Family Vacation Tips

Why Do Airline Prices Change All the Time?

[fa icon="calendar"] Jan 2, 2018 10:38:00 AM / by Sally Black

Sally Black

Why Do Airline Prices Change All the Time?You're trying to comparison shopping for flights for your next vacation. You've created a fabulous travel plan and budget to discuss with fellow travelers. Everyone gives you the green light. You hop back online to book your airline tickets and with a few hours, the price has gone up significantly.

What the ___?

So you hop around to 30 different websites wasting time and giving yourself a migraine trying to find those great flight prices you found last night.

No this isn't because travel websites are tracking your online shopping. Online travel sites already know you're going to search 30 different websites so you don't have to log on from different devices and IP addresses trying to outsmart them.

It's called "yield management"

....Its a variable pricing strategy that airlines and hotels use to maximize their profits. Highly sophisticated software systems are connected to reservation systems. These systems allow the airlines to change prices instantaneously based on minute to minute demand for seats.

What does all this mean to me....

Let's say there is an airplane flying from Chicago to Cancun on March 15 that has 200 seats for sale. Of course the entire plane would sell out quickly if all the seats were offered at a discount price. Stop and think like an airline exec for just a minute.  He wants the plane to sell out but he wants seats sold at the highest price possible to increase profits. The airline yield management software is set up to sell a certain amount of seats right away at a discounted price and then prices keep going up in calculated increments all the way up until the time of departure. Smart vacation fliers will reserve their seats in advance so they can take advantage of the best discounted fares. On the flip side, a most business trips are decided within a week or two from the flight departure date.. This allows the airline to collect full fares from business fliers with company expense accounts.

True there are apps like Skyscanner and hopper that boast they can let you know the best time to pull the trigger and buy airline tickets at the best price.  This may work if you're flying from Dayton to visit your mom in Peoria but if you're flying to a popular vacation destination, seats are always in high demand. 

So how DO I get the best prices on flights?

  1. Plan ahead - Major carriers publish their schedules and prices about 9 months prior to departure. Other carriers like JetBlue & Southwest publish flights around 6 months prior to departure.  Sites like can give you an average flight price between your travel cities based on historical data.  Once you know the average flight price, you'll know if the prices you see are a good deal or not. 

True Story - I recently booked a large destination wedding group from Philadelphia to Punta Cana.  As soon as flight prices became available I reached out to the entire group saying that it was time to book flights. Pricing on nonstop flights at that time was $541 per person.  The Bride got on Facebook and told her guests about the Hopper app, which at the time was telling everyone to wait to book their flights.  Prices kept climbing and I kept sending montly reminders while hopper kept saying don't buy yet. Bottom line - a handful of guests booked early with me and paid $541. Most waited and ended up paying over $1100 for the same exact flight!   

2. Be Prepared to Act Decisively - To take advantage of great deals you must act fast. Now that you understand yield managment you know only a limited number of seats will be offered at the lowest price.  This is how I scored myself $300 per person  roundtrip flights from NY to Edinburgh recently. As a travel agent, I know those seats normally sell for about $880 for my particular travel dates so I booked them the moment I saw them. Then for another $30 per person I protected myself with cancellation insurance just in my husband couldn't get off from work or I needed to change dates.  That evening, by the time he got home and we could discuss our travel plans, Seats were selling for over $700 per person.

3. Work with a Travel Agent - Travel agents can usually put flights on a 24 hour courtesy hold for you.  This gives you a bit of time to discuss flights and prices with fellow travelers while having the peace of mind knowing those prices will not change the moment you put down your phone.  Also agents have access to flights that the public cannot access with online travel websites.  We also have industry intel (like this article) that can save you a migraine and hours of aimless searching online.

4. Stay Focused - Of course, life happens and if you're thinking about planning a vacation you don't want any sales pressure - I get it.  Please just know, if you ask me to give you a quote on flights to your dream destination, I put them on a 24 hour courtesy hold and then you don't call me for 2 months...If you're shocked as to why flight prices have taken such a huge jump, please know I'll send you this article and ask you to see steps 1 and 2.

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Topics: Affordable Family Vacations, Family Vacation

Sally Black

Written by Sally Black

Sally is the Founder of Travel Agency and author of the book "Fearless Family Vacations". She is also the Director of Travel Agent Initiatives and Training at The Family Travel Association.

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