“When Should I Buy My Ticket For This Summer?”

“When Should I Buy My Ticket For This Summer?”

March 24, 2011

Everyone dreams of it – that perfect ticket, with ideal flight times, great connections, and of course, a bargain price tag.  How to best go about making reality come at least close?

There are lots of theories out there about when to buy, in order to get a great price.  Unfortunately, most of them are just that – theories, with no real evidence to back them up.    But there are some things you can do to help get a good price on a ticket.

In shopping for a ticket, you need to keep in mind that your interests, and the airlines’ interests, are very different things.  You want to buy a seat for as little as possible;  the airlines want to sell that same seat for as much as possible.  The trick is to try to move the balance in your own favor.

There are several factors that go into determining the cost of any particular ticket.  One is, of course, the airline’s actual costs. Fuel is always one of the biggest expenses for an airline.  This year is no exception.  Oil prices are rising, and so is the cost of jet fuel.  Looking into my crystal ball, I don’t see the price of oil dropping any time soon.   That being the case, it’s unlikely that airfare will get cheaper.  The reverse is more likely – as oil prices increase, the cost of airfare will continue to climb.  Based on this alone, it’s probably better to buy your ticket sooner rather than later.

Another big factor in determining the cost of a ticket is capacity.  How many planes are flying there, with how many seats?  If the number of seats exceeds the demand, then  fares will probably fall.  If there are few seats, and more customers chasing those seats, demand is up and airlines will be able to raise the prices (remember Econ 101?).

When the economy tanked a few years ago, airlines cut way back on capacity.  Instead of having 3 flights per day, they might only have 2.  Or instead of a daily flight, it might only be 4 times per week.  But the overall effect was to cut back on the total number of seats they offered to any given destination.

As the economy has slowly improved, airlines have held the line on increasing capacity.  From their perspective, it is infinitely better to have 2 flights per day that are totally full, than 3 flights per day that are all 3/4 full.  Yes, they may move fewer total passengers, but their costs are lower and the higher demand for those seats means they can charge more for each and every seat.  So at this point, airlines are very reluctant to add additional flights.  As long as capacity is down, prices will stay high.  Once again, this suggests you should buy your tickets sooner rather than later.

So, having established that what seats are out there this summer are likely to be expensive, is there any hope?  Any tricks?

Yes.  There are always things you can do to keep the price down.

First, be flexible.  Try to shop for tickets with a range of dates in mind, rather than a specific date and time.  Weekend flights tend to sell out before midweek flights, so you may be able to get a better price if you depart on Wednesday instead of on Saturday.

Second, be open to different airlines.  Often non-US carriers have lower fares than US flag airlines.  Be adventurous – try flying via Bogota! (You will find that airports are remarkably similar, no matter where you are).

Third, keep the big picture in mind.  The fare on a legacy carrier might be higher than one of the newer budget carriers, but consider hidden costs.  Is there a charge for making a seat request?  Do they charge for carryon luggage?  How about checked baggage?  The hidden costs can really add up.  Sometimes a slightly higher fare upfront can actually give you greater value for your money.

Your Exito agent will be happy to help you with checking different options, comparing the relative merits of them, and making an informed decision.  But please don’t wait around, hoping that fares will come down.  Some years they might, but I don’t think this will be one of those years.  The early bird gets the worm, and the early bird gets the best price on their ticket!


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