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Travel Myths – Prices Go Up on Weekends

August 16, 2007 | Posted in: Airfare News,Travel Tips

I ran into this “question of the month” today on Smarter Travel discussing whether airline ticket prices go up when SHOPPING for them on the weekends.

If you want the standard old lame response from the “experts” at the online travel agencies, don’t read any further just check out the response at the link above (hint: their answer starts with a “May” and ends with a “Be”)…

If you truly want the inside “geek” scoop read on …

Short Answer

Emphatically No, In Fact a Great Big Nothing Happens Either Up or Down on the Weekends (longer answer coming …)

Longer Answer

(BTW I am known as a bit of a windbag, so don’t shoot the messenger, i just have a passion for helping people make the best air travel buying decisions …)

  1. The bulk of all airfares flow through a clearinghouse in Washington DC, called ATPCO (Airline Tariff Publishing Company). At one time it was a government agency and became private after airline deregulation in the late 70′s. It is now owned by 20+ airlines. Airfares from over 400+ airlines flow through ATPCO (sort of like an airfare stock market if you will)
  2. Only a handful of companies subscribe to the raw airfare feeds that are transmitted 8 times on weekdays (3 times a day for Domestic U.S./Canada and 5 for International) and once on the weekends. The airlines file new airfares prices all day long — at 10:00am, 12:30pm, 8:00pm Eastern these new U.S./Canada airfares are transmitted to subscribers, including FareCompare.com (all airfare subscribers get them at the same time including the airlines themselves). On weekends airfares are only transmitted ONCE at 5:00pm.
  3. Guess What? The airline’s “fares & pricing” group actually goes home on Fridays and usually comes back on Monday morning. It seems (contrary to popular belief) they have homes, children and go to baseball games (go figure)… I have been looking at the raw airfare data feeds for almost 4 years (luckily only one feed a day on weekends) and I can count on one hand the number of times anything of major consequence has happened on the weekend. When it comes to weekends at the “fares & pricing” department, as we say in Texas, Them Thar chickens have flown the coop … translation: Nothing happens on the weekend except minor things they queued up on Friday.
  4. This particular myth probably stems from the fact that the busiest airline ticket shopping days are Monday and Tuesday — yes mostly at work and on the bosses time and fast internet connection :) — so those must be the cheapest days … — the slowest shopping days are on the weekend, so they must be more expensive.

A couple of interesting notes:

  1. System Wide Airfare Increases almost always occur on Thursday night (8pm), giving the other airlines time to match over the weekend. If the other airlines don’t cooperate by matching the initiating airline has to roll back prices to compete
  2. System Wide Airfare Sales only happen a few times a year and also occur at 8pm, and normally occur early in the week — when most people are travel shopping. When an airline starts a sale at 8pm (the fares are loaded after midnight) they have a 12 hour window where they are the lowest in the comparison grids for the millions of travel shopping quotes before other airlines can respond with matching (competing airlines get 2 shots to match at 10am and 12:30pm) otherwise they have higher comparison prices until after midnight the next day.
  3. Regional Airfare Sales and Competitive Price Drops happen all day long, day in and day out and for the most part there is never any rhyme or reason other than competition. These “sales” are rarely publicized and most people stumble into them by shear luck. They win the lottery by accidentally shopping when the airlines get the itchin’ to cut prices.

If you have read this far, you truly are interested in the geeky long winded ramblings of an airfare insider … I hope you can impress your friends with this new found knowledge — mine are tired of hearing about it :)

P.S. Photo is of our Chief Technology Officer …

10 Responses to “Travel Myths – Prices Go Up on Weekends”

  1. dk says:

    Just wanted to say this site rocks. Keep up the good work

  2. Laverne says:

    Love this site. It’s great to get information that nobody else will tell you. I live on St. Croix. American Airlines and Delta are the major airlines that fly here. But there are rarely any good deals from here to anywhere. Most deals are to and from St. Thomas. Do you have any idea when during the year it is best to look for deals from STX to the mainland or to the Caribbean. Right now I am looking for good deals to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic in December.

    Thanks.

  3. [...] perceptions of shopping cycles, flight patterns, or otherwise – there is a widespread myth that airfares go up during the weekend. The airline’s “fares & pricing” group [...]

  4. AnAirfareGeek says:

    This argument ignores the other half of the low-fare equation – availability.

    Just like a store can advertise a special sale on say, DVD players, but only offer a dozen at that price, the airlines can publish low fares but limit how many seats can be sold at that price.

    In fact, airlines can limit or even “zero out” low fare bucket availability without going through ATPCO. That’s how many “mistake” fares are effectively quashed before the next pricing update. It could well be that before the “fares and pricing department” goes home for the weekend, they reduce the number of seats available for sale at low fares across the board.

    Unfortunately, I can only provide anecdotal evidence that this happens. Many times I’ve searched for a particular fare on a particular route for particular travel days over the weekend, finding nothing. Then, on Monday or Tuesday, voila, those flights open up and I’ve been able to book the fare I wanted. So, I’d say there is some truth to the myth…

  5. Jan Douw says:

    In answer to AnAirfareGeek…

    Quite possibly, there were no seats available because they were reserved. They may have opened up again when those reservations were dumped for non-payment.

    A few years back, it was popular to scan flight availability around midnight, when it was assumed reservations were dumped for non-payment. Not sure what the cut-off time is these days, but it probably varies by airline.

    Happy trails.

  6. DT says:

    I’d have to agree with AnAirfareGeek…

    Numerous times me or my partner have searched prices on the weekend to find them 100 (200USD) cheaper searching on a Wednesday morning (Wednesday early US time). Whatever the reasons behind this, it’s happened too many times to be a fluke in my opinion. We now only ever shop midweek, and I’d happily recommend my friends and family to do the same.

  7. [...] Do Not Go Up On The Weekends There is a widespread myth that airfares go up during the [...]

  8. stock stx says:

    stock stx…

    I Googled for something completely different, but found your page…and have to say thanks. nice read….

  9. Dawn says:

    Any advice,,! I am flying last minute to Prague on April1st, and I am needing to do this as cheap as possible and I have searched much, but any words would be great!!

    Thanks,
    Dawn

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