Travel Tips: Flight

    Next month, a small handful of our team (5 to be exact) are going to be in Anaheim, California for the 2015 The Special Event conference. Over 5,000 event colleagues from across the globe will gather to learn, share stories, and browse products, and see a handful of amazing sample events. We’ll try to bring you a day-by-day report of the fun – er, educational – things we get to experience. That’ll be starting in early January.

    But before getting there, we have to plan. And it always pays to plan on a budget (so we can eat at Morton’s every night without any guilt… just kidding Accounting team).

    We use a few tips each year to book the components of our trip minimizing our expense in the following areas: Flight, Hotel, and Car. I thought readers could benefit from this knowledge, whether you’re booking your company conference travel or just a family vacation. We’ll analyze one of these areas each day. Today, we’ll talk airfare.

    Booking cheap flights takes patience and a bit of shrewd planning. First, you must realize that when you fly, the person to your right and to your left most likely paid more/less than you did. Airline ticket prices change almost daily, and sometimes more frequently than that. It’s basically simple supply and demand at work (never thought you’d be using that Econ 101 again, did you?).

    The first thing to do is get a baseline. That’s a fancy way of saying to look at the data available and see what a reasonably low price point for that flight to that destination is. There’s no use holding out for a $200 ticket to Honolulu if recent history shows that $400 is the lowest it’ll ever go. Just take about 15 minutes to check multiple websites (or google it) and see what ticket prices normally go for, and what the cheapest they have gone for recently. You’ll come up with a range. For example, for our trip to Anaheim, we looked for ticket prices somewhere in the $500-$700 range. At that current time, they were up near $900.

    2. ECON 101
    Airlines have a set amount of seats in a plane to start with (obviously). They don’t want to price their tickets too high, or too low. So they’ll pick a mid-range price point for flights far in advance. My experience has been that normally prices are “fair” (not high or low) anywhere from 1 year to 5 months before the flight date. Then things get interesting. Depending on how many seats are available, the price will either increase or decrease. My personal experience is that if there are roughly 30% or more of the seats in a plane available within 4 months of the flight date, the prices SHOULD decrease AT SOME FUTURE POINT. That is not to say that the prices won’t go up temporarily. Airlines like to play that cat-and-mouse game, to see if they can hook an unsuspecting few passengers or luck out and get that person who is just too lazy (or rich) to be patient. So flight prices may fluctuate higher and lower, but rest assured, if there are a bulk of seats still available within that timeframe, flights WILL decrease.

    How do you see how many flights are available? Some airlines will allow you to choose your seat at some point in the booking process online, but before your finalize and pay. This works to your advantage. Go through the steps, and then see how many seats are left. That will let you predict with some certainty which way prices will move. Again, keep in mind that they will fluctuate, so check regularly, and when the prices drop to a price you FEEL is about the cheapest they will go, BOOK.

    As you get closer to the flight date, the percentage changes. So maybe within 3 months of the date, if there are 25% of seats still available, flights will probably decrease. Maybe 2 months will be 20% ratio. However, this does have an end. I’ve almost NEVER seen a reasonable flight price within 1 month of the flight date (I often check just for future reference, even if I’ve already booked my flight). Often, no matter how many seats are left, prices will begin to increase because the airline knows that interested flyers are most likely in a need-to-buy situation. Again, simple economics, but this time, not supply/demand, but price elasticity. Where the price begins to matter less, because no matter what the price, you will still buy (gasoline is the classic example: at $2 you buy. At $4 you buy. Because no matter what, you still need the gas).

    Generally speaking, holidays and weekends are prime time for flight price INCREASES, as airlines predict that more people will be shopping then and may just buy the flight. Normally, prices will DECREASE on Tuesday or Wednesday. Again, not a rule, but just a rule of thumb. Another quick tip is to check cities in close proximity to each other. For our Special Event trip, a few people are flying into San Diego instead of LAX, as it saved nearly $250 from each ticket.

    One final tip for flights. If you are not set on a certain date and/or time, it pays to search a RANGE of flights during a RANGE of dates. Sometimes, flying few days earlier or later than you wanted will save you money. Flying on Sundays, Mondays, or on holidays themselves often result in the cheapest flights.

    Happy travels! Hope you save some bucks on your next flight!

    Tomorrow, we’ll investigate how to save on hotels.