Air Fares 101 – Why do fares change all the time?

CheapAir.com has been called every name in the book by customers who do a flight search, see a fare, and come back later to find that the fare has gone up by $50 or $100. “This is bait and switch!” they say. And it’s hard to blame them for being frustrated.

Yet, we also get e-mails that heap lavish praise on us after we contact a customer to tell them that between when they paid for their flight and we went to process it, the fare went down by $25 or $125.

Air Fares 101 – Why do fares change all the time?

The reality is we don’t deserve the criticism or the credit.  It’s the airlines who set the prices—we just seek out and present the best ones.  And as many of you have noticed, airlines change fares often.

Why is that?  Why is checking a fare like playing the stock market – up one day, down the next, with seemingly no rhyme or reason?  Here’s a little lesson on airfare pricing that will attempt to give you a better understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes as you shop for fares.

The Airline’s Dilemma

The airlines want to be able to have their cake and eat it, too, and they go to great lengths to make that possible.  They employ a very high-tech strategy called yield management which intentionally aims to charge different prices to different passengers in order to maximize the total revenue collected for each departing flight.

Here’s what we mean: Let’s say you’re an airline.  You have a plane with 100 seats on it that you’re going to fly from Point A to Point B.  There will be a group of people — business travelers, travelers with family emergencies, people who just don’t care about the price — that are willing to pay a ton of money for a seat on that plane. We’ll call this the “go-at-any-price” group.  Additionally, there will be a much larger group consisting of price conscious individuals who would love to travel but don’t necessarily need to. This second group may be willing to buy a ticket on this flight, but only if the price is affordable.  We’ll call this the “go-if-the-price-is-right” group.

The airline’s dilemma is that if they set the price per seat at the maximum price they can get from the “go-at-any-price” group, they would generate a lot of revenue from those passengers but they would be flying planes with a lot of empty seats (a wasted opportunity for even more revenue).  On the other hand, if they fill the plane by charging fares low enough to attract all the “go-if-the-price-is-right” travelers, they will be giving seats to the “go-at-any-price” crowd for far less than they would have been willing to pay.  The thought of that makes the airlines cringe.

An airline’s goal is to get as much as they possibly can for each seat on the plane.  If 10 people are willing to pay $1000, they would love to sell 10 of the 100 seats for that price; if there are another 20 people willing to pay $500, then they’d sell 20 more seats at the $500 rate; and so on until the plane is full.

But how can they do that?

Same Seat, Different Fares

Airlines never just have one fare – they have several, even dozens, of fares for each seat and they employ sophisticated techniques to maximize the number of people who get stuck paying the higher of those fares.

Here’s a real-life example.  United Airlines currently publishes 43 different one way economy class fares for flights between Los Angeles and Chicago.  These fares start at $109 one way, but there are also fares of $139, $149, $159, $189, etc. all the way up to $1765!  The highest fare is more than 16 times more expensive than the lowest fare even though, no matter which price you pay, you’ll end up with the exact same seat, the exact same food (or lack thereof), and the exact same service.  (To be the fair, the very highest fares do usually include a few extra, but relatively minimal, perks like being refundable, easier/cheaper to change, first dibs at the best seats on the plane, etc. but nothing that substantially changes what you get for the fare that you pay.)

Knowing that a given seat on a United Airlines flight to Chicago may cost anywhere from $109 to $1765, you would naturally say “I’ll take the $109 option” but, of course, the airlines don’t make it that easy.  Their goal is to funnel every would-be traveler into the highest “fare bucket” that they can.  They do that, first, by adding restrictions to the lowest fares that limit how many people can take advantage of them.  For example, the $109 fare to Chicago requires you to purchase it 21 days in advance and to fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays (the least popular travel days, where it’s harder to sell seats at higher fares).  Other fares have 14 day advance purchase requirements and, still others, 7 day.  Some fares are blacked out around holiday and other peak travel times.  Generally speaking, the lower the fare, the more restrictions there will be on it, and the fewer flights that that fare will be offered on.

But just as important is the fact that, even if a fare is offered on a certain flight, the airlines will limit the number of seats available at that fare level.  For example, United may say that on a given flight they will only sell up to 10 seats at the $109 fare, 15 seats at the $139 fare, 20 seats at the $149 rate, etc.  From a practical standpoint, this is the probably the most important point to understand about airline pricing.  As more and more seats are booked on a flight, more and more fare levels will be “closed out” so the end result is that additional passengers will be stuck paying higher fares.

It’s actually even more complicated in practice.  Airlines actually have computer programs that are constantly monitoring flights, analyzing booking patterns, and in real-time changing the number of seats available at each fare level.  If a flight is booking up faster than expected, an airline may decrease the number of seats available at some of their lowest fare levels, or wipe them all out altogether.  If a flight is not selling well, suddenly more seats may appear at fare levels that were previously “sold out”.

Why Fares Change all the Time

This is why fares change all the time.  If you see a different fare today than you saw yesterday, the issue is probably not that the airline made a conscious decision to raise or lower their prices — at least not directly.  Instead, it’s likely that seats in the lowest fare categories sold out or were closed out.  For instance, if there are 3 $109 seats left on our example flight to Chicago and someone grabs them, the lowest fare available will change to $139.  If United’s yield management system looks at the flight and says “Wow, bookings are strong”, it may choose to close the $139 level, too.  Then the fare will appear to “jump” to $149.  But what if two days later 2 families of 4 booked on the flight decide to cancel?  The same system might say “Uh-oh, we have way too many empty seats” and decide to open the $109 and $139 fare levels back up.  This process happens continuously until hours before departure.  Generally, over time fares on a particular flight will get higher and higher as more and more seats gets booked and more and more fare levels get closed.   But there are short term blips all the time and, if you look at it hour to hour or day to day, there will be moments when fares temporarily dip before heading back up once new bookings come in.  This entire process is extremely dynamic as at any given time there are hundreds of thousands of shoppers looking for flights and making reservations — and each reservation may have repercussions on the fares paid by subsequent travelers on the same flights.

Fare Sales

What about fare sales?  Airlines are constantly promoting one sale or another and you may be wondering how fare sales play into all of this.  In fact, if you subscribe to our fare alerts, you probably are constantly hearing about a brand new fare sale – often more than one a week.

The real news would be if there were no sales going on.  To the airlines, almost everything is a “sale”.  Returning to our United Airlines Los Angeles to Chicago example, of those 43 fares, about two thirds of them are considered to be “sale” fares.  A “sale” fare really just means that it requires booking or traveling between a specified time period .  Some sale fares are really good deals;  others are worthwhile only because they provide decent fares on dates or times that previously weren’t eligible for the lowest fares; and still others are just plain meaningless because they are no better than one or more other fares already in the market.

What’s important to remember about sale fares is that, if they are really lower than the other fares in the market, they will be even more limited from an inventory standpoint.  So, for example, if United introduces a 3 day sale fare to Chicago for $99, it will almost definitely not be offered on flights where the existing $109 fare has already been sold out.  In practical terms, this means that when sales hit the market, they will usually only be obtainable on flights that are pretty wide open.

Confused Yet?

We apologize if you’re more confused than when we started.  Air fare pricing will do that to you.  The bottom line is this:

– It is not uncommon for fares on a particular flight to change on a daily, sometimes even hourly, basis
– If you see a fare, know that it may not be there the next time you search –it could be higher, it could be lower
– Neither CheapAir.com, nor any other on-line travel agency, has the ability to set prices; we aim to do a really good job at sorting through tens of thousands of options to find the best deals, but it is the airlines and their pricing teams who are actually responsible for those deals
– Fares on a particular flight will generally increase as the flight becomes more heavily booked but at certain points, fares may fall dramatically if a fare sale is launched or an airline computer determines that booking levels are below where they should be for a given departure date

Got questions? Leave a comment and we’ll be sure to get back to you or join our Facebook community to share your thoughts.

131 Comments

  1. Great article. Good for you for publishing it. I am not sure United will be happy that they were used as an example. But giving an actual example was an excellent way to make your point.

  2. Thank you for this valuable information, i always had questions about how this all works and to be honest it does become very frustrating. Thanks so mush for clarity, it all makes sense now. Thanks again!

  3. This process of managing bulk and market-driven fares is also why I’ve found it much cheaper to use a Canadian or American agency on-line (like Cheap Air) than a local airline or agency here in Moscow, where I’m staying.
    Great article; most enlightening! Thanks!

  4. Is it true that the yield management software is sensitive to the number of fare searches and requests too? And that by making lots of requests to find out the fare on a route – perhaps on different dates or with different websites – one person can cause the fares to rise by making it look like a sudden strong demand from lots of different people?

    1. Alec: good question. While each airline has its own yield management algorithm and practices, we have never heard of an airline adjusting fares based on inquiries (as opposed to bookings). Even if they were to do so, given the enormous number of inquiries being made across all of the travel sites every second of the day, it would be highly unlikely that any one person’s searches could have a meaningful impact on those numbers.

  5. I’ve heard from others that say booking a flight on certain days of the week or late at night/very early morning yield cheaper fares. It would seem that with the above explanation this would not be necessarily true and not necessarily a systematic way to always get the lowest fares?

    1. Angelo: we have never found time of day to be a big factor in fare levels, but day of the week definitely can make a difference, at least for domestic flights. This is because the airlines have gotten into the habit of frequently launching one, two, or three day fare sales on Monday night or Tuesday. There are a million exceptions to this and no perfect patterns, but if we absolutely had to rank the best days of the week to buy flights we would say Tuesday, first, then Wednesday, Thursday, and Monday in that order.

  6. I’ve been selling travel for almost 25 years, and this is one of the best explanations on price flucuations I’ve ever seen. Thank you, Cheapair.com! And pretty much everything you’ve described re: airfares applies to cruise fares as well. Prices change at the speed of light, and as a travel agent, I have no control over those changes! When you see a flight or a cruise fare that you are comfortable paying, book it right then, don’t wait! It may be lower before you travel, but the chances are far greater that if you wait, you’ll end up paying more!

  7. Thank you so much for this information on price flucuations. I learned so much and I also appreciated Kay S. suggestions. Thank you again for setting all of us straight. I think your company does a wonderful service for all of us that are on a limited income.

  8. I have had the experience of being quoted one fare on an inquiry and then several minutes or hours later being quoted a higher fare for the identical trip. (I don’t ever recall being quoted a lower fare.) I have also experimented with deleting my browser history and cookies and immediately thereafter being quoted the original fare which had, curiously, disappeared on my second inquiry. Are the airline web sites tracking individuals who use their sites and using yield management on an individual basis?

    1. I have also had that same experience…deleted cookies and history, then initiated my query again, to find the fare went back to the previous, lower quoted fare. Otherwise, it seemed the fare kept rising, as if trying to prompt me to “purchase now, while the price is lower”. Is it possible, in light of the above explanation by CheapAir, that this is merely coincidence? Stranger things have happened, I suppose.

      1. Terry: we answered Rob, another user who also posed the question (see below). Here is our reply:

        Rob: I cannot speak for other sites, but I can categorically say that CheapAir.com never has and never will adjust price quotes based on what may or may not be in your cache or cookies. It is true that if you were to do a search for fares and leave your browser window open for a few days and then come back to it, you may still see the original fare you were quoted — even if it has since changed. But as soon you continue to the next page, it would be corrected. We double check all fares just before asking for your credit card to make sure they are still current.

        As for our revenue model, we collect a flat fee per ticket sold. So we actually benefit when fares are low — we sell more tickets

    2. I’m with Rob on this one. The fares only seem to go up. It’s horrible, you search for a flight, and then you try some more variables (different dates, different airports) and then go back to the first search and prices are higher, ALWAYS higher. I have never in my life, and I travel by air at least 3 times a year, seen the prices go back down. Only after deleting browsing history and cookies do I ever get back to the original lower price. It is even worse if you and your spouse and/or other family members are all searching for the same flight at the same time. All that activity must trigger the “quick someone really wants to fly so lets jack up the price” response. I build web pages and web based applications for living so I know how easy it would be for a site to do this. It really does appear that the trick is to appear as new a customer as possible. For when I look on one computer and the prices goes up, If I try again at any time later on a 2nd computer, or smartphone, the price is back to the original query.

      And no matter what CheapAir.com says I want an explanation as to why, when every time I delete my cookies do I get the original lower fair again? This has happened to me far too many time to be coincidence.

      1. N8: Are you seeing this on our site, or somebody else’s? With CheapAir.com, the fare data that we show after each request comes straight from the airlines. All searches are done anonymously. The airline knows only that CheapAir.com is requesting the data, but they have no way of knowing who its for or whether or not that customer has done the same search before, or has anything specific in his browser history. If you are seeing this behavior on our site, send us the details (search parameters, exact times of searches) and I’ll have our tech team have a look. If there’s a discrepancy, we’ll provide an explanation.

  9. This in amazing article and very considerate of you to send this out to your customers. Bottom line. Great customer service on your part. Keep it up! Now, if only the airlines would think to do the same with customer service, wouldn’t that be something?

  10. Excellent article.
    In off peak periods when flight prices are low and there are a number of empty seats would prices normally drop say 4 or 6 weeks before travel?

  11. Thanks so much for a very well written article on airline pricing. I’ve had this happen before–even on an airline’s site (Southwest)–and was really frustrated. Buying an airline ticket these days is like playing a video computer game–what a challenge! It helps at least to understand this. Wonder what would happen if grocery stores tried this tactic? Looks like oil companies already do. Thanks again.

  12. I agree with RonA – By clearing your browser history and deleting cookies, you can sometimes get the original quote. I wonder how many sites use this tactic to fool us into buying the higher fare?

  13. Whoever wrote this article should be commended for having exceptional writing skills. I have never seen a more clearly written explanation of a technical topic than this piece provides, and I have worked in the computer field for over 40 years. Great job!

  14. It woudl seem I have been not so lucky…the several times I looked at fares…and by the time I actually decided to buy them the price/s jumped upwards…not once did I get to enjoy the downward pricing…cestlavie.

  15. Such a great, informative article, thanks! It definitely takes away a lot of the mystery surrounding flight search results.

  16. Simply amazing… downright good information to know. Indeed, thanks for sharing this. Airfares 404 — one of the best.

  17. Just echoing the thoughts of others here; great article and clears it up for me, This was something that had frustrated me for years, but now I understand it much better!

  18. Yes, … well explained article. I have been frustrated with the constant changes in ticket prices, when first seen the low advertised sale price.
    I’m curious?….does it also hold true for business class and first class as well? I have seen some advertising of business class fares as 60 -70% off!
    Thank you for the well explained article.

    1. Until a few years ago, business and first class fares were a lot simpler. Usually there was just one price per route, and it didn’t change very often. Since the recession, though, airlines have tried to get more creative and some of the same principles do apply now. Although business and first class fares aren’t nearly as dynamic as economy class fares, there are still a fair amount of sales fares that can be had if you book far enough in advance. For example, for travel to Europe the current lowest business class fares in many markets require you to book 50 days in advance.

  19. Can’t speak to all air line policies; but I know if Southwest lowers a fare after you’ve purchased the ticket, they will give the difference as a credit on your next flight. But, you must discover the change yourself by frequently checking back… then calling and requesting the credit. I’ve done this.

    1. Wow, I didn’t know Southwest would do that. I love that airline and have been flying with them for years. I’ll keep this in mind for future flights.

  20. Great article, Thank you so much. Though I am one of the people who have seen price drops between the time I viewed a ticket and the time I purchased it, I would definitely agree that you should buy when you feel a price is reasonable because when it happened to me the price drop was not really huge; however, the price increase always seems high.
    I bought an international ticket (on cheapair.com) for a family emergency one day prior to my departure and the price was at least 40% cheaper than the cheapest price I found on other websites – I am not sure, even after reading this article, how that was possible, but I am definitely thankful.

  21. Great article, thanks for writing! I actually have once had the luxury of getting a downward quote. Got one price to London and was all ready to book, computer literally froze/crashed. When I was able to get back online, the price had gone down over $100 – this was several years ago and has NEVER happened again.

  22. I knew all this from my Econ classes at the university. There is no surprise people, just book your tix when you feel that the price is right! However, I must admit that I was burned once. I booked a ticket from LAX to FRA for about $1300 and several weeks later, the price dropped to $1150 for the same exact dates and time… But overall, the price always go up when the less seats are available for the flight.
    CheapAir, thanks for the heads up on what days to book tickets. I’ll try it next time I book domestic flight.

  23. I used to work for a number of scheduled airlines as a dispatcher and would see the booking levels on a flight as a matter of course. I automatically knew how the booking levels and fares related, but this is the best explanation of how it works that I have heard. I imagine that the software is much more sophisticated now than in my airline days.

  24. Thanks, now I understand why the changes. I recently missed out on tix to go to Europe. Didn’t book it right away for the three of us. Came back the next day and the prices went up. Frustrated, but have to keep looking. Still need three tix for us. Traveling with two children is not easy to find the seats. Thanks.

  25. How can I learn what the lowest of the many fares is? Can I authorize you to buy a ticket for me at that lowest price if/when it becomes available? I am retired and can travel at my leisure and would do so more often if I could fly for lower prices.

    1. Don: You may want to try our flexible date search for something like this. From our home page, enter your cities and instead of entering dates click “My dates are flexible.” Then you will get back a list of the lowest possible fares that are currently offered. From there, you can search for dates on which each fare is available.

  26. Decided to take the time to read your whole article–it was well worth it. Thanks. My experience was that I booked tix for my hubby and me from our home city to visit relatives in Boston. I booked them separately (but at the same sitting) because we each had our own code numbers. I did his first, then mine. His flight to and from Boston were at the advertised special rate, as was my flight to Logan. But when I clicked on (seconds later) for my return flight, the price had gone up 20% for that seat! I followed through as far as I could with the airline but they said they had no control over price jumps like that, even in the middle of a transaction. 🙁

  27. So, how does cheapair make money. Do you never change your commission, and is it a flat rate? Why do the fares change when I empty my cache and delete cookies? I think there’s more to the story here.

    1. Rob: I cannot speak for other sites, but I can categorically say that CheapAir.com never has and never will adjust price quotes based on what may or may not be in your cache or cookies. It is true that if you were to do a search for fares and leave your browser window open for a few days and then come back to it, you may still see the original fare you were quoted — even if it has since changed. But as soon you continue to the next page, it would be corrected. We double check all fares just before asking for your credit card to make sure they are still current.

      As for our revenue model, we collect a flat fee per ticket sold. So we actually benefit when fares are low — we sell more tickets.

  28. I recently learned about a wonderful site called http://www.yapta.com. It only works for certain airlines, but some airlines do offer refunds/travel vouchers if your fare drops. I recently purchased a ticket through Delta and 2 weeks later the fare dropped $100! I called to see if they offered refunds for the difference and was told no. But Yapta actually says that Delta DOES offer travel vouchers for anything over $150 difference. So I signed up and Yapta keeps track of the current fare and if it ever goes down $150 they will let me know so I can apply for my voucher!

    (though with Delta, they actually charge $150 for changing your ticket to the new price, so it would have to be more than $150 in order for me to actually get any money lol)

  29. Fantastic, now if I could only convince my partner that the closer to my planned departure the cheaper the ticket. I might luck out Like I did once in Miami four years ago in the summer. I found a 99 dollar one way back to Portland from Ft Lauderdale.

    1. Ken: Great question, and an important one. Yes, you definitely can buy a ticket too far in advance. When airlines have sales, they typically only include flights over the next few months. So if you book too early, you might end up missing the best deals. While there is no hard and fast rule, the sweep spot is generally about 4-8 weeks in advance for domestic tickets, and 6-12 weeks in advance for international. One caveat: if you are travelling somewhere where you know flights are going to be heavily booked (i.e. holiday travel, Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, summer in Europe) you may want to book a little earlier than you otherwise would, because once a flight gets too heavily booked you can be sure the rate will go through the roof.

  30. Thanks for providing a very detailed explanation into air travel rates fluctuating. As a travel enthusiest, I have discovered some of these points on my own however, sometimes find it difficult to convey to potential clients for them to gain the proper understanding, good job!!

  31. while booking online, how they distinguish the different passengers like “go-at-any-price” or “g0-if–the-price-is-right”group

  32. This is a great article. I have another question: do the airlines’ computer programs that monitor bookings and change prices in real-time assess searches for flights as well? I have a suspicion that fares have sometimes been raised when I checked the price too many times before buying. Is one person’s constant checking of a fare enough for these computer programs to “notice”?

    I’ve heard about airlines tracking cookies to price discriminate, and I used private browsing to avoid that, but the fares are still higher than they were hours ago when I checked. Should I wait a week and check again?

  33. Wonderful article! I agree, it was written very well and covered lots of information thoroughly and clearly. THANKS!

    I do have a question: If a flight requires a 14-day advanced booking, for example, does a person have to wait until 14 days before the desired departure date to book the flight? If that’s true, then according to your article, the offer could have changed at any time and the flight/price be unavailable when it came time to book. How does that work?

    1. Jill: A 14 day advance purchase requirement means that you can book that fare 14 days or more prior to departure. So, no, you wouldn’t have to wait until exactly 14 days in advance.

  34. In agreement, excellent, well executed, well explained article. However still, if I find out that the guy next to me bought the ticket at $109, while I bought it at $149, on the same day, I’d be pretty upset.

  35. Excellent.

    Please can someone help to get more information regard the subject; cuz I doing a hypothetical for my term paper of microeconomics (if the airplane ticket will rise to more expensive fare then how much the people are willing to pay to get to their destiny)

  36. This is the most silly system I have ever seen. It’s no wonder no one likes air travel. No tony is it scary to do but buying a ticket is scary as well! Changing this could go a long way to making air travel more popular.

  37. If flights for a certain time are filling up, will they offer a new flight in that time range? If so, how close to departure will they add new flights?

    1. Hi Sheila,

      Airlines normally plan their flight schedules a year or more in advance. If a flight for a route sells out, the airlines will evaluate whether they can add another flight for that day and route, but its highly unlikely they’ll add more routes… especially within 4 months of the departure. It’s not likely they’ll add another flight unless the demand is so great that they can fill the plane. Airlines often will reduce their flights if airplanes are not full and combine schedules so flights are more full. My advice would be not to chance it and the purchase your flights when you can.

  38. This is a fantastic article, thank you Cheap Air for dispelling the myths of airline fare. I am reading this article almost two years after it has been published and wondering if the same information holds true today. Also, I have a question that combines information from this article and one posted on the best times to buy. I’m wondering if airlines hold out posting their cheapest “go if the price is right” fares until closer to the flight departure.… example: lets say you are traveling in April and airlines have already started booking in October. If an airline posts its limited “bucket” of lowest fares at that time, then I would assume they would be gone in a heartbeat by those ready to pounce on the cheap airfares. Assuming there is still a steady demand (April vacation is a big family travel time), how would waiting until your proposed ultimate time of 49 days out get you a cheaper airfare? Wouldn’t they be fishing for the “go at any price” travelers and prices would be going up by then? Or…do the airlines hold out the cheapest “fare bucket” and post them closer to the flight departure dates to keep travelers looking. Thank you again for your insight!

    1. Hi Kristen,

      Yes, the same information still applies. In our post about “How far in advance should I book my flight“, we analyzed our data to find the best time to buy, but those are only averages based on all the data. Although the averages we mentioned are real, for practical purposes, its best to take this information as a guideline and not a rule. When you drill down deeper into the data, you see a lot of variation from market and trip to trip.

      With that said, airlines schedule a set number of flights for a route based on a lot of factors. Depending on how well a particular route sells will determine whether or not the pricing will drop or increase the closer it gets to the date of travel. Usually the less popular routes are more likely to have cheaper flights closer to the date of travel, but it all depends on the demand by travelers. That’s why traveling during off-peak times is usually cheaper than more popular times.

  39. @rob Keep clearing your cookies, buddy. If that doesn’t work then try some other superstitious/paranoid ritual and tossing salt over your shoulder and wearing the same socks as the day you saw the cheaper deal.

    Of course, if the price does go back down it’s confirmation that wearing socks and tossing salt over your shoulder was the answer all along. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, call them dishonest snake oil salesmen trying to make an extra dollar off of you.

    You caught me. I’m a shill for the airlines and their insidious travel deal partners.

  40. Thanks for the clear information.
    Is the ticket fare in the back of the plane on an international flight cheaper than that in the front in the economy class?

    1. Hi Ghada,

      For economy class, being in the front or back of the plane will not adjust the costs, however some airlines do charge for certain seats that are aisle, windows, have more leg room, etc… It all just depends on the aircraft and the airline, but generally there’s no difference associated to that.

  41. I was looking at a fare price last night, it was $628, when I pulled up the fare today it jumped to $800. The flight is 4 months from now, I looked at all of the seats available and I would say 70% – 80% of the plane is EMPTY… what would you do in this situation. Buy now at the much higher price or wait it out a few days/weeks to see if it drops back down. The flight is to Hawaii which I know is popular but It seems crazy it went up so much in 24 hours and the plane is still empty.

    1. Hi Landon,

      For your flights, I would recommend to continue to monitor the fares more. Check each day and check earlier in the morning time. It’s likely the fares will continue to fluctuate as we get closer to your dates of travel, but I’d be sure to purchase no later than about 3 months prior to your departure, since Hawaii is a popular destination for the summer season.

  42. I just want to know what happens when I change my flight? Is the rate that the airline company gives me is the same rate as buying a seat on the plain? It’s super expensive changing a flight!! How do they calculate how much to charge?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Sherry,

      Airline penalty fees to cancel and change are charged at the discretion of the airline. Each airline has a different policy for how they handle changes and cancellations. For example, Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge anything for changes or cancellations, you’d just have to pay the difference in airfare that applies. However, Delta Airlines can charge up to $300 or more (for some international flights) to change a ticket. So unfortunately there is no set standard fee that is charged industry wide.

  43. Thank you for this info! So, barring a fare sale, is it safe to guess that for a leisure traveler the best prices tend to come up a) during offpeak months, b) in the lowest fare class and c) bought during the route’s Prime Booking Window? Thanks again.

    1. Hi Henry,

      Yes and no. It all depends on the route you’re flying, when your traveling, when you buy, and ultimately how in demand the flight is. If you’re flexible with your travel dates, traveling during off peak months is the way to score cheap flights. Otherwise, fares will start out at the lowest class of service and usually do not fluctuate until about 220 days out from your date of travel at which airlines may release flight sales depending on the demand and their ability to sell the seats. Generally, we found 54 days to be around the best time to buy… but again there’s a lot of variables that go into it. If you are looking for any flights, we’d be happy to help you. Just let us know.

  44. Is Orlando considered a destination that is heavily traveled so fares won’t fluctuate that much? I plan on going 10/24 – 11/1 from Boston. The flights right now are about $279-$292. The chart you have shows $261+. Should I book now or will they drop?

    1. Hi Melissa,

      Orlando is one of the most popular destinations to visit in the world. Currently, fares for your dates are starting at around $280 per person, not including any baggage fees that may apply. I’d recommend to continue to monitor the fares more. Be sure to purchase at least 55 days prior to your departure. To view flight schedules and book, you can use this link: http://bit.ly/1stkWh3 Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  45. Excellent article, and much appreciated, however, from your experience, is there a best day and best time to search for the lowest air fares?
    Thanks,
    S

    1. Hi Sheldon,

      Great question. Yes, usually the best times to search for flights is early in the morning since you’ll have first crack at available options and pricing. As for the day, usually Tuesday, Wednesday are great days to check fares since often airlines will release flight sales and other airlines tend to match, so its a great time to check fares and see. Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  46. Great information!! I’m checking flights for 2 seniors. Leaving from Fargo ND to Fort Myers fl. Or Minneapolis Mn to Fort Myers. Dates are Jan 14 returning last week in Feb. how do I look for cheaper flights and how soon should I book?? Any help would be appreciated!! Thank you!!

    1. Thanks Kay! It looks like you have some time to research flights, but what I am seeing for you right now would indicate that Minneapolis to Fort Myers is going to probably get you the best prices. I don’t know your return date but if I assumed a week’s stay and had you returning the following Wednesday, it looks like Spirit Airlines is generating the best senior rates. For that one week itinerary departing on the 14th I am seeing a rate of about $217 from Spirit Airlines. You can click on this link and pop your own dates into the search fields: http://bit.ly/1u2q9KA. Like I said, you do have some wiggle room to purchase your tickets because it is quite early, but I hope you think of us when you do decide to finalize your plans. $217 a ticket is actually quite good and we do have our “Price Drop Payback” feature that will return up to $100 to you per ticket should the price of the purchased ticket dip below what you paid. It’s a nice bit of insurance for our customers. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.

  47. How’s the best way to find good prices on multi stop flights? eg Australia – Bangkok – Phuket – Australia.

    1. Hi William,

      There isn’t a particular easy way to go about that since there are several connections and routes to compare. If you’re flexible with the dates on your multi-stop itinerary, you’ll need to just start checking dates that you’re interested in and compare them to other dates. Is there a particular month or time of year you’re looking for?

  48. Ok, hypothetically, if the airlines were to charge only one price for a given seat class on the same flight for the same date, (i.e. one rate for coach, one rate for first class, etc..), what would that look like? Would it be an average of all the fare classes? Would it be better or worse for the majority of travelers? Or would an equal number of customers be better off and worse off? Using the United example in the article for instance, what might the fare be if there was only one price?

    Thanks.

    1. Hi Noah,

      Based on your hypothetical situation, if the airlines only offered one set price for each class, there would probably be an average fare price for each class. Some airlines, like Southwest, already do this with their fares, but they still increase as the advance purchase takes effect. It’s difficult to say whether that would be better or worse, since ultimately the airlines set the pricing so theoretically they could over price the all the seats to increase the overall average. With the current pricing system, there’s more appeal for people to get a cheaper price than just an average price if they buy at the right time.

  49. Hi, can you please tell me what are the main reasons for passenger to buy ticket from retailer/agency.
    Best regards
    Gina

    1. Hi Gina,

      Most agencies will shop all airlines to find the lowest fares for you. Another thing is the service level is higher than if you were to book with an airline directly. Lastly, when you book online with CheapAir.com we offer Price Drop Payback, where if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  50. Hi guys,

    I was looking to book a flight from SFO to SAN (San Diego) on October 25th (Saturday) and return October 27th.

    Just yesterday, I saw that Virgin America had a nonstop roundtrip ticket for around $167 for those dates. But I checked again today, and not only are those prices gone, but I can’t even find Virgin America on the list!

    I checked the Virgin America official website and it seems like the seats aren’t sold out. They are still available on those dates, but the price is now over $300!

    Do you think it’s likely that they’ll put the seats on sale again for around $167 (or something near that price range) or am I out of luck? I know that I’m less than 2 weeks away from those dates, but I also read that fares usually increase on weekends and new sales are posted on Tuesday afternoons.

    Thanks in advance for answering.

    1. Hi Ryan,

      Its not likely you’ll find that low fare anymore. I’d recommend booking your flights as soon as possible since you’re departing in 2 weeks. To view flight schedules and book, you can use this link: http://bit.ly/1p6DqQE Keep in mind, when you book on CheapAir.com, if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  51. great article!! is it true that if you keep on searching for a good price ticket on one computer, there’s a good possibility that it will be more expensive than searching it with other computers? (like with the ip address and stuff?)

    1. Hi Precious,

      No. With CheapAir.com, the fare data that we show after each request comes straight from the airlines. All searches are done anonymously. The airline knows only that CheapAir.com is requesting the data, but they have no way of knowing who its for or whether or not that customer has done the same search before, or has anything specific in his browser history. So our site does not do that.

  52. Really great information! I was just wondering if the data applies to flights from Canada to the US? Looking at flying at the end of February and wondering if the prices now are the cheapest I’ll find or if I should wait a bit longer? It’s currently 79 days till that day we’d like to leave.

    1. Hi Glo,

      Yes, our data includes flights for both the US and Canada. Depending on where you’re departing from and heading to, you’ll probably want to be on the lookout to book your flights sooner than later. Keep in mind, when you purchase flights with CheapAir if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  53. Thanks for the informative article. I had a question.

    Sometimes when I try to book a ticket, I see the ticket available on travel agency sites like kayak, expedia for cheaper fares than on the airlines website. For example, there will be $109 ticket from LA to Chicago on American Airlines, but on American Airlines website, the cheapest available ticket from LA to Chicago is for $140. How do you explain this case?

    Do travel agency companies hoard the cheaper tickets?

    1. Hi Nirav,

      That shouldn’t be the case always. Travel agencies are accessing the same fares the airlines offer. Sometimes travel agency sites will offer special discounts to book with them versus a competitor or airline directly, which may be the case with what you’re seeing. Airlines also will occasionally add a checked bag or some additional extra which may also make the fare appear more.

  54. Hi,
    first of all thanks for the great article and for answering to so many questions.

    I have a question about a hypothetical booking:
    I just now searched for direct flights from Frankfurt to Los Angeles as a roundtrip from 5th of September to 12th of September 2015.

    I checked on cheapair.com, kayak.com and also on the lufthansa.com website.

    My results for the cheapest Lufthansa roundtrip flights available were:
    – cheapair.com: US$1383
    – kayak.com: US$1258
    – lufthansa.de: US$1321

    Why is it that the prices differ by more than $100 when you guys and the guys from kayak, for instance, have a lufthansa ticket server from which they get (supposedly the same) real time price offers?

    And why does the airline, in this case Lufthansa, not have the cheapest price on their website given that they don’t have to pay any fees to a ticket agency when they sell a ticket by themselves?

    1. Hi Alexander,

      I just attempted the same searches and I’m not finding the same pricing you are. In fact, I’m showing that the cheapest non-stop fare for your dates starts from $1571. This is the same fare on each website, however on CheapAir we do charge a $9.95 convenience fee. Airfares do fluctuate constantly depending on a lot of factors, but generally the pricing is comparable. Definitely let us know if you’re not finding the same thing and we’d be happy to dig into this further.

  55. I am flying Bermuda to LAX September 8-15. Last year on the same trip tickets fluctuated right up to August. Right now fares are over $700 as opposed to last year when the tickets were under $500 in April and in June and August. Do you think I should wait until 54 days before travel to purchase?

    1. Hi Mellifuous,

      Generally speaking, airfares have gone up from the past few years. The 54 days is a general rule of thumb, but does not relate to every route. For your route and dates, it would be best to book a few months in advance. Currently, fares for your dates are starting from about $701 per person, not including any baggage fees that may apply. To view flight schedules and book, you can use this link: http://bit.ly/1HvvDYM I would recommend booking now or sooner than later as fares are likely to only increase as we get closer to your departure date in September. Keep in mind, when you purchase flights with CheapAir if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  56. I’m booking for Seattle to Houston for October 29 through November 3rd. Seeing 315 as lowest. Do you see dropping anytime soon?
    Jon

    1. Hi Jon, We generally recommend booking from 1-3 months out to get the best fares domestically. The past year has shown that 47 days from your travel date (on average) will get you the best fare. So, in theory, you have a couple of weeks to pull the trigger but you are well within the window of “best time to buy” right now. When I look at all of the flights for that itinerary around those dates, $317 seems to be the norm. In this situation, if you are a gambling sort of person, you could hold out a bit longer. We are not gamblers over here so would recommend purchasing sooner rather than later. We always recommend getting a “good” fare rather than rolling the dice for the “best” fare. The logic goes like this: Every once in a while, prices will go down the closer we get to travel once you’re in that 1-3 month window. But that is increasingly more rare. What is more likely to happen is the price will take a bump higher, and then another, and then another. So what was a $315 ticket three weeks ago, is now a $420 ticket. Last year, there were some PR problems for commercial aviation and not as many people were flying. The industry has bounced back. Increased demand means increased prices. Hope this information helps. Good luck to you!

  57. Hello I’m living in Ireland and I stumbled on this article by chance when I looked in a search engine about why air fares change. This has been a great help, along with your responses to other users’ queries. I know that this is an American based article/website but this can be applied worldwide! Thank you. On another note I have been browsing for flights between Ireland and Key West Florida which entails connecting flights with different airlines, and with relatively short waiting time between flights. While I am aware that booking in advance can result in cheaper flights, are there any times in the year which are cheaper. The particular resort that I’m interested in displays its room rates in advance for different times of the year from September 2015 until September 2016 (www.islandhousekeywest.com). The cheapest rates were in certain times in July and August which did not offset the dearest flights trans-atlantic! I found the best deal 2 weeks ago between the 12/08/’15 & 12/16/’15 for €560 but all the cheapest rooms were booked out at a relatively cheap rate. (I looked at sites http://www.tripadvisor.ie & http://www.jetcost.ie). My question is are there any off-peak times in the year for cheap flights as any dates I looked at for early 2016 were expensive, several months in advance?

    1. Hi Brendan, It’s probably a bit early to be looking for flights for next August & September, but those dates would be when you could expect to see deals. Basically, August-into autumn is hurricane season, so there is definitely less tourism happening at that time of year. This year has been a pretty mild hurricane season, but there have been years when you wouldn’t want to take your chances. We would recommend checking back early in 2016 to spot some lower airfares that go into August & September (if that’s when you’re going to be traveling). Otherwise, winter is better than summer (but again, weather is not as sunny or beachy and Key West is a little like European beach destinations in the winter. Hope this helps!

  58. This excellent article and continued feedback from you guys has encouraged me to start using you over Expedia. Good interaction is always a winner. Well written, and makes sense.

    1. Hello, Many factors affect the fluctuations in airfare. If a flight is selling at a certain price point, the next tier of fares become available when the lower priced seats sell out. It is usually helpful to think of airfare intelligence as a very changeable entity. If you see a good airfare, do not wait in the hopes that it will continue to go down – buy instead! More often than not, fares continue to rise and not continue to go down. Good luck to you.

  59. I have noticed the price of economy seats going up in the past weeks from Muscat Oman to Hong Kong with a raise of over $200. I don’t know if I should book now or if the price will go back down as you explained above that some seats towards the end that are not filled will go back down. Hard to know I guess. A more important question is If a flight sells its economy tickets out, will a new flight possibly be added starting again with the low priced economy seats?

    1. Hi Steve, in general a trend in increase in price will NOT reverse itself. It does happen from time to time, but we are not big gamblers over here and do not recommend waiting to see if flight prices go back down, especially since we are getting closer to travel dates. It’s also a possibility that a new flight could be added (if another flight sells out). However, again, not a good risk to take. We are a U.S. based travel company and we recommend booking flights to Asia from the U.S. almost one year out for the best price. Now, obviously, Muscat to Hong Kong might be a different story, but it is an international flight and international flights need a greater lead time to get the best price. Good luck to you!

  60. Also I forgot to add I am trying to book for a may 29 departure and return June 29. So I am surprised how each ticket price for the 3 of us over the past 2 weeks has gone up $200. What are the odds that the price will go back down between now and may 29? Should I just take the raise in price as bad luck and not booking quick enough or wait some more for it to go back down. Its like 4months time so I thought I was in no hurry to book for a low price. Now the price has jumped $200 in 2 weeks.Thats a loss of $600 for 3 tickets. Please advise. Thanks

  61. Is there an argument to use against an airline when you purchase a ticket for $1300 (cheapest at that moment) for a flight 5months ahead and then 3 weeks later the price drops $450 for the same dates? I feel deceived. We are family of 4 and we planned our summer vacation under impression that later the prices will go higher and not drop almost 40%.
    Thx

  62. United Airlines fare total at 871 sgd on a fri and i have now checked (sat) and its minimum 1300 sgd. How has this gone up so high overnight?better to leave till the week to book?is likely to be a price drop?help!:( or can i contact he airline?i do have a screen shot of the cheaper fare.

  63. Please….help me to understand something.. I tried to book a flight 42 days in advance, and it comes with a 21 days advance purchase requirement. Please what does that mean? Can I only buy the tickets 21 days before the trip?
    I need the tickets in order to get a Visa..
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Paola, As long as you book the flight 21 days or more from your departure, you will be fine. 21 day advance purchase means “at least” 21 days. Hope this helped!

  64. Doesn’t it make sense to purchase a ticket and to pay the extra cash for a no cancellation fee if something happens ….so if you see a ticket weeks or months later for cheaper, you can cancel it and repurchase so you don’t lose out on hundreds of dollars? Or does it not work that way? Plus you should want to pay for cancellation anyways since it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

    Regardless, i love love love how through the years you all have been on here answering questions! It’s pretty amazing and the next time I purchase an Airline ticket, i will be looking at you all first! Thanks for showing that you actually care.

    1. Hi Jay, Thanks for the very kind words. We really do take every question seriously over here – helping to demystify the booking process and help consumers understand the complicated nature of airline pricing is one of our favorite things to do! To answer your question – your logic is on point, but here’s why it usually doesn’t add up (unfortunately). The refundable fares are 2 to 4 times higher on average than the nonrefundable. If you tend to cancel trips then yes! Booking refundable is a good plan. But if you’re trying to just get the best fare (and using the more expensive, refundable ticket as insurance) it just doesn’t work often. Let’s say a flight from New York to Los Angeles on American is $400 nonrefundable and $1,200 refundable when you purchase 3 months from your travel dates. You buy the $1,200 fare thinking you’ll cancel it and buy the nonrefundable fare when it gets to the lowest point. But then the nonrefundable fare doesn’t dip, and in fact it goes up to $650 two weeks before you are scheduled to travel. Sure, you can cancel the refundable fare and scoop up the nonrefundable fare for $650, but you could have had that fare 2 months ago for $250 less. So, you’re actually out a couple of hundred extra dollars that you really didn’t want to have to pay. I’m not saying this NEVER works, but it isn’t great to rely on it as an economical way to book airline tickets.

  65. Very good article. Quite informative. It would be great if you can also provide the scientific base of the programs which are used by airlines to set prices. Thanks alot

    1. Hello! That would be helpful, but unfortunately the airlines all have proprietary software and (as you can probably surmise), are not terribly transparent about how exactly they come up with their fares. If they ever do decide to share, you can bet we will be on this task!

      1. Awesome article, thank you for the info! It was written a while back, so do these practices still apply 5 years later? Also, I saw earlier in an answer CheapAir said using said booking through cheapair instead of directly through the airline offers better services. can you expand on that? I was under the impression it would be easier to change/refund a flight if I had gone directly though the airline. (example: bad weather, flight is cancelled or delayed).

        1. Hi Eric, You;re absolutely right. That was a popular post, but it is a bit out of date. Here is an update that we did earlier this year: https://www.cheapair.com/blog/travel-tips/what-the-airlines-never-tell-you-about-airfares/. We offer a feature called “Price Drop Payback” that will protect your ticket price up to $100 a ticket if the price should drop after you buy. So that is one great bit of help to customers prone to buyers remorse. In terms of bad weather, etc. it can sometimes be helpful to have an advocate on your side running interference if you’re stuck in an airport with a bunch of other folks. We do have relationships with the airlines and it can be useful when trying to work out alternative plans to have someone else helping you out. Now – if you’re the type of person who cancels flights or needs refunds frequently on your own, my advice would be to get signed up with one or two airlines as a frequent flyer, route as much travel as you can through those airlines and yes – book them direct. When you run into problems you can reach out to the rewards/FF staff who are often loads more helpful to you.

  66. It’s so upsetting that an airline ticket 2 weeks ago ,,the flight price was 150 and now within those two weeks shot up to almost 700 ….but that’s the gamble people take …. you just never know …thanks anyway for the additional information. ..

  67. I’ve been watching a flight to CUN for the last couple days and from Monday to Tuesday, the price has doubled! I thought Tuesdays the price was supposed to go down?! LOL

    1. Well, though conventional wisdom says that Tuesdays are the best time to get a deal (for a variety of reasons – airlines release fares on Tuesdays so there is the most competition for new fares at this moment, sales are often published on Tuesdays making this an optimal time to snag a real deal), in recent years we haven’t been touting this strategy because it just doesn’t hold a lot of water. Most of the time, the best strategy is to search early and often (3-4 times a day) to get a sense of a “good” fare, and then hop on it when you see something that looks good. People get burned every day when they go away to discuss with family, argue with themselves over whether or not the fare is “good enough.” We’re conservative so you will not hear us advising anyone hold out for a better deal, In fact, what happened to you is more the norm. If your flight is a few months off (not during the holidays), it’s probably not a bad idea to wait. Wild fluctuations in price can be the norm when you’re looking months out. If you’re looking to book soon, you may have to take the hit.

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