Winning at Airline Roulette

Buying an airline ticket can feel a little bit like spinning a roulette wheel. You plug in your dates, hit "submit," and wait for the numbers to show up.

Image by Conor Ogle

But there are ways to increase your odds of getting the best deal — and they have to do with timing your purchase, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal. 

Here’s the tip: You’ll most likely to find the best deals midweek. Airlines typically launch discounts of 15 to 25 percent on Monday night; competitors match their prices on Tuesday and Wednesday.  The sales are often over by Thursday or Friday. The story tracked one advance purchase round-trip flight from Atlanta to Chicago — tickets cost 30 percent less on Monday and Tuesday than they did the following four days.

Another reason to buy during the week is that the airlines don’t actively manage inventory over the weekend. If all the cheap seats disappear over the weekend, prices automatically go up. But during the week, analysts may decide to offer more of the lower-priced seats. It’s still a good idea to buy in advance, and to travel mid-week or on a Saturday, if you can.
Twitter is still a bit of a wild card, but it’s smart to follow tweets made by airline companies. According to the story:

Some airlines are sending sales out directly to customers at all hours, making pricing far less predictable each day. Or carriers may tweet an hour-long sale. As a result, airlines can match competitors more nimbly, sneak sales under the radar of competitors and send deeply discounted offers anytime to customers who sign up for fare alerts.

The midweek advantage may be common knowledge to experienced travelers, but it came as a surprise to me. I often book flights on the weekends, since that’s when I have more time to look around for the best prices.

No more.  I’m a converted Tuesday-morning shopper (provided I haven’t already snagged a deal via Twitter).

Am I the last one to hear that Tuesday and Wednesday are the best time to buy airline tickets?

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.