Do Early Bookings Mean Cheaper flights?

Most people would think when booking a flight, the earlier the better. While this often is the case, the price of flights fluctuate so much that it isn’t uncommon for fares to decrease days after your purchase.

Although he agrees that early bookings tend to be the best way to go, George Hoffer, an economics professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia notes that, “unpredictable events can also result in subsequent price reductions. For example, booking deviations (i.e. a plane filling up too fast or too slow) and reacting to competitors’ pricing adjustments can result in downward price adjustments.”

A friend of mine used to work as a forecaster for US Air, which means that his whole occupation dealt with looking at supply and demand of flights, the cost of oil, and other factors that go into building fares. The LA Times refers to this principle as yield, or revenue management. They report that because of airline deregulation at the end of the ’70s, this opened the door for supply and demand to drive price. Hence, if you purchase a ticket the day before the flight (because, for example, you are a business traveler and have to fly that day) then the fares will be jacked up due to the last minute situation.

What do I do if I book early and the cost then decreases a few days later?

This all depends on the airline and who you talk to at customer service. Many airlines will give you the better rate, but there may be a “reissue fee” or minor processing fee as a result. Southwest Air, as one might expect, does not have reissue fees and if there are seats at a lower price, they will likely give you the rate with no penalty at all. Other airlines might charge $20-$100 depending on their policy.

What days of the week should I book?

It is no secret that weekends generally are not the best times to purchase flights. Check fares in mid-week, like Wednesday, and you might be pleasantly surprised to find slightly lower (or sometimes way lower) fares. Why is this? Again, it call comes back to supply and demand.

Is there any way to get around ‘Non-refundable’ tickets?

Many of us go for the non-refundable tickets since they are the cheapest fares. Are there ever loopholes in which the customer can actually get a refund?  The answer is yes. Sometimes customers get lucky because the airlines change something which could be an inconvenience, such as altering a flight time. If this is the case, customers usually can get a refund. Obviously we cannot count on this, but when it does happen, it is helpful to know what that means for us as consumers.

As we continue to make our summer travel plans, we must be aware of how the airlines work— it could save us hundreds of dollars if we play their game right. Don’t fly harder, fly smarter!

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