You might be surprised to hear that one seat on one flight can change prices many times before the flight actually takes off. The life of a domestic airfare starts about 11 months prior to departure on its publish date. Then, in the lead up to the departure, that one seat will change price an average of 35 times. We’ve written about this in the past, but these days things are even more volatile. Not only do airfares change often over the life of the fare, it can also change during the day. Factors that can impact these mid-day changes include flight demand, flight availability and external factors like COVID-19 virus and even geopolitics. We’ll talk a little bit about each.
How often do airlines update airfare information online?
The airlines update fare information 3 times a day. They do not necessarily change airfare prices all three times, but they certainly can, and often do.
How does flight demand affect airfare prices?
As you might expect, fares can change because airlines purposefully raise or lower them, or start or end fare sales. That’s only part of the story, though. There is another reason why the lowest available fares fluctuate. It is because various fare categories are constantly becoming sold out or getting reopened as other travelers buy or cancel seats.
Airlines generally offer at least 10 – 15 different prices on every flight. The other airlines who fly that route offer similar menus of fares, meaning at any point in time there are well over 100 possible prices.
Here’s the important part: the price for a flight at any given moment will vary depending, at least partially, on how booked the flight is. For instance, Delta might say that they will sell the first 20 seats at a $130 fare, the next 20 seats at $155, the next 20 at $170, etc. So as each of these fare “buckets” get filled up, the effective price for another seat on the flight increases. Because there are hundreds of travel sites (not to mention the airlines’ own sites) which all offer the same seats for sale at the same time, at any given moment there are thousands of seats being purchased and each purchase might bump up the fare for the next purchase on the same flight.
Although the general trend is for flights to get more expensive as time goes by and more seats are sold, from time to time the airlines will make adjustments and release more seats at the lower buckets. This is why fares sometimes move down, as well as up, even without an explicit fare decrease by the airline.
How does flight availability affect prices?
The airline industry was hit hard by the pandemic, and laid off many people. Now, the airlines are struggling to keep up with the demand for flights. They need to staff up and also deal with COVID-19 outbreaks that can cause entire flight crews to call out sick.
The demand for the limited flights available, can certainly drive prices up. We haven’t seen a huge spike in airfare prices, but we’re braced for it. As state governments across the country relax their mask mandates and people return to normal life, more and more people will travel. This summer should be an extremely busy season, and we expect prices to be both volatile and high.
How much do algorithms affect airfare pricing?
Before the pandemic, flight prices were almost completely managed by computer algorithms. When the pandemic hit, an almost completely automated process became manual once again. People started to once again do the pricing, because we were in unprecedented territory. Public health considerations made reliance on algorithms irrelevant. We do expect the airlines to return to more automated pricing, but right now humans still manage the bulk of price setting and management over the life of an airfare.
How can I position myself best to get a good airfare?
We take a simple approach to this dilemma. As we’ve shown, the price of ticket on any one flight will change – and can even change multiple times a day. You simply do not have the time to mull things over and to shop around the Internet indefinitely to “make sure” you’re getting the best deal. The best deal is only the best if you can buy it! We recommend starting a flight search close to when you’re ready to buy.
Then, you can watch the fares to get an idea of what a “good” fare is, and as soon as you see a “good” fare for your dates, you should buy. Don’t delay. Remember, at any given time, there could be hundreds of other shoppers looking for your dates and flights. Once the lowest fares are purchased, you’ll automatically get pushed up to the next airfare level.
We know this can be one of the most confusing parts of shopping for flights, and tough to know when a fare is at it’s lowest point. When you shop on CheapAir.com, we do offer a little bit of insurance in this department. If you buy an airline ticket and the fare goes down after you do, we’ll kick $100 back to you in the form of a credit for future travel. We call it Price Drop Payback. That way, we give you a little peace of mind.
Please let us know if you have any additional questions in the comment section below. We love to hear what flight issues are important to you, and sometimes answer them in future posts.