The truth about the cheapest day to travel – and five ways to score a bargain

Woman booking flights – Getty

Once upon a time, Tuesday was the cheapest day of the week to fly and avoiding school holidays was sure to get you a bargain. It was all as predictable as the Saturday night TV shows.

Times, however, have changed: flexible working means families are no longer beholden to Saturday-Saturday summer holidays while Zoom has impacted business travel. Additionally, cheap flights and price comparison websites have made cheaper fares easier to find and more available.

Is there still a best time to book and a cheapest day to fly? Keep reading to find out.

When to book

Airlines usually publish their timetables around 11 months before departure, although it can be as short as five months for low-cost short-haul routes. The consensus is that, if you plan to travel at a busy time or opt for a route operated by only one or two airlines, it is safest to book as soon as the schedules come out in case the cost of tickets increases with Requirement.

However, according to Skyscanner global travel expert Laura Lindsay, pricing is a bit more complicated than that, determined by algorithms involving fuel costs, the amount of airport supply and many other factors.

To help consumers get through this mess, the platform is launching a tool in early 2023 that will show users an average price compared to the live price, as well as cheaper and less demanded alternative destinations (Albania instead of Croatia, for instance).

The Hopper mobile app has a similar function: enter a flight itinerary and a 12-month calendar appears, placing each day into one of four color-coded categories ranging from cheap to expensive.

Select the cheapest dates within your available range and the app lets you watch trips and get notified if and when prices drop, or freeze fares for up to three weeks (for a fee). He also advises users not to buy if he thinks the price will go down.

But playing a game of waiting for prices to drop will always be a gamble – and it might be a good idea not to leave it too late. Using data from ARC’s Global Airline Sales Database, Expedia determined that booking international flights at least four months in advance meant savings of around 30% on ticket prices per compared to those who booked at the last minute.

If you’re not an advance planner, you might be lucky to book unpopular days that other travelers avoid. One of them is New Year’s Eve, a rather depressing time to fly since airlines don’t tend to fly all over Hogmanay.

If you don’t care for party poppers yourself, a search for a flight to Rome on December 31, 2022 cost £13 one-way – less than 10% of the cost of flying on December 17 (the most expensive day of the months at the time of our research).

The same cannot be said for Christmas Day. According to research by Alternative Airlines, it may actually be more expensive to book a flight on December 25 on certain routes. He recommends avoiding December 24-28 altogether due to high prices and busy airports and he also indicates that the first week of November is the best time to grab a bargain.

Are there other days when the prices drop? A few years ago The Telegraph refuted the theory that prices fell on Friday the 13th and further research reveals that nothing has changed. In 2023, flights to Tenerife are significantly more expensive on Friday 13 October (at £61) than on Monday 2 October (£28) for example and it’s the same story on routes to Berlin (£67 and £36, respectively).

When to fly

If you can be flexible and travel outside of school holidays, you’ll always get the best prices. Gilbert Ott of godsavethepoints.com says, “Unfortunately, the best advice is the least practical for most people. The shoulder season really is the dream. There is no magic day, but if you use the periods between low and high season, you can do very well. January in Europe is often incredibly cheap, as are October and November.

The added benefit of traveling out of season is that you’re unlikely to see the queues and chaos you might encounter during busier times such as July and August or around Christmas. But it’s not just school holidays that can drive up prices and fill airports. Also beware of major events specific to a country’s calendar.

“My favorite time to visit my hometown of New York is also my worst,” Ott says. “The end of September is glorious in New York, but with the US Open, Fashion Week and then the United Nations General Assembly, hotel rates for the month are at least three times higher than usual and flights are quite similar.Over the next month, however, you can find total bargains.

If you are due at a certain time of year, it is worth being notified of the day or week you are taking off. Expedia research suggests you can save around 15% by booking international flights on a Friday, although Hopper’s findings suggest Tuesday is still best; see graph below.

The disparity may be due to evidence of less discernible patterns than in years past. A move towards flexible working has “slightly smoothed out travel spikes,” says Lindsay. “Traditionally, people traveled on a Saturday. Now they can stay longer and travel on a Tuesday, for example.

Meanwhile, research by Skyscanner in 2022 found that traveling the first week of summer school holidays was significantly more expensive than waiting until the third or fourth week.

Don’t overlook the October midterm either: climate change means a longer season in some traditionally summer destinations, but flight prices haven’t yet caught up. If you’re determined to go to Ibiza, for example, fares can be significantly lower as demand has plummeted while temperatures are still hovering around the mid-20s.

The spring semester, however, is one of the most expensive times in 2023 for flights. Our research has seen the cost of flights to Palma skyrocket over this week, from £27 on the cheapest day in May (the 2nd – a Tuesday) to £103 on the 31st May. It’s a similar case for flights to Geneva, which increase from £27 on May 2 to £63 on May 29 (Monday).

Lindsay attributes this to a combination of public holidays and school vacations resulting in increased demand. In cases like this, she advises being flexible about the day of your flight, departing after the public holiday if possible.

Five ways to get a cheaper flight

Don’t worry if your schedule impacts when you can leave, leaving you at the mercy of airline flight prices. There are still things you can do to minimize costs.

Use alerts

Sites like Skyscanner and Kayak have tools that allow you to track the cost of specific flights over a period of time and will notify you if prices go up or down.

Go incognito – or better yet, pretend you’re abroad

Your endless quest for a cheap flight could actually drive up the price, as some believe airlines interpret repeated searches as increased demand. To prevent this from happening, use incognito mode or try shoopit which searches local sites in over 50 countries to find the cheapest fares.

Embrace the package

If you don’t have a particular hotel in mind, you can unlock a better price by “bundling” (booking accommodation and flights together).

Ott explains: “I have been a long time fan of the BA Holidays/Virgin Holidays offers which offer amazing discounts for two people booking and sharing a room. It’s not uncommon to find flights and three nights’ hotel in New York for around £420 per person.

Make long-haul stopovers

Recent Google research found that indirect routes that include layovers are around 20% cheaper than flying direct on the same route, although obviously you have to weigh the financial implications of adding extra days to your route, or the inconveniences of cutting it. short.

Sign up for loyalty programs and schedule post notifications

They will give you access to offers from the airline of your choice. However, as with airline “sales,” this comes with a caveat: “People see a sale price and rush to book,” says Lindsay. “But you should always check that the sale price is better than the base price with another airline.”

Don’t be fooled by Black Friday either. Hopper’s research found that flights were significantly cheaper on Travel Deal Tuesday (another date in November) than on the day of the notorious sale.

Do you have any tips for getting a cheaper flight? Tell us in the comments

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