It’s rare that I post something on a Friday, but sometimes there’s a topic that gets my blood boiling and a story just can’t wait until Monday. Today is one of those days.
You might have heard about a report put out by the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) saying that plane tickets are cheapest when you buy them on Sunday. There’s nothing wrong with this study (except for some confusing phrasing toward the end), and I have no doubt that this is correct. The problem, however, is that reporters are completely misinterpreting what this means. In short, you’re NOT going to save money by booking on a Sunday. I’ll explain why that’s the case below.
ARC’s study looked at roundtrip tickets sold by US-based travel agents from January 2013 to July 2014. Here’s how average fare and ticket volume broke down by day of week.
Most media outlets apparently looked at this and got lazy. Even the Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney fell into this trap. His article, “The Best Day to Buy Airline Tickets,” claims “A new deep dive into airline fares suggests Sunday is the best day to find low fares. This is a departure from the conventional wisdom of recent years, when Tuesday was considered the best bet.”
No. No. No. No.
Just dig a little deeper and you’ll see what’s going on here. We’re looking at sales through travel agents. That can mean traditional travel agents or online travel agents, so it’s a pretty big sample. But you’ll notice in the chart that volume tanks on the weekend. Why is that?
The answer is straightforward, and the report even says it straight up. Most business gets done during the week. When are business travelers going through their corporate agencies to buy their expensive plane tickets? Monday through Friday. How many of you like to waste your weekends booking business travel? That’s what I thought.
So who is booking on the weekends? These are people who are booking leisure travel. They sit with their families and have time to hash out plans. By nature, these tickets are going to cost less than the last minute business travel purchases that are happening during the week. If fares didn’t show up as being lower on the weekend, then I’d be shocked.
Does this mean that if you look to buy a ticket on Sunday, it’s going to be cheaper than if you looked at the same thing on Monday? No. All it means is that there’s a higher percentage of naturally more expensive business travel tickets being purchased during the week and a higher percentage of naturally less expensive leisure travel tickets being purchased on the weekend. In other words, it tells us nothing about when to buy a ticket to save money.
If that’s true, then what is the cheapest day to buy plane tickets? I hate that question, and I get asked it a lot. Forget about the skewed weekend dates and look during the week. The range is $497 to $503 for a ticket. Are you going to tell me that Tuesday is cheaper because it averages $497 yet Monday is horrible because the average is $503? If it makes you happy to believe that, go for it, but it makes you sound crazy. This is a huge aggregation of data with tiny differences between days. On any given route and any give day, the fare will vary.
Here’s the advice we give to Cranky Concierge clients. Look for flights when you need to book them. If you’re happy with the price, buy the ticket. If not, then keep checking back later and see if the fare has gone down. There’s always a risk it will go up, and that’s a risk you might decide to take. But trying to play this game of booking on a specific day to save a buck is not a reliable way to find cheap fares.
Unfortunately, poorly written articles like the ones covering this ARC study are not helping get this point across.