The truth about the cheapest day to fly and five ways to do business

Woman booking flights – Getty

Once upon a time, Tuesday was the cheapest day of the week to fly and avoiding the school holidays was definitely a bargain. It was all as predictable as the Saturday night television schedules.

Times have changed, however: flexible working means families are no longer tied to Saturday-Saturday summer holidays, while Zoom has had an impact on business travel. Also, cheap flights and price comparison websites have made the cheapest fares easier to find and more available.

Is there still a better time to book and a cheaper day to fly? Read on to find out.

When to book

Airlines usually release timetables around 11 months before departure, although it can take as little as five months for low-cost short-haul routes. The consensus is that if you plan to travel at a peak time, or opt for a route operated by only one or two airlines, it’s safer to book as soon as times come out in case ticket costs rise with demand. .

However, according to Skyscanner global travel expert Laura Lindsay, pricing is a little more complicated than that, determined by algorithms involving fuel costs, the amount of fuel available at the airport, and many other factors.

To help consumers overcome this confusion, the platform will launch a tool in early 2023 that will show users an average price compared to the real-time price, as well as highlight alternative cheaper destinations with less demand (Albania instead of Croatia, for example).

The Hopper mobile app has a similar feature: Enter a flight route and a 12-month calendar appears, placing each day into one of four color-coded categories ranging from cheap to expensive.

Select the cheapest dates within the available range, and the app lets you watch trips and be notified if and when prices drop, or lock in fares for up to three weeks (for a fee). He also advises users not to buy if he thinks the price will go down.

But playing while waiting for prices to drop will always be a gamble and it might be reasonable not to leave it too late. Using data from ARC’s global airline sales database, Expedia determined that booking international flights at least four months in advance meant savings of approximately 30% on ticket prices compared to last-minute bookers.

If you’re not an advance planner, you may be lucky enough to book unpopular days that other travelers avoid. One of them is New Year’s Eve, a rather depressing time to take to the skies as airlines don’t tend to go the whole of Hogmanay.

If you don’t worry about party poppers yourself, a hunt for a flight to Rome on 31 December 2022 resulted in a price tag of £13 one way – less than 10% of the cost of flying on 17 December (the most expensive day of the month at time of our research).

The same cannot be said for Christmas Day. According to research by Alternative Airlines, it can actually be more expensive to book a flight on December 25 on some routes. He recommends avoiding December 24-28 altogether due to high prices and busy airports, and also says the first week of November is the best time to do business.

Are there other days when the rates go down? A few years ago, The Telegraph debunked the theory that prices fell on Friday the 13th and further research reveals that nothing has changed. In 2023, flights to Tenerife are significantly more expensive on Friday 13 October (at £61) than on Monday 2 October (£28), for example, and it’s the same story on routes to Berlin (£67 and £36, respectively). .

When to fly

If you can be flexible and travel outside the school holidays, you’ll still get the best prices. Gilbert Ott of explains: “Unfortunately, the best advice is the least practical for most people. Mid-season is truly the dream. There is no such thing as a magical day, but if you use the periods between low and high season, you can do really well. January in Europe is often incredibly cheap, as are October and November.”

The added benefit of traveling out of season is that you are unlikely to see the queues and chaos that you might encounter in busier periods such as July and August or around Christmas. But it’s not just the school holidays that can drive up prices and fill airports. Also pay attention to big events specific to a country’s calendar.

“My favorite time to visit my hometown New York is also the worst,” says Ott. “Late September is glorious in New York, but with the US Open, Fashion Week, and then the general, hotel rates for the month are at least three times higher than usual, and flights are fairly similar. In the next month, however, you can find total deals.

If you’re obligated to a certain time of year, it pays to be savvy about which day or week you leave. Expedia’s research suggested you can save around 15% by booking international flights on a Friday, though Hopper’s results suggest Tuesdays are still the best; see the graph below.

The disparity may be due to less discernible evidence for models than in past years. The shift to flexible working has “slightly eased the travel spikes,” Lindsay says. “Traditionally, people travel on Saturdays. Now they could stay longer and travel on a Tuesday, for example.”

Meanwhile, research conducted by Skyscanner in 2022 found that traveling in the first week of the summer school holidays was significantly more expensive than waiting until the third or fourth week.

Don’t underestimate the October semester, either: Changing weather means a longer season in some traditionally summer destinations, but flight prices have yet to recover. If you’re determined to go to Ibiza, for example, fares can be significantly lower because demand has dropped while temperatures still hover in the mid-twenties.

The spring semester, however, is one of the times in 2023 when flights are more expensive. Our research saw the cost of flights to Palma skyrocket during that week, going from £27 on the cheapest day in May (the 2nd – a Tuesday) to £103 on the 31st May. It’s a similar case for flights to Geneva, which go up from £27 on 2 May to £63 on 29 May (Monday).

Lindsay attributes this to a combination of public holidays and school holidays which has led to an increase in demand. In cases like this, she advises being flexible about the day you fly, possibly departing after the Bank Holiday.

Five ways to get a cheaper flight

Don’t worry if your schedule affects when you can depart, leaving you at the mercy of airline flight prices. There are still things you can do to minimize costs.

Use alerts

Sites like Skyscanner and Kayak have tools that allow you to track the cost of specific flights over a period of time and will notify you if prices go up or down.

Go incognito, or better yet, pretend you’re abroad

Your endless search for a cheap flight could actually drive up the price, as some believe airlines interpret repeated searches as increased demand. To avoid this, use incognito mode or try shoopit which searches local sites in more than 50 countries to find the cheapest fares.

Embrace the pack

If you don’t have a particular hotel in mind, you could unlock a better price by “bundling” (booking accommodation and flights together).

Ott explains: “I’ve long been a fan of the BA Holidays/Virgin Holidays deals which offer great discounts for two people booking and sharing a room. It’s not uncommon to find flights and three nights in a hotel in New York for around £420 per person.”

Make long-haul stopovers

A recent Google search found indirect routes that include stopovers to be around 20% cheaper than flying the same direct route although, of course, you need to weigh the cost implications of adding extra days to your schedule. itinerary or the inconvenience of cutting it short.

Sign up for frequent flyer programs and schedule release notifications

They will give you access to the offers of the chosen airline. However, as with airline “sales,” this comes with a caveat: “People see a discounted price and rush to book,” Lindsay explains. “But you should always check that the sale price is better than the base price with another airline.”

Don’t let Black Friday fool you either. Hopper’s research found that flights were significantly cheaper on Travel Deal Tuesday (another November date) than the infamous sales day.

Do you have any tips for getting a cheaper flight? Tell us in the comments

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