Being a friendly Virtual Travel Agent, I am always pleased to answer questions from my friends. One of the most frequently asked questions is, “When is the best time to buy air tickets?” There is no longer a ‘perfect time’ to buy air travel, but there are two periods during the year when particularly good buys can be found.
The airline industry is mature and some of its customs have been long-formed. One of the most important business practices is that major flight schedule are published twice per year. The ‘Summer Schedule’ goes into effect on the last Sunday in March and the ‘Winter Schedule’ goes into effect on the last Sunday of October. The reason for this is because airlines must apply for ‘slots’ at busy airports and those flight arrival and departure time pairs are seasonal. So, each airline prepares its seasonal schedule in time to load the schedule and begin selling seats in advance of the deadline.
While it varies from airline to airline, most carriers load their Summer schedules after the end-of-year holiday period in late January and early February. Similarly, airlines load their Winter schedules immediately following the northern summer peak period in September. After the seasonal schedules are loaded, the prices and seat inventories are ‘refreshed’. This is the exact period when the most discount seats are available. This is also when the most free frequent flyer seats and upgrades are available. The schedule load periods vary from airline to airline but, in most cases, the seasonal schedules are loaded in February and September.
By the time the schedule is loaded, the airline already has bookings for peak periods so the thrifty traveller avoids holiday periods either in the origin or destination of the flight. Performing a little ‘internet reconnaissance’ will ensure that a traveller doesn’t try to book during a local or national holiday or a major event at their destination.
Here is another tip about buying air travel…
Airline pricing and revenue management systems (systems that control the price of individual seats) mostly operate overnight because they take time to process the vast amounts of data they employ. This is so that airlines have the best seat availability for business travellers when they are at work during the daytime. So, it is generally better to shop for travel deals very early in the morning before the workday begins. So, set that alarm and jump online; ‘the early bird catches the worm’! With international travel on large carriers, however, remember that you need to look at the time where the airline is headquartered.
Finally, Travel Agents have the ability to ‘book and hold’. That is, we can book a flight at a guaranteed price and hold that confirmed booking for a period of time before paying for the seat. If a better price comes along during the hold period, Travel Agents can re-book at the lower price and cancel the held booking without a penalty. Most travellers that book online don’t have this option since most online sites require the traveller to purchase immediately. This is a good reason to consult a professional to find the very best deals for air travel.
Let me know if this information is helpful and also if you have any other pressing travel questions. I am here to help you!