Timing airline ticket purchase
December 1, 2004 6:11 AM   Subscribe

AirlineFilter: Is it wise to wait until the last minute to buy plane tickets? Robocop and I will be flying to London at the end of February. I've been tracking plane ticket prices on and off for a couple of weeks, and am alarmed that they've been climbing steadily (and I've been looking at every discount ticket site out there). On the one hand, I'm thinking "buy now before they get more expensive," but I wonder if the prices will drop the closer it gets to our departure date. We're only going for a weekend, so our travel dates aren't very flexible, which may be part of the problem. Any advice from seasoned travellers?
posted by banjo_and_the_pork to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
smarterliving.com--sign up for the weekly emails listing every single flight out of your local airports, and pounce when a good deal pops up. I usually buy 2-3 weeks before my trips, unless something wonderful comes up.

And--Most airlines now have 100 each way to London from here (NYC), and add in 100 taxes for a 300 rt. If you can get a cheap flight here, you can take advantage of that. (usually valid Nov. til March, exempting holidays)
posted by amberglow at 6:14 AM on December 1, 2004

I'm a former travel agent. Usually, for London fares during February I'd recommend waiting until about six weeks away from your travel dates. But that really depends on where you're flying out of. If it's New York, definitely wait, but if it's a smaller international airport like Atlanta with fewer total departing flights, there may be fewer total seats available, so fewer lower fares, and if the lower fares sell out, you won't gain anything by waiting. Also, if there's anything going on in London that weekend (like a big conference or festival) buy early, because the cheaper fares will sell out and then you'll have to pay more.

But for a normal BOS-LHR or JFK-LHR flight in late February, the airlines won't publish their lowest fares until six weeks or so ahead of your travel dates. It's all about supply and demand: February is low season, and not as many people fly to London then, so it is possible to get really good fares.

If you talk to a travel agent, sometimes he or she can tell you from experience if a particular flight looks like it's got a lot of seats left, and that will help you decide whether to wait. (If you're under age 26 and/or a student, talk to an agent at STA for student/youth fares.)
posted by acridrabbit at 6:39 AM on December 1, 2004

Thanks amberglow and acidrabbit. I thought February would be a low season, and confirmation of that is exactly what I was hoping to hear.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:57 AM on December 1, 2004

And on the other side of the coin, I need to buy tickets for our honeymoon to England in mid-June. Is that a buy-now type deal, or will things be universally expensive whenever we go?

Both our flights, Feb and June, will be out of Boston.

posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:56 AM on December 1, 2004

Just read this article at Wired that might be of use to you:Travel Upstarts Take on Top Sites.
posted by Otis at 8:07 AM on December 1, 2004

You may want to look into package deals, especially since hotels in London are so godawful expensive. I like Go-Today and have traveled with them twice with no problems. Look under "City Breaks" (or "Fly/Drive" if you're not going to be in London for your honeymoon.)

I once got a deal for 6 nights in London + airfare and airport-to-hotel transfers, leaving from Atlanta, for $500 plus tax from them.
posted by Vidiot at 8:28 AM on December 1, 2004

You may also want to sign up for British Airways' and Virgin Atlantic's newsletters/deal alerts on their respective sites -- I get deals to London from BA just about every week, delivered to my inbox.
posted by occhiblu at 8:30 AM on December 1, 2004

June is going to be expensive, but i'd keep my eye out for spring sales starting in Feb/March (they usually cover the whole season except for holidays).
posted by amberglow at 8:40 AM on December 1, 2004

Virgin does package deals too. They are a very good deal in February. 6 nights for $450 (plus $100 international tax).
posted by smackfu at 9:18 AM on December 1, 2004

It may be worth considering that last-minute ticket purchasing makes one more likely to be selected for more intensive security screening. It may be worth purchasing early to decrease the likelihood of the TSA conducting a search for weapons of mass destruction in your crotch.
posted by stet at 9:44 AM on December 1, 2004

Banjo / Robocop - I've made this exact flight (Logan to Heathrow) more than a dozen times this year. I'd second (or third) the comment to wait until about a month and a half to two months out to make the reservation.

We live in the same neck of the woods. If you want to talk to a good travel agent just to get a comparison of prices, drop me a line. Email is in my profile.

Stet - That's hilarious. Next time TSA gives me a rub pat down at Logan, I think I'm gonna use the "weapons of mass destruction in my crotch" line.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 10:32 AM on December 1, 2004

Yes, fares will probably go down. You don't know how much though.

American Airlines offers a generous rollover policy for international flights (meaning to destinations other than Canada, U.S., Puerto Rico, or U.S. Virgin Islands). Their domestic rollover policy is now much less generous than it was a few months ago. To get a rollover, it must be to a fare that was not available before. Sometimes you cannot buy the cheapest fares because there is no availability in the cheapest booking classes. If AA later adds availability in these classes, you will not be able to get a rollover even though someone off the street could get a cheaper fare.

This might not be the best strategy for an airline fares novice.

I'm told United Airlines has a similar policy but I have no information on it.
posted by grouse at 10:55 AM on December 1, 2004

The overriding key to getting a good deal is to be flexible with your dates and to make sure you stay a saturday night at your destination (no saturday night = business traveller) unless you are a student or under 26.

You can often save a few dollars by setting off/returning midweek days (tues/weds/thurs). Some specials might have specific flights, some specific days (often Tuesdays) that are not that friendly in terms of arrival/departure times.

However, you seem not to have this luxury, so I offer the above info as a general rule for future use. With regards to your specific circumstance, if its the valentine weekend you're thinking of, book sooner rather than later! Once valentines books up, the weekend prior and after will start to fill as "consolations" for those who left it too late.

I don't think you need panic yet though as its likely that not all seats will have been released to the booking engines.

If you see an amazing "too good to be true" fare online and it is available all the way to the bit where you put in your credit card details to confirm.... don't hesitate! Book it there and then. There's no guarantee it'll be there in 5 minutes, let alone tomorrow

(BTW acidrabbit, did you work for STA?)
posted by davehat at 1:39 PM on December 1, 2004

Is it wise to wait until the last minute to buy plane tickets?

Not usually. It'll be harder to find cheaper prices. Your demand is higher than it is now (or weeks/days before the flight) and they'll assume you're willing to pay more.

In economics, it's called high inelasticity of demand.
posted by BradNelson at 4:55 PM on December 1, 2004

Check OffPeakTraveler.com, too. My wife and I used them last year, and were impressed with the price, though the packaged hotel left a little to be desired.
posted by yaquina27 at 8:18 PM on December 1, 2004

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