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Don’t purchase airline tickets too early!

Like most folks I was in a dilemma when was the best time to purchase tickets for 3 to Europe. I had always heard it was better to purchase them as early as possible so I bought 3 tickets to Frankfurt in January for $1255.50 ea for June/July travel. Now those same tickets are $969.20. (and, I purchased them from Houston since it was $170 less per person to go Houston>DFW>Frankfurt than it was DFW>Frankfurt). I contacted American Airlines & was informed that I could get a voucher for the difference by paying a change fee. Well when I called to do that (since I was now $945 in the hole for the 3 tickets), I was informed that the change fee was $250 per ticket, or $750. So, no matter what – I paid $750 more for these tickets by purchasing early than if I had waited until a month or two before flying. And to add insult to injury all the window/aisle seats are still being held for the airport desks to assign, so I am being penalized $750 for crappy seats in the middle since I purchased early. I don’t know if anyone has had this experience with other airlines, but we travel to Europe every year or two (often on frequent flyer miles) and I will be researching other airline options and purchasing later from now on.

Posted by
17 posts

It's always a bit of guessing game. I also bought my tickets in January, and my flight itineary is a bit cheaper now. However, in the past I've bought tickets early and was grateful for it when prices rose. I spend a lot of time researching different options and buy tickets when I feel that it is an "acceptable" price for me or when I think it's a great deal. It is impossible to predict the future, and it seems that fares do rise in the spring. Try not to feel too bad about it. Maybe next time you'll get a wonderful deal. Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
199 posts

I purchase in Sept for open jaw flight leaving PHX May 25th to London, Rome to Phoenix on BA. I paid $1158. Now the price is around $1250. So I am one of the few who are still ahead. I watched prices for over a year at around $1450. In Sept the price kept doing down and I promised myself that if it hit under $1200 I would purchase and I did. The next day it started going up again. With only one BA leaving Phoenix a day, I would rather purchase a ticket that I thought was reasonable and have a seat rather then chance it by waiting until a few weeks out to find out no seats available. With BA, I like the 7:25PM departure, direct flight. I am planning to have a dinner before boarding, watch a movie and hopefully falling asleep.

Posted by
17 posts

It's too bad that most tickets are non-refundable. (I have the same issue, including the bad seats.) If you did your research and bought tickets and what seemed to be a fair price at that time, don't fret about it. No one has a crystal ball. It is highly likely someone on flight paid much more than you did and someone else paid less. That's just the way it goes. Don't let it ruin your trip.
For future trips, you might want to check out www.kayak.com or www.sidestep.com. Both are search engines that search numerous travel websites. (Sidestep says it searches over 200 sites.)

Posted by
1829 posts

How much would it cost to cancel the tickets and re-book with another carrier if they are cheaper or are they not refundable?

Posted by
21356 posts

The trouble with Annie's advice is that it is no better than the advice to wait until two or three weeks prior to departure. This is a tough game to win. There are a lot of factors that go into the ticket price that we cannot predict or control. I think the flu problem could have a big impact if it gets worse and people quit traveling. Who would have known or predict that in January? There have been many postings on this site from people who lamented that they waited too long to purchase.

You need to do your homework. Just buying blindly because someone says buy early or late, doesn't cut it. The most important thing to know is the range of prices for that route last year. Watch the pricing for awhile. Then decided what you think is a reasonable price or price range and buy it when it hits. Unless you are very lucky you will never buy the cheapest ticket. The other guy got it !! Once you buy it, don't look back and just concentrate on saving a few dollars elsewhere in your trip.

Posted by
1787 posts

I share your frustration as it has happened to us in the past as well. The old "rule" of buying early seems to no longer apply in a day and age when economies crash overnight and airlines start scrambling for business. But live and learn...after determining the price of the ticket, my second question is always "What are your cancellation and/or change policies?" The answer may have a bigger impact on your decision to purchase than the actual price of the ticket. Last October while in Italy we decided to go ahead and stay an extra week and paid Delta $150 per ticket to do so; I know American will charge me $250 per if I change my London plans later this month. And by the way, on that Delta ticket I could change the date and pay the penalty but no way could we change the departure city, regardless. I bet if the price of the ticket had increased I'd have had to have paid that as well. Learn to learn.

Posted by
264 posts

As soon as this great recession is over we need to go back to buying 6 months out. Meanwhile this year I'm eating $800 (choke); but, I do have a seat up front!

Posted by
5471 posts

Bears repeating: Track prices so you know what is typical, and more importantly what a good deal is. When you see it, buy it, don't look back, you only drive yourself batty. The bottom line is, pay what you are willing to pay and do not worry about what might have been.

Posted by
446 posts

Linda says:

"How much would it cost to cancel the tickets and re-book with another carrier if they are cheaper or are they not refundable?"

Unfortunately, most airline tickets these days are non-refundable. If you cancel, the airline gives you a credit -- minus their exchange fee -- for a future purchase. For example, on a $1,000 ticket, with a typical exchange fee of $250, if you cancel you will have $750 credit left for a future purchase.

There are fully refundable and changeable tickets available, but thier price is usually astronomical.

Posted by
10308 posts

There is actually a way around it. If you don't like what I'm saying because it's not "your way of traveling" then just ignore this post.

Almost all airlines offer vacation packages to Europe. If you buy a combo package, which includes both airfare and hotel, you get a lot of "perks." First, the entire package, if you take out insurance, is refundable. You don't have to stay in their hotels during your entire trip, just a few days in your first city. I've done this and, yes, it was a big hotel, not a B & B or an RS "approved" hotel, but I paid less than half of the rack rate (off-season) and the airline had inventory (rooms) to get rid off.

I paid the cheapest possible airfare, normally non-refundable, but because is was part of a package, it was changeable, and with the optional insurance, refundable.

You may not get a great deal if going during the July and August, but with travel down, you never know.

Posted by
68 posts

I bought 2 open-jaw tickets in November on British Airways for a June 1 flight, Phx to Edinburgh to Amsterdam to Phx, and it was $1600 each ticket, the same itinerary is now down to $1200, so I'm kind of out $800 which I'm not thrilled about, but who knew? I checked to see if I can cancel and re-book, but since they are non refundable, if i cancel all I would get back is the taxes and fees which amount to only $400 per ticket. At the time I was watching prices and I thought $1600 was a great deal, since they were around $1900

Posted by
421 posts

tough call.
Ussually it works out for me...
I am starting to book my trip for the fall..I know its early but in researching our flight from manchester to Venice there were no real cheap options unless we flew out of leeds bradford with Jet2.com
So the flight started at .99 plus all the add ons...finally when I knew we were about to start booking it started climbing 6.99, 11.99 and then I booked it at 14.99 after all the add ons it was 40 pounds. Today it dropped again to .99.
but that is the way it goes right...i had to make sure I had seats on that flight and even tho the flight is that far away it was pretty booked

Posted by
2 posts

While there is no substitute for researching the fare history for the typical fares along your route of travel (several sites make this easy, like Kayak.com), there are a couple rules of thumb that I have found work well.
#1 - Normally the best airfare for any route will be offered 2-3 months, and sometimes 4 months before travel, but rarely are the fares 6-9 months out the best deal. The airlines just are not thinking "sale" that far out.

2 - look for fares that are less than $ 0.05 per mile if you want a bargain, especially for low season. For high season, you should not pay more than about 7-8 cents per mile if you can help it.

Example: right now you can fly from Portland - Munich RT w/ all taxes and fees for just $451. (May travel) That route is just under 13000 miles, so it comes out to 3.4 cents per mile. That is a bargain!

Posted by
158 posts

I was planning on taking a trip in September and had begun looking for airfare beginning of April. The cheapest I found was $960 from Boise to London and Rome to Boise.

Then my friend said he would come if we right after college graduation. Exactly 18 days before our flight we got open jaw Boise to Paris and Venice to Boise for $680 on US Airways (some bad reviews, yes, but you get what you pay for)

Normally I wouldn't risk waiting this last minute but I have never found prices so low and we just had to grab them up. I don't know if it was the economy, the swine flu, or what that has dropped the average ticket prices but I'm not complaining about any of it.

Posted by
351 posts

I agree with the 2-4 months ahead. I have been traveling to Europe, Egypt, Hawaii, etc... each year for the past few years and I start checking prices about 9-11 months ahead. Never has the rate been good then. Only if I'm using ff miles do I book a year ahead. Even then, I waited to buy the other tickets since we didn't have enough miles for everyone. One thing I also do to make my decision, is click on View Available seats. As long as almost all the seats are unbooked, I figure a sale is in my future. When the price goes down or the seats start filling up on my preferred flights (I usually have a strong opinion about which flight and airlines I want), I begin to seriously consider booking.

For this trip, prices were over $1,200 when I started looking. Sticker shock. I had only paid around $700 for similar open-jaw flights to Europe 4 and 6 years ago. So, I kept watching and ended up paying 596 each about 3.5 months before the flight. When I last checked a week or so ago, they were about the same price - maybe $5 cheaper. I leave in 3 weeks, so I was surprised that prices have not gone back up, but, there are still many empty seats. These tickets are cheaper than the ones I bought in 2003, so that's great for me.

I have been VERY lucky in my timing, but I think looking at the seats helps.

Posted by
11798 posts

I usually watch and wait a long time before jumping on my airline tickets. More often than not, I'm glad I did but sometimes it goes the other way so you have to make the guess you are comfortable with.

Some people like to have the tickets nailed down first so they can make the rest of their plans. I travel shoulder season without reservations so I usually adjust my flight as much as a few days either way (and shop different departure arrival airports) to get the best fare.

Posted by
345 posts

I also agree with the 2-4 month guideline. But, Annie airline seats are now like stocks, you never know when the price will be at lowest point. What we do know is buying early is no longer the best strategy. In fact it's the worst time to buy.

The reason you won't get a good deal buying early is the tickets are not "stale"-- meaning no matter what happens the airlines still have time to sell them, dump them, hold a sale. The closer you get the date the airlines get nervous about the short shelf life of the producut so prices go down IF they need to fill the plane..(Note the "if") When the date of departure gets real close, the opposite happens. The airlines are like poker players; yes, they know their window of opportunity to sell this inventory is drawing to a close, but they also know 80% of their market is now desperate (because they're in the same boat as the airline) so they raise the prices to extract every last bit of money from this small market of remaining buyers.

Posted by
689 posts

My biggest score in terms of cheap airfare in the last few years came by buying 10 months ahead. I think we got the only 2 seats on the plane (to Paris) for that cheap price. So you just never know. Like others said, know what a decent fare is and buy it when it seems fair, but it's always a roll of the dice.

Posted by
1251 posts

Annie - I watched my proposed flights for the better part of 9 to 10 months using Orbitz, Kayak, Expedia, Sidestep and Vayama. Thanks to some RS helpline postings I was able to book my flights in February on BA with about a $500 savings per ticket. Now I know BA is one of the more expensive airlines to travel, but the direct flight from PHX to LHR out weighed sitting in an airport for 2 to 3 hours waiting for a connection each way. As you and other posters have stated, it can be a crap shoot. The thing I noticed was the ticket price fluxuation in the time frame I was looking at traveling. I got lucky.

Posted by
780 posts

For my April trip to London I had purchased a ticket from Denver to Heathrow from Expedia for $663 on United. I went on United Airlines' website to change my seat and clicked on Update Flight Info, it came back with a page saying I was due a refund of $103 since the price of that flight had dropped. I clicked on the Process Refund button and filled in the info. Sure enough, within a week the $103 went right back onto my credit card. United Airlines is the only airlines that gives a cash refund, the others give a voucher. Just a little tip!! PS: Expedia never informed us of a price drop!

Posted by
18 posts

The "crappy seats" are likely because you were buying 3 tickets and the most common plane configuration on passage to Europe is 2-3-2. In addition to the time to buy, considered by other posters, is from whom to buy. Look first and look often at an airline based in your destination city. Consolidators rarely beat their prices.

Posted by
46 posts

To keep things in perspective, to someone planning a trip to Europe from NZ any of those prices would be a dream! Our return tickets are NZ$2440 (US$1600) each, on sale, for September travel (income in the region of NZ$950 a fortnight after tax.)

Posted by
11798 posts

Chris,

The bright side is you get to tour NZ cheap! Which is an expensive proposition for many of us.

Posted by
842 posts

We ALWAYS find great deals 2-4 months before we go, and usually never buy before that. we have been doing this for years for our flights "over the pond." We research the prices, go to Kayak, Farecompare, and Orbiz, and activate their "auto notice" feature, and sit back and wait until we get a notice of a good price.

We just got back from France. Our flight was $550 R/T with taxes. And , yes if I had waited another two weeks I could have gotten it for $532. I don't worry about the little things.

Posted by
1 posts

What does everyone think a fair price from Dulles (DC) to Paris would be for August 2 travel?