Of all the questions I get asked by friends and family when I tell them that I'm Executive Editor at Budget Travel, the most frequent is: "When is the best day to buy airline tickets?"
The quick-and-dirty answer has traditionally been, "Tuesday" (thanks, in part, to a well-publicized finding by FareCompare.com, which went so far as to pinpoint 3 p.m. Eastern Time as the perfect ticket-purchase time on Tuesday). The more nuanced answer, of course, is, "It depends."
Melisse Hinkle, travel expert and editor at Cheapflights.com, says "A lot of airlines post sales on Tuesdays that last up to 48 hours (or until the seats are gone), so the common belief is that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days to shop for a flight. It is worth watching for such promotions in the hopes your destination of choice shows up for a fare sale."
But Hinkle adds some nuance to the Tuesday-Wednesday theory of buying airline tickets, noting that airlines readjust their pricing overnight. "So early morning, any morning, might be the best time to browse for deals. Cheapflights.com also advises signing up for newsletters from multiple travel providers to track for sales, whether they fall on a Tuesday or any other day of the week."
In fact, a recent study, published in the (take a deep breath...) Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, finds that there is scant hard data to back up the Tuesday-Wednesday theory. The study (another deep breath...), "Price Discrimination by Day-of-Week of Purchase: Evidence from the U.S. Airline Industry," actually found that weekends may be the best time to buy airline tickets. Once researchers controlled for factors such as day of travel, the refundability of the ticket, how many days in advance the ticket was purchased, and how full the flight was, they found that buying on a weekend led to an average 5 percent discount. The lower price was seen most often for "leisure destinations" such as Orlando and Las Vegas, and may be due to "price discrimination," in which airlines may attempt to sell tickets to business travelers (who typically purchase tickets on weekdays) at higher prices than those sold to price-conscious vacationers (who make up a bigger percentage of weekend purchasers).
The takeaway? You'll likely get a good fare (though, research suggests, possibly not the lowest) by booking on a Tuesday or Wednesday; you should sign up for e-newsletters and deal alerts (including Budget Travel's newsletter!); and to maximize savings, keep careful track of your rewards programs with an app such as MileageManager.com.
TALK TO US! If you've got a great I-booked-a-great-deal story, we'd love to hear it and may use it in a future Budget Travel story.