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.