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The Truth About How to Book Cheap Flights

Booking flights is by far one of the most expensive aspects of traveling. Domestic and international flights can cost thousands of dollars per ticket. To save money, travelers are always on the hunt for tips and tricks. Unfortunately, not all the advice out there is up to date, and myths abound. I fact-checked some of the most popular claims to bring you the truth about how to book cheap flights.

Fact-Checking 6 Claims About How to Book Cheap Flights

  1. Search for Flights Incognito and Clear Cookies to Avoid Price Hikes
  2. Book Flights in Advance, But Not Too Far in Advance
  3. Changing your location with a VPN Can Help You Get a Lower Price
  4. Using Travel Sites To Compare Prices will Help You Find the Lowest Prices 
  5. Always Search for and Book Flights on Tuesdays to Get the Cheapest Fare
  6. Flying on Tuesdays and Wednesdays is Cheaper

Claim #1: Search for Flights Incognito and Clear Cookies to Avoid Price Hikes

One of the most persistent myths about booking cheap flights is that you should search in a private browsing window or regularly clear cookies to prevent the airline from tracking you and hiking the fare. 

The myth really settled in when travel blogs picked it up. The thought process is that airlines are tracking cookies and hiking fares after users repeatedly searched for the same flight. 

I’ll admit, I’ve used this one myself but never found proof to suggest that it works. While it’s certainly possible—websites do use cookies to send targeted ads—there isn’t data to show a correlation between search history and increased fare prices.

If you see higher prices after running a search a few times, there are probably other factors at play like:

  • The airline updated the pricing (but it had nothing to do with you)
  • You used an online travel agency (e.g., Expedia) that was showing old pricing and had not yet processed a fare update
  • Pricing was only available for a certain number of seats that are now gone

There isn’t much transparency about airfare pricing, and airlines can change ticket prices at a moment’s notice. The ‘incognito’ myth gave frustrated travelers an explanation.

The myth was recently debunked by Scott’s Cheap Flights. They searched for the same Denver to London flight 100 times in a row, and on the first search and the hundredth search, the price stayed the same.

If you are superstitious, there is no harm in using a private browsing window or clearing your cookies. Doing so will help lower targeted ads, just don’t expect it to help you snag a better flight deal.

Claim #2: Book Flights in Advance, But Not Too Far in Advance!

Booking flights ahead of time helps you find more affordable fares. Experts recommend buying flights within a “prime booking window” of 1 to 3 ½ months ahead of time to get the best deal. 

If you are searching too far in advance, the airline may not have adjusted pricing to fill a flight, or all available flights may not yet be available for purchase. For this reason, booking as far in advance as possible doesn’t guarantee the best deal. 

CheapAir conducted a study and identified six booking windows in which people buy flights. It provides a compelling look at flight buying behavior and provides context for fare price fluctuation. 

First Dibs: 6 – 11 months in advance, when flights first open for sale, and fares tend to be on the high side.

Peace of Mind: 3½ – 6 months in advance, when fares are at a modest premium, but options abound.

Prime Booking Window: 3 weeks – 3½ months in advance, when airfares are the cheapest, on average. This is typically the best time to buy airline tickets.

Push Your Luck: 2 – 3 weeks in advance, fares can vary dramatically but are often rising significantly, particularly as flights fill to popular destinations.

Playing With Fire: 7 to 13 days in advance, you’ll pay more than you would in the “prime booking window,” but around $135 less on average than people who wait till the very last minute.  

Hail Mary: 0 – 6 days in advance; this is when airfares are highest, on average $220 more than booking in the “prime booking window.”

Source: CheapAir

Claim #3: Changing your Location with a VPN Can Help You Get a Lower Price

Using a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, allows you to mask your real IP so that the website thinks you are in a different location. This one sometimes works because airlines use dynamic pricing—they set different prices or show different search results in other markets. 

Let’s say you are flying to Europe, and while you are there, you plan to take a flight from Germany to Italy. If you book it in advance from the United States, you could end up paying more than if you were booking from within Europe. Setting your VPN to Italy will show you search results available to local travelers.

Setting your VPN to book from the destination tends to be the preferred strategy. It won’t yield results all the time but could be worth a try, especially if you already have a VPN, which can range from $4 to $14 a month.

Claim #4: Using Travel Sites will Help You Find the Lowest Prices 

Comparison shopping is always a great way to find the lowest fare, and that’s why this one is mostly true. Online travel sites (aka Online Travel Agencies or OTAs) allow you to simultaneously compare hundreds of flight prices, which can help you spot lower fares.

It’s always good to crosscheck what you find on a travel site with a metasearch or by going directly to the airline’s website. 

For example, you can use OTAs like Expedia, Priceline, or Orbitz to search for and compare flight prices. If you find one you like, crosscheck the price using a metasearch like Google Flights or Kayak. If you find the flight for less using a metasearch, you can book directly from the airline’s website.

Claim #5: Always Search for and Book Flights on Tuesdays to Get the Cheapest Fare

This may have been true at one time but is now mostly false. The day you search for the flight has very little significance. The belief is a holdover from the early days of online booking when airlines manually updated prices on certain days at certain times.

To this day, many believe that the best time to buy a flight is Tuesday at 3 AM. 

Fare prices are now updated automatically, every day at and at any time based on algorithms, so if you happen to find the cheapest flight on a Tuesday, it’s more than likely a coincidence.

Claim #6: Flying on Tuesdays and Wednesdays is Cheaper

If you fly frequently, you’ve probably noticed that flight prices tend to be cheaper on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This one is mostly true because of supply and demand. 

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are less popular days to fly, so airlines lower prices on these days to help fill up fights. However, flights will not always be cheaper on these days, and you should still comparison shop and be as flexible as possible if a cheaper option shows up on a different day.

Other Tips for Flying on a Budget

For the most part, finding a good deal on a flight is a matter of thorough research, comparison shopping, timing, flexibility, and a little bit of luck. There are plenty of other ways to save money on your flight which you can check out on our blog 7 tips to book cheap flights.

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