Most travellers want to know how far in advance to make flight reservations to snag a great deal, but it’s a lot easier said than done. Despite the many articles claiming to have ‘the ultimate guide to finding the cheapest flights,’ the truth is not even airlines know when prices might drop.
“No matter how many times I tell people that airfare prices can’t be predicted, the question ‘Should I buy my flight now or wait?’ is still the one I get asked the most,” says Chris Myden, founder and CEO of YDeals Inc. which helps travellers find cheap airfares from Canadian airports.
There are no ‘cheapest days to fly’ or ‘secret times to book’ that can be generalized to ALL destinations at ALL times of year, but Myden does have a few tips to find cheap flights.
1. Specificity matters
Get to know the specific route you’re interested in, the airlines that fly it, and the typical price patterns in various seasons.
“Price fluctuations will still be random, but there are certainly overall patterns when you start searching for flights to one specific origin-final destination,” Myden says.
2. The eight-week rule
When planes are nearly full, remaining seats become more valuable, not less. That means prices tend to go up about eight weeks from departure, and never come back down.
“Last-minute flights to most destinations are extremely pricey. There’s still a myth about flying standby being cheaper, but it’s almost never true,” Myden says.
The trick is waiting until airlines decide they need to get rid of excess stock, but not waiting until prices start to rise. If you haven’t seen a sale before the two-month mark, Myden says you probably won’t. And during holidays, it’s usually best to book even earlier.
3. Last-minute deals to Mexico
There was a time when travellers could snag last-minute deals to Mexico and the Caribbean, but Myden says he hasn’t seen as many price drops in recent years.
4. Low-cost carriers have changed the game in Canada
Swoop, Flair and other low-cost airlines have given travellers more options for flights up and down the West Coast, and forced WestJet and Air Canada to respond with more cheap flights. But be sure to read the fine print before purchase, because carry-on baggage and other items may cost extra.