It has been debated for many years, but new report provides evidence that timing really does matter when it comes to booking travel

Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), in collaboration with Expedia Group has released a new report that suggests timing matters most when booking travel. The fifth annual study of worldwide air travel trends: 2019 Travel Pricing Outlook analyses air ticket purchase trends for the world’s most popular domestic and international routes from ARC’s global database of over two billion flight segments. This year’s report also includes money-saving strategies for booking hotels.

The study’s key finding indicates that purchase timing and trip longevity can influence the cost of an air ticket or hotel room. The research also suggests that common beliefs about ticket cost versus route structure may not be true in all cases and that travellers should consider other factors like travel stress and schedules before booking.

According to the research, average ticket prices (ATPs) for some of the world’s most popular domestic and international routes rose around 5% year-on-year in 2018. The increase happened against a backdrop of consistently low ATPs that had continued for many years in the US and around other regions of the world.

Some significant study findings suggest that:

  • Booking flights three weeks in advance, on the weekend – particularly Sunday – and beginning travel on a Thursday or Friday is the ‘sweet spot’ for fare savings and delivers the lowest average ticket prices with discounts of around 10%;
  • Interestingly, New Zealand is the one exception to this general rule, where Tuesday is usually the least expensive day to book air travel;
  • Direct flights are not always more expensive. Lots of factors come into play when airlines set fares, so the time to connect and other convenience factors need to be considered;
  • Extending a mid-week trip to include a Saturday night stay can save up to 25% on airfares, and sometimes more for popular business destinations;
  • It pays to choose carefully when considering purchasing a basic economy airline ticket. While travellers may initially save money by booking basic economy, adding ancillaries such as advanced seat selection or checked bags can often result in a ticket cost that exceeds an economy fare;
  • Booking hotel rooms on Friday provides the best chance for the lowest average daily rate.

Chuck Thackston, managing director of data science at ARC says that for around three-quarters of trips, quantifiable savings can be realised by travellers who extend their weekday trip to include a Saturday night stay, a move that could further boost the ‘bleisure’ travel segment. “It’s something that people who love to travel should start to incorporate into their plans,” he says.

“The savings opportunities by extending mid-week travel over a weekend is a new and valuable finding for travellers. The industry has talked about ‘bleisure’ travel for a while, and we have been able to quantify the real savings for travellers around this concept,” he explains.

The report attempts to challenge the assumption that air ticket prices change when oil prices fluctuate with ARC analysts comparing ATPs and commodity pricing trends over five years to investigate short-term impacts of oil/jet fuel pricing changes on economy cabin airfares.

The findings suggest that when oil and/or airline fuel prices jump, travellers “need not delay booking a trip based on the assumption that airfares will immediately rise”. In fact, comparing the price of commodities (i.e. oil/jet fuel) and ATP trends over many years show “the days and weeks after an oil price jump may actually be the most cost-effective window to book flights, as any effect that fluctuation may have on ATPs is more likely to appear over a longer time period,” the research explains.

The report also analyses influences on airfare pricing an issue that stresses many buyers who find it incredibly difficult and time-consuming to make travel decisions. Greg Schulze, Expedia Group’s senior vice president, commercial strategy and services says their internal research shows that travellers can often make up to 50 searches before deciding on a flight.

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