Airlines use yield management algorithms to price their seats. The price is constantly in flux and depends on when + what price other passengers are buying tickets for the same flights – among other more predictable factors such as festivals or holidays. The idea is not only to ensure that as many seats as possible are filled, but that the airline is able to meet the actual costs of the flight. It’s important to keep in mind the cost per seat on a commercial jet. If every seat is full it’s generally considered to be between 8-12 cents per air mile. So, for example, on a 120 seater from LA-NYC, completely full, each seat would average at $246.20. You can see why it’s important to sell at least some seats at $800 to compensate for other seats that aren’t filled.
So how does one play this algorithms game, you ask?
Step One – Eliminate any obvious high-price times/days. Look into the local calendar of events for your destination and timeframe. Are there any big, disruptive conferences? holidays? festivals? You can guess that flying in on a Friday and out on a Sunday is probably what everybody else wants to be doing also. Avoid the rush times when possible. I used to commute as a Flight Attendant, and always tried to do so on Saturday afternoon for the emptiest flights.
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Step Two – Clear your browser’s cookies before searching for flights online. Many airlines and booking sites such as Expedia and Kayak track how many times you’ve visited their websites, and modify the price based on your visits. Remember to clear it each time you search!
Step Three – Search for flights witth hipmunk and setup up email notifications which will keep you posted on your flight’s price. I believe they have a very highly rated app, as well as the option for SMS notifications. Hipmunk also sorts results by “Agony,” if you like. The combination of price, flight duration, and number of stopovers – if that is something you would want to consider. After all, time is money. And pain costs you… extra medication?
Step Four – If you notice a new price via your hipmunk app, plug the same flight into Bing’s flight search. They have a “price predictor” function, with pretty colors, that tells you the % likelihood that the fare will go up or down from there for your specified dates.
Good luck and happy travels!