Cutting Edge: The Science of Booking Last-Minute Flights

It�s good to wait, but not too late

I’m convinced there’s a science to finding cheap airfare. For the past three months, I’ve been staking out some of my favorite online discount sites hoping the $700 (plus) roundtrip prices to Costa Rica would relent. At the behest of Mama Burns, I waited until we got a little closer to our departure date and of course she was right. Fares dropped about $100, five weeks out, and a few weeks later another $100. I was on a roll and decided to hold out until a week and a half before our planned departure date. Just then, I was hit with a whammy! Fares edged up $20 and then $50. Fearing the worst, I booked immediately. But the question is, if booking last minute flights is science, how do you master the subject?

Wait, but not too late: While holding out can guarantee great deals, when it comes to airfare, there seems to be a point when airlines understand you are desperate and thus start raising the prices. While this is not the case in all instances, as I look now for the same flight closer to our departure date (one week) the cheapest fares are upwards of $600, about $100 more than what I paid.

Beware of the 1 a.m. theory: A money-savvy buddy of mine told me to check the airfares at about 1 a.m. since that’s when airlines make price changes. But you may also lose out on a good deal booking around this time as well. In a matter of minutes fares for the same exact flight went from $460 to$500.

Create a strategy: When it comes to getting deals, I’ve learned to employ a multipronged approach. This ranges from constantly checking your favorite travel site, following these sites on Twitter and Facebook for constant updates (consider creating a Twitter travel list) and subscribing to a Website’s news letters so you can get the deals as they’re posted. Subscribing to the newsletter will also let you track pricing trends for your particular destination.

Have any more tips on how to find a last minute flight at a bargain? Let me know!

ACROSS THE WEB