Yesterday, the site Seeking Alpha posted this tip for getting the best price for airfares:

What’s the absolute best time to purchase a ticket directly from the airlines? Turns out it’s Wednesday from midnight to 1a.m. in the time zone of the airline’s “home base.”[...] Why? That’s when the computer systems of most airlines get rid of the reserved but unbooked lower fare reservations.

Several blogs — at least 36 of them as of this writing — picked up on this tip. The problem is it’s completely wrong. It’s pure, unadulterated bunk, a long-running myth of the airline industry.

I consulted with the good folks at FareCompare.com, who reaffirmed my view. The Wednesday midnight rule is a myth. Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com sets the record straight:

- Held reservations don’t all expire Wednesdays.

“Held inventory is released every day at midnight so Wednesday is nothing special. Agencies who use Sabre, Worldspan, Galileo and/or Amadeus [the major GDS's -- the global computer networks used for booking tickets] can hold DOMESTIC inventory (sold status SS) without ticketing up to 24 hours during the day, and the carriers at their choosing come in the evening at Midnight and release un-ticketed inventory. The hold for international inventory is normally longer than 24 hours but is at the discretion of the airlines. Some airline websites have a hold feature, but it acts the same way as an agency: the inventory is lost at midnight if not ticketed, and the itinerary is repriced at the current inventory for that flight at time of purchase. For the most part all airline sites use the same policy.”

- Most fares that are put on hold aren’t that cheap to begin with.

“It’s not the low fare inventory that opens up at midnight. Low fare inventory is almost always ticketed immediately. Un-ticketed inventory is normally high priced business inventory held by a corporate agency for business travelers who are on the fence about going, or by government workers who have a special ‘hold until travel’ feature for negotiated routes.”

- Midnight isn’t necessarily the best time for new fares, anyway.

“New fares (lower or higher) are distributed at 10:00am, 12:30pm, and 8pm EST and loaded about 2-6 hours later in the GDS and airline sites. Seat inventory is controlled by automated revenue management systems, which continuously monitor current sales and consult historical models to decide on whether to release the lowest price seat inventory. The 8pm domestic ATPCO [Airline Tariff Publishing Company -- the clearinghouse (owned by the airlines) for raw air fare/rule distribution] fare feed (5pm weekends) is loaded into the GDS and airline sites between 12:15am and 1:30am, which has the changed fares. But there is no correlation to getting a good deal, just because some inventory might be freed up at midnight. It is just as likely to free up at 2pm when the yield management system decides sales are soft in a particular inventory price bucket for a particular flight.”

- SHOCKER: Some agencies will try to get a better price than the fare they sold you. You just may not find out.

“Large volume non-online agencies do have a practice of ticketing later at night and trying to re-price all un-ticketed items to see if any fares or inventory have changed on a particular flight (sometimes they pocket the difference, sometimes the customer gets the benefit).”

- This is not news.

“There is nothing special about this process. It has been this way for years.”

There you have it. Myth busted. It’s Wednesday night as I type, and though midnight is approaching, I’m not banking on any airfare deals tonight. Neither should you.

Big thanks to Rick Seaney for the insights.

UPDATE: SmarterTravel.com took on the same question today, and they suggest that Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (especially Tuesday) are more likely to have lower fares. I don’t buy it. The explanation is purely anecdotal; I’ll go with the boys at FareCompare who track airfares obsessively, who say the low fares can come on any day.

Related:
- Flexible-date search alternatives for international destinations
- Where to find cheap last-minute or emergency tickets

pixel Mythbustin: Is Wednesday at midnight the best time to buy airline tickets?

28 Responses to “Mythbustin’: Is Wednesday at midnight the best time to buy airline tickets?”

  1. Upgrade: Travel Better » Blog Archive » Market timing: More advice on when to buy cheap plane tickets Says:

    [...] A few nights ago, Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com, helped me bust the myth that Wednesday at midnight was the ideal time to buy plane tickets. Which led the Consumerist to throw down the gauntlet, demanding to know when the best time for ticket purchases actually IS. [...]

  2. cruzenbye Says:

    Wed at midnight might not be the best time to buy cheap flights, but Tuesday is better than buying on Friday, Sat or Sunday.

    2 weeks ago I was looking to book a flight from tampa to Las Vegas and the amount was $233. I was waiting on info from a friend but kept an eye on the flight prices Tues, Wed and Thurs and it remained at $233. On Friday I received the info I needed and went to book my ticket the new price was $533 (with numerous flight options available). All weekend they remained $533+. On Monday they were down to $488 and Tuesday they were to $433.

    I’ve watched for 2 weeks now and witnessed the same increase on the weekend and decrease on Mon and Tues. I’m hoping they will go back down under $400, but gas prices have caused the recent increase so I can only hope it goes down in price.

  3. The Middle Seat Terminal : Is Wednesday the Best Day for Finding Cheap Airfares? Says:

    [...] in 2006, Upgrade: Travel Better pooh-poohed the Wednesday-at-midnight methodology for finding fares, saying “It’s pure, unadulterated [...]

  4. Austin Apartment Guy Says:

    I dont care what anyone says 30 days or more from the time you leave is the best time to get your airfare cheap.

  5. Three steps to travel cheap for the recent graduate Says:

    [...] this is when airlines get rid of the reserved but unbooked lower fare reservations. Now, there are opinions on how legit this argument is. However, I recently booked a flight to Long Beach, CA and paid $329 on JetBlue when I purchased it [...]

  6. albertdrake (Albert Drake) Says:

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  7. Jon K Says:

    Completely wrong on your part. I’ve been waiting to book tickets to Memphis from NY for a late Oct wedding. I’ve checked prices for the flight every day for a week. Guess which day had the cheapest fare? Wednesday. Myth unbusted.

    Makes sense since most people plan trips and are more likely to book on weekends, so fares are higher because travel related companies aren’t dumb.

  8. Katherine Says:

    Hey Jon K, I would like to know if you purchased it on a Tuesday night which then midnight will make Wednesday or did you purchased on Wednesday night at midnight which is actually Thursday. Please advise.

  9. Steve Says:

    A week long observation is hardly proof that fares are always lower on Wednesdays. I can see what they guy at FareCompare is saying, though. If you average the data out over a long period of time- say, a year- you would probably have a roughly equal chance of getting a low fare on a Wednesday night as you would on Saturday night. For example, I check fares for a flight from Indy to Albany this morning and they were 214- tonight, Wednesday, they went up to 277. So, I say bollocks- take the train.

  10. angela Says:

    Our company works in all capacities with sports teams and we are trying to nail down when and thru whom it would be best to buy tickets from Texas to Fairbanks, Alaska in mid February 2010.

    Any help is appreciated.

  11. Les Says:

    I am living proof of this Wednesday Midnight airfare deal myth. I had two one way red-eye tickets on an empty plane that I was ready to purchase for $155 each on Tuesday at 6pm (the same price for a few days) but I decided to wait a few hours until Midnight on the advice of many online articles to see if the price dropped between Midnight to 1am on Wednesday (east coast time). Before Midnight even struck, the ticket nearly quadrupled in price to $565 each… for a one-way empty red-eye? This myth of price changing at the magic Midnight hour in the middle of the price war week is an unfortunate joke. If only I’d read this article first.

  12. Miss Queena Says:

    Thanks for this comment, was super helpful when planning a big trip!

  13. Is eight weeks the ideal advance-purchase time? | Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] buy-later-in-the-day guidance may be more problematic. Recall the myth that buying Wednesday at midnight is the best time to buy airline tickets? This is a variation on that [...]

  14. Cheapest Time To Book A Flight Is 8 Weeks Before Travelling | Lifehacker Australia Says:

    [...] or wait. We’ve also heard that Wednesday is the best day of the week to buy tickets, though not everyone agrees on that [...]

  15. The Cheapest Time to Book a Flight Is Eight Weeks Before You’re Traveling [Saving Money] « ://allthings-bare.rant Says:

    [...] or wait. We’ve also heard that Wednesday is the best day of the week to buy tickets, though not everyone agrees on that suggestion. Last, if you’re really serious about finding cheap airfare, check out [...]

  16. Cheapest Time to Book a Flight? 8 Weeks Ahead « This Too Shall Pass Says:

    [...] or wait. We’ve also heard that Wednesday is the best day of the week to buy tickets, though not everyone agrees on that suggestion. Last, if you’re really serious about finding cheap airfare, check out [...]

  17. Die goedkoopste Tyd om te Book 'n vlug is agt weke voor jy op reis | South Africa – News And Articles Says:

    [...] of te wag. Ons het ook gehoor dat Woensdag is die beste dag van die week te koop kaartjies , maar nie almal is dit eens op daardie voorstel. Laaste, as jy regtig ernstig oor die vind van goedkoop tariewe, check Erica se [...]

  18. Rishi Says:

    It is absolutely a myth that Wednesday midnight is the best time to buy cheap tickets. Airlines only cancel the reserved seats which are on hold and are not paid after the ticket time limit expires.

    The best time to buy your cheap tickets is to book your seat well in advance. The seasonality of the travel is also very important. The flights in December, June and march break are always expensive as this is the high season for the Airline.

    Midweek flights are always cheaper than weekend flights.

    I have more than 10 years of travel experience in all these airline rules.

    you can also check the consolidator site http://www.FlyLink.ca to save money on your flights.

  19. Twicat.com Says:

    ALthough there are some rules but sometimes pays off to buy in advance sometimes to wait till the last moment. Friend bought a ticket two weeks ago thru AT for $399 / ticket + tax then as soon as they bought tickets next day prices dropped by $150 per ticket. So there is no rule. same tickets in March were $799 + tax

  20. 6 Common Travel Myths Debunked | foXnoMad Says:

    [...] Nights Are The Best Time To Buy Tickets – Even I’ve believed in this myth for a long time. As UpgradeTravelBetter writes, most expired travel reservations are not released on Wednesday nights. In addition, the prices for [...]

  21. NP Says:

    Well, guess what. I was booking a roundtrip to Vegas on JetBlue website. Around midnight I chose the seats and clicked “continue”, and next I saw a message that there was a problem with my reservation. I had to restart it. When I ran the same search as 5 minutes earlier, the very same flight was $200 extra, and moreover, when I selected it, it showed that the seats I previously chose were gone. I went to Orbitz and bought the same flight at the original fare. Boo, JetBlue. Check your software.

  22. 5 Costly Travel Myths Debunked | Wandering Minds Says:

    [...] In fact the most useful info I found on whether the midweek-midnight rule was a myth or not was this post (Aug 2006) which also included quotes from the CEO of FareCompare, Rick Seaney. You’ll need to [...]

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  24. WHY ARGUE Says:

    my god people QUIT ARGUING!!!

    i am an international forensic accountant and financial investigator
    MY LIFE IS NUMBERS
    …and proving or disproving them

    Everybody …you have the basics ….

    midweek is best $$$$$ and to fine tune them, look them up yourself and compare tues, weds, thurs, am / pm

    never NEVER take anyone’s opinion or “expert” advice as gospel …use it but do the math yourself

    …ITS SIMPLE NUMBERS YOU DO THE MATH

    IF you have to make the reservation start making them Tuesday confirm Wednesday and cancel Thursday (24hr from when paid)

    By Thursday you will KNOW which is the cheapest and KEEP THAT ONE!

    Good Luck … Safe Travels !

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