Anytime we’re looking to purchase a plane ticket, we’re on a mission to find the best prices — and why wouldn’t we be? The catch is that the airlines who sell us tickets are pretty good at predicting our behaviour, so to get ahead of the game, we need to better understand why flight prices change so often. We’ve broken down the why and how for you in this article below.
Why are Flight Prices Constantly Changing?
Do you find yourself going in to check on a great flight deal, whether it be your Skyscanner app or your desktop, and noticing that flight price always seems to have changed? They get higher and higher until you’ve convinced yourself that you can no longer afford that dream vacation or that last-minute flight to catch the Montreal Canadiens game this weekend. As it turns out, there is a reason why flight prices seemingly change every few minutes and it’s not to benefit our pocketbooks. It’s something called yield management.
Read on to find out why flight prices change every minute, and what you can do to still snag those great flight deals! Stay in the loop right here.
What is Yield Management?
Here’s the deal: yield management is the concept that explains why you can buy a plane ticket today for $100 less than if you’d purchased that same plane ticket in four months. It is what’s called a variable pricing strategy, which ensures that airlines maximize profits by predicting consumer behaviour.
There are three distinct components of yield management: pricing strategy, availability control and control of inventory. And each one of these contributes to the flight price changes that you see when trying to find the best plane ticket price. Confused? Don’t worry. We’ve simplified things for you below, so all you need to do is remember a few easy tips to get that great flight price when it drops!
The pricing strategy of yield management is all about maximizing profits based on customer need. We know that those considered to be leisure fliers (families planning for a vacation, someone booking a ticket to attend their cousins’ wedding next summer) are looking for a good deal, and are very unlikely to pay full price for their ticket. Thus, the customer is charged an amount that’s less than full price in exchange for them booking in advance. Similarly, airlines are aware that business travellers will pay more money to book at the last minute because it’s likely that they are purchasing the ticket out of necessity. Therefore, they are charged full price.
The availability control portion of yield management is all about controlling the available product — in this case, airline seats. If airlines are selling 200 seats for a flight, they use availability control to determine how many seats to sell at leisure fare and how many at full price. This determines which seats are available to which crowd. And they use their knowledge of their target audiences (i.e. the fact that leisure travellers book in advance and business travellers book last-minute) to determine when to price these tickets accordingly.
Control of inventory
Control of inventory is the simple concept of accurately controlling (and utilizing) the availability of the logistical components that is needed to actually run a flight. These components include aircrafts, employees and flights. Control of inventory ensures that these things are maintained and available to be used by the consumers that purchase them.
How to Use the Flight Pricing Cycle to Your Advantage
If this seems incredibly confusing to you — I’m on board — the good news is that you can totally use this to your advantage! And using it to your advantage does not require expert-level knowledge of pricing controls and strategies.
Simply based on these strategies, and data compiled and analyzed by people far more intelligent than yours truly, we know the following tips and tricks that can help ensure you get the best flight prices possible:
Avoid booking flights on…
Thursdays as this tend to be when markups are posted, likely due to the increased traffic on the weekend. Some experts say that you can see as much as $10 added to a ticket price on Thursday.
Speaking of the weekend, it’s also best to avoid booking over them as well. The weekends are typically not actively monitored by airline staff but instead are automated. This means that when cheap flight tickets are purchased, the automated software will most likely adjust the remaining tickets to a higher price to compensate for the loss of profit.
Look instead for cheap flight deals on…
Mondays are better for prices because the extra seats that weren’t sold over the weekend are more likely to be discounted.
But if you want even better deals, most airlines post flight discounts between 15 and 25 percent on Monday nights. Meaning if you want to get in on these deals, it’s best to book first thing on Tuesday morning.
Keep an eye out for…
Seasonal seat sales! Some airlines offer seasonal sales for seat tickets or flash seat sales (like the one Air Transat has).
Wondering if browser cookies actually increase flight prices? We’ve got the answers for you here.
When Do Flight Prices Actually Go Down?
Beyond the specific days of the week, there are other times within the larger pricing cycle where flight prices are discounted.
Getting the best deal on international flights
If you’re headed to a wedding in Prague, a family vacation in Disneyland or planning to spend some time soaking up the sun in Varadero, it’s typically recommended that you book your international flight as soon as possible. The sooner the better tends to be the best way to ensure you get those cheap international ticket prices.
Getting the best deals on domestic flights
On the other hand, if you’re planning on spending a girl’s weekend in Montreal, heading to fan-girl (or boy) over celebrities at the Toronto International Film Festival or wear your best western duds at the Calgary Stampede, then you’re going to want to book a little closer to your flight time. Specifically, you’ll want to focus on finding a flight about three to six weeks out.
Is it cheaper to do last-minute flights?
In short, no. I’m not sure who started the “flights are cheaper if you book them at the last minute” rumour but they’ve got a whole lot of people fooled. Contrary to popular belief, flights are not cheaper if you book them at the last minute. In fact, booking a day or a week out can rack you up to an extra $100 for your ticket.
Though, if you’re forced to book last-minute, you’re better off to do it the day before instead of the week before, from what I’ve read. That said, you’re opening yourself up to a whole other can of possible problems, like not getting a seat.
Getting the Best Flight Prices: Other Things to Keep in Mind
Before I send you off to live your best life booking the cheapest flights, I’ll leave you with some other pieces of flight price related wisdom.
Airline websites track your cookies, that means that they know when you’re looking and how often. This allows them to manipulate the prices you see and avoid offering you lower prices simply because they know you’re on the hunt for tickets.
The solution? Search on Skyscanner. This isn’t your average shameless plug, the Skyscanner app along with the website are specifically built with that problem in mind. So when you search you’re actually finding the lowest prices, not the lowest price the airline wants to give you because they know you’ve searched “flight to Cabo” 612 times in the last three weeks.
And, if you can, try to fly midweek. Prices are a lot cheaper. The last time I went to Disneyland (hey — this is a judgement free zone) the price difference between flying out on Sunday and Tuesday was about $150, not kidding. So board that flight between Monday and Thursday and you should be golden.
Now off you go my little padawan, take your new found wisdom and beat the price cycle!