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If the Airfare is Cheap, Must It Be Tuesday?

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mar25homespunweb.jpgBy Ellen Creager

RISMEDIA, March 25, 2008-(MCT)-Are airfares really cheaper on Tuesday nights? That was the question I posed a few weeks ago. I asked for reader help in monitoring airfares for a theoretical trip leaving April 1 to any destination.

Now, results are in. And guess what? It appears that if airfares are going to drop, it probably will happen sometime between Tuesday morning and Wednesday afternoon.

Nine of 15 routes monitored by readers had price drops on a Tuesday or Wednesday. No routes had price drops on a Thursday or Saturday. Few drops occurred on Sunday, Monday or Friday. The trend happened across multiple airlines.

That’s hardly a massive scientific poll. But it tends to reinforce the theory.

“I am never buying a ticket on Sunday or Monday again. The Tuesday theory works according to my research,” reported Patricia LaBeau, after she tracked a round-trip flight from Detroit to Savannah and saw it drop from $324 at 11:01 p.m. on a Monday to $215 at 11:45 p.m. on a Tuesday.

Jim Herman tracked a Detroit-Pensacola round-trip and watched it drop from $359 at 12:30 p.m. on a Monday to $215 at 5:50 a.m. Tuesday.

Of course, if it were that easy, we’d all be buying tickets on Tuesdays.

In reality, the fluctuation in airline ticket prices is about as predictable as the flight of a butterfly and as tricky to predict as pork futures.

“I worked for the airlines for 34 ½ years, and I can tell you that the airfares generally are not cheaper on Tuesday,” a former ticket agent told me. “The airline offers so many seats at each airfare. When they run out of seats in a particular class, you will quote from the next highest category.”

However, Carl Schwartz, spokesman for Cheapflights.com, says most sales the airlines advertise start on Tuesdays. Diluting Tuesday’s power is the fact that unadvertised sales “can happen constantly throughout the week and at any time of day. They can run for just a few hours or a matter of weeks,” he says.

What about the second theory, the one that buying tickets after 11 p.m. or midnight is best? It turns out that the theory holds water-but only if you are looking for a frequent flier award ticket or a nondiscount seat on a crowded holiday flight, Schwartz says, because those types of tickets are released at midnight. For other deals, the evidence is pretty shaky.

Of course, some readers who did the test came away believing the Tuesday night theory is a dud.

Rackeline Hoff found a Detroit-Los Angeles round-trip fare that was $379 on a Saturday fall to just $331 on a Sunday, only to rise again to $344 on Monday and Tuesday.

Sue Armstrong found her cheapest flight from Detroit to Maui, $818 round-trip, on a Friday; Tuesday and Wednesday prices were more than $125 higher: “It does disprove the Tuesday night theory,” she says.

Randy Knight tracked a Detroit-Dallas fare for 10 days and found if you bought during the first Tuesday night dip for $245, you would miss an even lower fare the next Tuesday night, $229.

But don’t give up. Monitoring prices of the routes you plan to fly can pay off.

“Being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of it is about 75 percent of the requirement for snagging the deal of a lifetime,” says Schwartz.

Laura Bauman can testify to that. She went online every hour on the hour on the Spirit Airlines website one Wednesday looking for flights to Orlando, until “about 1:30 p.m., when I noticed they had their fares for $8 each way,” she says. “I punched in the days that they had available for tickets, and I was so excited to see that I was able to get my airfare.”

© 2008, Detroit Free Press.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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