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Talk me down or tell me to jump!

I have found a flight that I like on Delta for Aug 2 thru 24 (LAX-LHR and MAD-ONT) for $1088 per person. I keep reading not to buy too soon and since we're 5 months out, I'm trying to wait. I ck expedia and kayak daily. I also ck Delta daily. There are tons of seats on all legs of the flight. Should I wait til April to see if the fares come down? Or should I jump on this? I'm not unhappy with the price, but obviously would like to save money. I'm also getting antsy about booking lodging and European flights, specifically in London. Help!

Posted by
9106 posts

How do you know there are a lot of seats available? If you're seeing a lot a free seats on the seat selector page, be aware that's not a good gauge of how full/empty a plane is. Not everyone who has already purchased a ticket has been assigned a seat yet. The seat selector simply shows you how many passengers have selected seats, not how many people have purchase tickets.

Also, I suspect you would get a lower fare if you arrive back at LAX instead of a small airport like ONT.

Posted by
159 posts

Thanks, Michael...I didn't realize that about the seats. Now I have no idea how to gauge how many seats are left.

The only reason I chose to return to ONT is because the price difference was negligible and we'd much rather return 20 minutes from home, rather than 2 hrs. I do have fare alerts set up returning to LAX also...there's just nothing better out there at this time.

Posted by
15553 posts

This is the magic question...when to buy your tickets. No one has a crystal ball.

We all have our opinions. Travel writers have their opinions. No one is 100% right, no one is 100% wrong.

Reid Bramblett, who writes many Frommer's Guides, say 6-8 weeks out and never more than 2 1/2 months before the flight.

Wendy Perrin of Conde Naste traveler says never look for fares more than 4 months out but believes the best deals are 2-3 months before your travel date.

Hotwire suggests anywhere from three to eight weeks out.

Peter Greenberg says the best time to buy your ticket is Wednesday morning at 1 AM in the airline's home time zone.

And I just read an interview with Pauline Frommer where she suggsets anywhere from 24 days to two months prior to your flight.

So, you see, even the travel "experts" can't agree on this one. Buy too early and you'll seem to eager. Wait too long and you might miss a great deal.

I personally would not buy a ticket this far in advance. But that's just me.

Posted by
159 posts

Thank you all for your insight...I think I'm adequately calmed down enough to wait another month.

Posted by
1 posts

As Frank II summarized, even we so-called "experts" can't agree. (I'm Reid Bramblett).

As he wrote (I'll translate all intervals into weeks), I think the sweet spot for booking airfare is 6-8 weeks before departure, 10 week tops.

My buddy Pauline Frommer says 3.5-8 weeks.

Wendy Perrin is an outlier suggesting 8-12 weeks.

(Greenberg's tip has more to do with when in any given week you should buy a ticket. See, most major airlines update their fares--including the lowest, loss-leader ones that will sell out first--on Tuesday at midnight; those fares propagate to airfare engines by 1am Wednesday.)

You'll notice, though, all of us peg 8 weeks as one end of our booking window, so averaging out all the advice, that's probably a good time to go with.

I still stick by my "6-8 weeks out" rule. The details are a bit dull (even duller than the reason Wednesday at 1am works)—and you can read them at http://www.reidsguides.com/t_pl/t_pl_s_airfare.html—but the upshot is that airlines typically stop discounting around 8 weeks out (they've gotten a lot better about capacity, and last-minute sales are far less frequent now). Consolidators (sort of like airfare wholesalers) lock in their, often slightly lower, fares about 6 weeks prior to departure.

That's the sweet spot.

Sure, you might still find a super-discounted ticket 2 days before leaving--but the chances are far greater that all you'll find are astronomically high fares. Too risky.

Of course, there are nuances.

You can wait a bit longer in low season (which for Europe is winter--except the Dec 15-Jan 6 holiday mini-high season), but I would buy sooner for summer travel (though try to avoid the last two weks of May and first three of June; European high season starts June 15, and during that period the airlines typically hold the line on fares, refusing to discount in the hopes that they can fill their planes at the highest rate.)

Good luck!

Posted by
12172 posts

At least one of the ticket buying sites (maybe Kayak) says (in the details) the number of seats left. I think it says 9+ seats left, then starts counting down (8 seats left, etc.) as they start to sell out.

I'm watching flights daily but when the good flights start getting low on available tickets, I'll jump whether there is a fare sale or not. In the meantime, I set up fare alerts and will jump if can save a decent amount on the ticket (probably for me decent amount is $100 per ticket).

Posted by
12040 posts

Thank God, from the title, I thought someone was contemplating suicide!

Posted by
12172 posts

You might also check San Diego. I caught a really good deal on British Airways from SD to London with one stop (but no aircraft change) in Pheonix.

By the way, it is Kayak that shows remaining seats in the details of the flights. I'm hoping they are reliable numbers.

Posted by
9106 posts

There are a lot of travel sites (including Expedia), that purchase blocks of tickets for certain flights; just like a consolidator. So when Kayak says there are only x amount of seats left, they're only talking about that set of seats...not the entire plane.

Posted by
689 posts

The cheapest flights I've ever found to Europe I purchased at 11 months out. Yes, 11 (that happened twice). Last year I kept waiting for fall airfares to drop; I purchased the last 2 seats together on the Air France flight I wanted 3 months out. No way would I wait to book for a high season trip when I found a fare I thought was decent, especially if it was keeping me from booking the rest of my trip. How much can you realistically expect the fare to come down? If we're only talking $100 or so, is it worth the risk of higher airfare and not getting the lodging you want?

Posted by
159 posts

I hear you, Christy. I don't think I could wait until 8 weeks out...that's just too risky to me. I am gonna try to wait one more month. I truly appreciate the advice offered by the experts, I'm just not confident enough to wait that long.

Posted by
103 posts

We tend to purchase our tickets about 2-3 months in advance - both because that's when we see the best deals and because we like the medium-term planning horizon better. Planning a trip 6 months in advance seems too long - I start to get antsy around 3 months in advance.

Also worth noting: "8 seats left" is not the absolute number of seats left on the plane - it is the number of tickets remaining at that price. Higher prices are always available. :)

Posted by
333 posts

I usually try to fly Saver FF fares on United Mileage Plus for holiday travel so I end up having to book 330 days before hand :)

I did book a fare from SFO-Belfast (via LHR) for New Years. It was mid-Oct and I was waiting on confirmation from work about the time off and waiting a couple of days extra ended up costing me $600.

I'd say that $1088 is a good price esp being opened jawed in summer. Does that include taxes? Flying into or out of LHR ends up about $100 US in taxes

Posted by
159 posts

Yes, that price includes taxes, fees, everything. I'm still cking it every day and planning to hold on for a few more weeks, at least. I did go ahead and book my London accommodations, so I feel better about that.

Posted by
463 posts

i'm not an expert in any way, just someone who feels exactly the same way you do--and i'm waiting it out (whilst checking daily as you are). as i am traveling with my husband, the savings doubles--so the difference between a $1000 ticket and an $800 ticket is a difference of $400. that is a lot of money in my world, and i'm willing to wait and see. to add to the stress, we've booked most of our lodging (for various complicated reasons). hope that makes you feel less alone--and perhaps gives you the strength to wait it out. i've been planning this trip since january 1st, and april 14 was my drop-dead date (for a trip starting in july and ending in august)--i think i may even wait a little longer, but we shall see.

Posted by
159 posts

Steve, thank you for keeping me updated on airfare sales. I just saw that my flight dropped $45...I know that's not a lot, but it got me excited.

Posted by
12172 posts

I ended up jumping on my flight to Copenhagen. It was starting to look like those non-stop flights would sell out and I'd be left paying two or three hundred more each for flights with one, or two, connections.

I usually travel in May or September and am used to waiting successfully for better deals. This trip is mid July to early August so it's a different world.

Posted by
235 posts

I jumped on Copenhagen too. I originally wanted to start off in Amsterdam, but now I'll just do my itinerary in reverse. I found a ticket for $897 vs $1300+ for June. Maybe I could have saved more by waiting longer, but now I can move on and plan the rest of my trip.

Posted by
1 posts

this is such a great topic :) We aren't planning to travel until June 2011 but I have been checking flights for my "what if it was this year, how much are the tickets" and I almost had a heart attack when I saw the prices! Granted my husband and I haven't been to Europe in 9 years and at that time we used to fly for less than $300. So I checked prices (we are hopefully going to Italy) and it was $1500 each, and well we have 3 children so it was $8000 just for airfare lol!!! I just checked a minute ago and it is now $750 ish (but it wasn't direct but it stops in Charlotte and we live in Atlanta so not a big deal) I'm already making a journal with other countries to go to with all the accommodations we would want to stay..so where we go will depend on the airfare!

good luck! I would be a wreck waiting!! I hope you have a great trip :)

Posted by
9429 posts

I keep "bumping" this thread cuz I think it's really helpful!

Posted by
159 posts

I'm so annoyed at myself. My flight dropped $45 10 days ago, but went up $50 today. Maybe I shouldn't be watching it everyday! I'm still gonna give it a few more weeks.

Posted by
37 posts

Love this topic!

Does your opinion change based on the number of tickets you need? I'll need four, one of which will be a frequent flyer ticket. We're leaving June 14 from San Antonio (although we are considering driving to Houston to save cash).

Posted by
408 posts

Steve, I saw your mention of Icelandair flying from Seattle. I realize that I probably missed your 'deal' but I checked the prices anyway.

They are a bit more than what we got with British Air and -- more importantly to us -- they make a stop. We continue to book with BA, and do so around end of Jan., because (1) we've never seen the BA price drop as the time nears (May departure) and (2) we value non-stop from Seattle to Europe a LOT.

In the future, is it really a better strategy to wait/watch past January for a mid-May departure, given our non-stop requirement? Each year BA gives us some new wrinkle to be more dissatisfied -- this year it was to spend an extra $120 to pick our seats. Where is their competition for this route?

Posted by
159 posts

I jumped! Bought my tix this morning...ended up changing a bit, but stayed with Delta...Aug 2 thru Aug 25 (LAX-LGW and MAD-ONT) for $1053 per person. My initial budget was $1200 per person...so I'm very happy with this price.

Posted by
16706 posts

Keri---the "competition" on the Seatle to Europe non-stop route (which like you we always use) is "supposed" to be Air France, Lufthansa, and Northwest/Delta. But the first two are almost always higher than BA, and the one time I flew NW we didn't like it.

I loved SAS and used them on our last trip in 2007, but now they are gone from the Seattle market. Now our choice is BA for price and, when we have enough miles, availablity of FF tickets.

We have always bought our tickets well in advance (sometimes 11 months ahead) and I have NEVER seen them drop after January. I think Steve's advice does not work for Seattle people like us, who want that non-stop flight.

BA has a graph on their website that you can use to chart ticket prices for the coming year. Tickets for next March (that is as far ahead as they will show) are around $800 RT but I assume tickets for April and May will be higher.