For years, urban myths have suggested that flying on a Tuesday is cheaper, or that airlines will penalise you by presenting more expensive fares if you fail to clear your cookies during repeated searches for the best deals online.
These aren't true, say airline industry experts. The only thing you can be sure of is that every airline in the world is trying to balance receiving the maximum price they can for each seat, with the possibility that they may fail to fill it.
The price to fly on the day and during the day really depends on how busy that flight is likely to be – and that depends on the airline you're flying on and the route.
"It's a simple case of supply and demand," explained Brett Snyder, president of U.S.-based Cranky Concierge. "And it's important to remember, it's not the same everywhere in the world, or on every airline.
"In some markets that are more business-travel driven, Friday and Sunday are the busiest air-travel days. In leisure markets, Saturdays tend to be busier. The price to fly on the day and during the day really depends on how busy that flight is likely to be – and that depends on the airline you're flying on and the route," said Snyder.
The fuller the flight, the fewer low fares you'll find.
And here's another thing: there's really no such thing as economy, business and first class. Airlines offer many different classes of ticket within each of these categories, with lower fare classes being more affordable, but more restrictive.
Said Comair spokesperson Stephen Forbes, "There are different fare classes within the same cabin, so two people sitting next to each other in economy may have paid different prices for their tickets, depending on the fare class.
The lower fare classes are generally snapped up first because they cost less, which is why last-minute bookings tend to be more expensive. The more flexible fare classes cost more, increasing the airline's yield per ticket sold," explained Forbes.
Pricing fares are generally split as day 1,2,3,4 — Monday to Thursday, cheaper than more popular days 5,6,7 — Friday to Sunday.
Other factors that can influence the price of air tickets are school holidays, when leisure demand peaks, major events such as the Cape Town Cycle Tour or Cape Town Jazz Festival, or the destination.
"Where lots of airlines are serving a route, the pricing tends to be more competitive. On less popular routes, carriers looking to increase yield to compensate for the lack of volume," said Forbes.
Michi Messner, Qantas regional manager for Africa, said that some airlines have Day-of-Week pricing. "This means travelling on certain days of the week is cheaper than others. Pricing fares are generally split as day 1,2,3,4 — Monday to Thursday, cheaper than more popular days 5,6,7 — Friday to Sunday. This pricing is based on the fact that weekend travel tends to be more in demand than early or mid-week."
The real question is, how long are you prepared to sift through airfares to find the "best" price? Especially since you're not comparing apples with apples, asked Snyder. "It takes a fair bit of leg-work to sift through the different options, and it has become very difficult to compare these unless you're a travel expert, which is why it's sometimes best to rely on [one]."
"If you consider the time it takes to sift through all the options online and the possibility that you may not only find the cheapest fare, it makes sense to talk to a travel expert," said Nicky Potgieter, Flight Centre travel group's leisure marketing leader.
"You may find a super-cheap fare online, but realise only later that you can't change the date without paying a hefty change fee, your connection time is too short to make your next flight, or you now need a visa you wouldn't have needed if you'd have flown a different route."
"Travel is fraught with minute details that could derail your travel plans if you don't know what you're doing, which is why we're seeing a return to travel agent, as consumers come to grips with the plethora of information they're having to sift through online," said Potgieter.
If you do decide to go it alone, here are some tried-and-tested tips from these industry experts to make sure you're getting the best deals:
- Do a basic Google Search when looking for travel deals, so you have a benchmark.
- Subscribe to selected sites, e.g. your favourite travel agent or airline, so you know when there are deals on flights.
- Book as far in advance as possible, but be aware that the lower the fare, the higher the penalties are likely to be for making changes.
- Try to fly at times when demand is lower, e.g. avoid the beginning and end of school holidays, or popular times of the day.
- Join the airline's frequent-flyer programme, as you may benefit from exclusive deals.