Why the ‘Magic Day’ When Airfares Get Cheap Is a Lie
You may have seen an article going around last week that travelers could save big cash by booking international flights on August 21, or domestic flights on August 22.
That sounds nice and easy – but it simply isn't true.
“[People] like to have pat answers and simple solutions,” George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, told Travel + Leisure. “But fares are not going to go on sale.”
Compared to peak summer fares, “airfare always costs less if you travel mid-August until the holidays,” Hobica said. Even so, flights aren’t suddenly going to go on sale on August 21 and August 22. In fact, he added, “they’ve been on sale [since May].”
Hobica notes this isn't news — it happens every year. By mid- to late-August, students are going back to school, and there's simply less demand for flights. And less demand means lower prices.
The same will be true next summer.
Hobica said travelers really looking for a sweet spot to travel should consider flying between January 4 and February 15, when people are exhausted from the holidays. “In fact, I think that's the cheapest time to fly.”
Late summer may be cheaper than early or mid-summer, but it's not a “dead space,” said Hobica.
The team at Hopper, an airfare prediction and analysis service, agrees.
“Every year, we see the cheapest domestic travel deals in January, because travel demand tends to be soft after the holiday season is over,” Hopper's chief data scientist, Patrick Surry, told T+L. “Even October will have some cheaper deals than August.”
Airfarewatchdog.com's Hobica also recommends that travelers consider the time between Thanksgiving and December 15 — another dead space when airfare takes a significant dip, which is further corroborated by Hopper’s Consumer Airfare Index.
The six-month index, which uses an archive of trillions of prices and about six years of flight data, indicates that while August airfares will fall 7 percent from July, they continue to drop in September and October. They pick up in November, and then take another dip in December and January.
While people may have misinterpreted this bit of airfare lore, confusing optimal days for traveling with optimal days for booking, the enchanting promise has still taken hold: People are actively waiting to make travel plans, anticipating the huge airfare sale that will supposedly come on August 21 and 22.
Even though it won’t.
“There's no overall best day of the year to buy domestic or international flights,” Hopper's Surry told T+L.
Surry explained that when airline employees managed inventory manually, there may have been more truth to these “golden rules” and airfare legends. “Now that the airlines are using sophisticated yield management systems [for] prices and inventory,” he said, they're less accurate than ever.
If you're looking for a deal on airfare, the best you can do is set fare alerts (with Airfarewatchdog, Hopper, Google Flights, or another service), plan ahead, and know what an average airfare for your destination would be — so you can recognize a deal when it comes along.
“There is no magic,” Hobica said, comparing these sensational airfare myths to a Magic 8 Ball.
If you ask it “when is the best time to buy airfare,” he said, “It answers: ‘maybe.’”