Everything You Need to Know About Swindling Cheap Flights
Booking flights is a lot like gambling. Both contain a hidden system – a secret knowledge accessible to the privy elite that, when cracked, opens the chest to fortune. Think autistic men in suits raking in mounds of casino chips or that smug friend who just scored a $200 flight to Hawaii, return. No one knows how they did it. What methods they used. It seems like magic. And we are jealous.
Because most of us rely on luck. We bet on the horse with the weird name, put it all on black or pick the cheapest Skyscanner deal – and generally, after four stopovers where we unchecked and rechecked our luggage at every airport, we feel a little ripped off.
We’ve all heard whispers of hot deals. Mid-week bookings are better. Prices climb closer to the date. And something something tracking IP addresses. But these hints are often vague, insubstantial hearsay.
Thankfully, out of this mess a mentor has arisen, and while I cannot teach you about gambling (my guidance officer advises me against it) I can provide six statistically verified cheats for scoring cheap flights.
When to Book
Once upon a time, people who waited last minute to book flights got sweet deals. Or so I’ve heard. I’m not sure how or why, or when this golden age existed, but I’m told that it did.
I have personally tried this method and failed. I waited until two hours before a flight left from Durban to Cape Town, booked, and was stung with an extra $200 on the original price. But in the name of science, it was worth it.
Aside from anecdotal experience, Expedia compiled flight data from over 10 billion users and found that the cheapest time to buy is around 57 days in advance. Book any time before this and airlines won’t have their deals out yet. Wait any longer, seats fill up and prices rise too, especially within a month of your departure.
What Time to Book
Airlines change their prices multiple times per day and it can be tricky to navigate the fluctuating costs while maintaining patience. Your flight might jump up an extra $100 dollars in an hour, and quite often you’ll find yourself frantically booking the higher price and wondering what just happened.
There is no hard-and-fast rule to the rise and fall of airline prices, so if you find yourself in a position where you have scoped the competition and found a bargain, then fucking book it, because it’ll change soon, and probably for the worse. However, if this seems too risky, there is always the Magic Hour.
The Magic Hour
Airline departments create fare sales on Monday afternoons. Generally, these sales are restricted to the airline’s host site, which can be difficult to find unless you want to trawl the edges of the internet for hours. It’s not until the next day (Tuesday, for those playing at home) that competing airlines notice these sales, which then causes them to freak out and adjust their fares accordingly – which hit reservation systems around 3pm Australian EST. Sales usually last three days – so snap em’ up quick.
What Day to Fly
There are two types of people in this world: those who need to fly on exact dates because their work-filled weeks are as congested as their over-stressed bowels, and the broke and desperate who are just looking to save a buck. For the flexible misers among you, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are the cheapest. Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays are more expensive.
How come, you ask? Well, certain days are cheaper because less people fly on them. Let me break it down.
- Monday – back in time for work (expensive)
- Tuesday – one day late for work (cheap)
- Wednesday – two days late for work, probably fired (cheap)
- Thursday – getting ready for the weekend (expensive)
- Friday – flying straight from work to party (expensive)
- Saturday – weekend’s almost gone (cheap)
- Sunday – hung over and back in time for work (expensive)
Out of all the days, Tuesday is the cheapest, because nobody wants to fly on Tuesday. Tuesday sucks. And we love it.
Booking. Each. Of. Your. Tickets. Separately. Is way harder than just entering origin, destination, multi-city, return trip, do everything for me, Expedia – though it can save you a bit of cash. Through a lifetime of internet grazing, I’ve found that if you break down your trip into individual one-way flights, you can save hundreds on domestic flights and thousands on international.
How? If you aren’t familiar with the route, from say Sydney to London, first look it up on Skyscanner or Expedia or Kayak or Orbitz.
Now you have sussed the cheapest routes: Sydney to Kumming, China to Shanghai, China to Heathrow OR Sydney to Bangkok to Dubai to Heathrow.
Search each airline and book the flights one-by-one-by-one. It is always cheaper to book through the host airline than any aggregator website, so just use them as a guideline in future.
Always Book Solo
Fuck your friends. When booking as a group, the reservation systems will attempt to find tickets with an equal price for everyone in that group. This means if there are five of you, and there are only price specials for four, the ticket prices will be automatically set to the highest bracket for all travellers. So browse for one flier at a time and then either give your scummiest friend the cheapest deal or accumulate the cost and split it among yourselves.
IP addresses, cookies, the NSA, 1984, Dick Pics, Snowden – can kayak.com track your computer? Probably, but so far most evidence claiming that flight sites retain your data and raise the price each time you refresh is anecdotal and unverified. I, along with many internet heroes, have tested this.
We tried deleting our cookies, changing IP addresses and using VPNs, then we compared the results with the old click-and-refresh method, and didn’t find any indication that changing prices are linked to your IP address.
In saying that, they could be linked to your computer. A few years ago, Orbitz CEO Barney Harford admitted that his site recommends higher priced-hotels to Mac users over PC users. But those rich jerks can probably afford it anyway.
PC or Mac, these tips are available to anyone who took the time to read this article. Everyone needs to travel, break routine and escape their individual doldrums, and we all deserve to do it cheap. So heed this advice, save your cash, and tell your friends – because the house doesn’t always have to win.
Cover by Gus Ruballo