs to get you interested. However, it only pays off for frequent fliers. Like you, I’m not a frequent flier (I travel at most twice a year). I’ve always just had the standard SkyMiles level on my account. When you start looking at the perks of the other levels, it certainly makes you see the benefits of being a frequent flier. That requires a lot of money, though. We’re trying to save money.
So, why do I travel with Delta the most? Particularly because I’ve always enjoyed my experiences with them. They have very helpful staff and have always addressed my concerns when I need them. In turn, I do not expect you to be exclusive to an airline. Delta is a more expensive airline when it comes to their prices. Whenever I fly and I look at comparisons, I many times find airlines offering cheaper prices.
In the same token, being with an airline exclusively allows you to earn miles with them to redeem later for amenities like award tickets. It can take a while for those miles to add up and to meet the requirements needed for an award ticket (for a free one-way or round trip flight). If you think about it, the whole “earning miles” is just another ploy for you to spend more money with one airline.
It’s entirely up to you to join an airline loyalty program. Remember, they’re always fluctuating their ticket prices anyway; so why not find the one who’s the cheapest. It seems like a better idea instead of tying yourself down to one option for flying. I recommend signing up for multiple airline loyalty programs – I do. I’m willing to bypass Delta if I find a deal from a competitor that not only matches amenities but at a cheaper price.
You probably want to know how to find the cheapest prices, right?
What Is The Best Way To Monitor Price Fluctuations?
Before I ever thought about joining an airline loyalty program, I would always find the best deals on flights using a site called Kayak (which also has a mobile application). Kayak, at the time, was the place that made me realize I was invariably purchasing Delta flights. I was under the assumption that Delta had the cheapest flights until I realized this was based on trips to D.C. from NYC. It was not the smartest impulse decision on my end, but I’ve still enjoyed my Delta flights regardless. If I was a little more aware at the time and looked into Delta flights that weren’t to D.C. (like going to Vegas), I’d see that Delta tends to be on the pricier side. Live and learn, but that’s why I’m letting you know 🙂
So why use Kayak over various other options out there? I personally like that Kayak allows you to run comparisons on prices from other sites like Priceline or Expedia. It all happens directly from their site. They also created an awesome feature that will show those comparisons in one new tab on your browser. This is much better than the previous implementation which opened multiple browser windows. In one tab these prices are all grouped into different widgets from their respective sites. This provides you an easy way to compare which prices meet your budget side-by-side.
An additional benefit of Kayak that I like is price alerts. Since we’re talking about airlines constantly changing prices, I feel the best way to combat this is by using price alerts. You can be notified regarding a particular flight and Kayak will send you a notification when the price goes up or down. It gives you a good idea as to the trending prices for that flight. If you see a drop in price that’s to your liking, I recommend jumping all over it because it can go up the next day.
You may also have periods where the price will remain constant. That’s always been an indicator to me that the airline is probably locked into a certain price. While this may not be beneficial, I think it removes any guessing on your part. You’re receiving the clearest insight as to where the airline feels the price stands.
While there are a lot of applications out there for price alerts and flight comparisons, I wanted to provide you with the tool that I use. It’s important not to get caught up in the various tools that are out there. You don’t want to be putting all of your effort into which tool you use. Instead, put an effort towards taking the steps to save yourself money. You want to stay focused on beating the airport at their own pricing game. Settling on the application you use, like Kayak, will get you moving further along towards booking the best price.
When Should I Commit And Buy My Plane Ticket?
Without question, the fear people face when trying to overcome the price fluctuations of the airline industry is when is the best time to buy? This can be a crippling feeling especially when you don’t want to go above your price ceiling.
First, I want you to refrain from figuring out the “process” that the airlines take for settling on their prices. It’s a waste of your time, it’s going to drive you crazy, and you’re never going to figure it out. What I can tell you for certain is do not wait until the last minute to buy. That would be a grave mistake because the prices will be expensive at that point. I’ve been in this position before when I needed to buy a plane ticket back to NY for a job interview at the last minute – while living in PA at the time. I highly don’t recommend doing so unless you have to.
In the first-ever article on United States Traveler, we cover the notion regarding booking at least 54 days in advance. Setting a specific amount of days to buy can get you trapped because what worked in 2016 may not be the same in 2017. The airlines are always playing with their pricing so the best time to buy is always going to be re-evaluated.
With that being said, I recommend a time frame of no later and no earlier than three months out. When we get to the three-month time frame, the airlines are going to want to draw more people onto their flights. Their goal is to fill all these flights before take-off. If you recall, there was a point in time where flights weren’t always full. You’d have some instances where you’d have the entire row to yourself. I know I have. Those days were great, but it’s a loss in revenue for the airline.
The more you purchase plane tickets, you’ll start to manifest a feel for when prices are going to level out. That’s why I support the three-month approach as discussed. In my experience, it’s the best way to plan.
How Do You Plan For An Upcoming Trip?
Based on the research I’ve done on this topic, I prefer to fly on Wednesdays. Business travelers are usually already at their destinations since Monday is a business travel day. Flying on weekends is going to be more expensive because that’s when casual travelers tend to all congregate at their airport. So, Wednesday tends to be the sweet spot.
I prefer booking on Tuesdays at either 12 pm, 3 pm or 6 pm. The “word” is 3 pm is one of the best times, but I’ve also purchased at noon and night around 6 pm. It’s all going to depend if the price you see triggers that impulse to buy. All of the tricks and insights one can provide won’t mean anything if that price doesn’t match your budget.
When you commit to your purchase day, monitor the prices throughout the day. At that point, when you’re ready to buy, do it and don’t second guess yourself. Commit and buy. You don’t want to get greedy if you find your budget price in the hopes that it can be even lower. Doing so can result in screwing yourself over to see that the price has increased by $50.
This article is designed to give you a framework for purchasing airline tickets. It’s not an exact science by any means, but it’s methods that I’ve tested with over the years which have aligned with my budget. I hope that you can take some of these learnings and apply them to your future travels. I’d like to hear from you about the struggles you’re currently facing with purchasing your airline tickets. What airline are you going with? What application are you using for price monitoring? How can I further help you through this process? Share your thoughts in the comments.