Welcome to my new series: Travel Agent Tips. In the last eight months I’ve learned a lot about the travel industry and travel in general, and I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned with you, my lovely readers.
First up, I’d like to address some of the many myths and misconceptions around finding a cheap flight. It can be stressful and time-consuming trying to find a cheap flight, and no one wants to board a plane knowing that they probably paid twice or even three times more than the dude sitting next to them.
Today I’m addressing a question from Tom Bourlet who blogs at http://www.spaghettitraveller.com/. His question is one I get almost every day.
Is it better to book way in advance or wait for a late deal?
This depends on whether you are talking about flights or accommodation and tours. For today’s tip, I’m going to focus on flights.
Every time I read an article about how the prime time to book a flight is 4-6 weeks or 8-10 weeks in advance (or whatever number seems legit) I roll my eyes. Because like many things in this world, getting a cheap fare is usually just a case of the early bird getting the nice cheap worm.
Let me start by giving you a quick lesson about they way that fares work. Please excuse my awful pictures as I was taking photos of my screen at work.
Looking at Availability
Each flight has a number of booking classes. When I’m talking about booking classes I’m not talking about economy, business and first class, but the actual price of each fare.
When I look at a flight it will look similar to this.
A0 B0 C0 D2 E4 F4 G5 H6 I8 J9 K9 L9 M9 N9 O9 P9
Let’s say that Alpha class (A) is the cheapest fare available on this flight, O is business, and P is first class. For this flight A class has no fares left at that cheap price. Airlines usually release fares around 11 months in advance (although some low-cost airlines will typically release them around six months in advance).
Let’s also say that all those cheap $100 A class fares sold out between 10 and 11 months in advance, the $125 B class fares sold out 9 months in advance, and the $150 C class fares sold out 7 months in advance.
It’s now six months before you’ll be flying, and there are two seats left in D class at $200 each. The cheaper the booking class, the earlier it is sold out.
This is hugely dependent on how many flights are going to and from your origin and destination e.g if I’m flying from New Zealand to LA I’m more likely to need to book further in advance than if I was flying from New York to London.
Here’s a better example of how it works:
Let’s say you’re looking at booking a flight from New York to London and you’d like to go on the 9th of October. Here’s what the search will look like:
Let’s take a closer look at the availability and those booking classes:
Tons of availability, and there’s at least 9 seats available in the cheaper booking classes which is great.
Now let’s pretend it’s the 2nd of June and you’d like to take the same flight on the 10th:
Here’s a closer look:
Huge difference. As you can see, most of the booking classes are either grayed out or have a 0 next to them, meaning only the highest booking classes are left, and the fare will be much more expensive.
This is what’s called an air availability search, and it’s just one of the many searches that travel agents use to find cheaper flights, and to check on how heavily booked a flight is.
So basically, the idea of waiting for a last-minute “cheap deal” is largely a myth. When an airline is advertising a low price last-minute it means that the flight is not very full and there are still cheap booking classes available.
Low-cost airlines are also more likely to have last-minute deals, but if you’re looking for a cheap flight the general rule of thumb is the further in advance you book the better.
I hope I’ve at least helped a few people out with this post, if you have any questions please ask them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them.
If you have a question about travel that you’d like answered, either leave me a comment or email me at Stacey@onetravelsfar.com, and I’ll do my best to answer it in one of my travel tip posts.