Debunking the Top 10 Flight Booking Myths!

Monica T

Debunking the Top 10 Flight Booking Myths!

Booking flights can be a frustrating and confusing process. With so many options, rules, and myths out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

That’s why I’m here to debunk the top 10 most common flight booking myths to make your next airline reservation a breeze.

Myth #1: Booking Directly Through the Airline is Always Cheapest

It may seem logical to cut out the middleman and book directly through an airline’s website.

However, this is often not the cheapest option. Third-party sites like Expedia, Travelocity, and Kayak work with airlines to offer discounted fares not available on the airline’s site.

I once booked a flight to Hawaii that was $200 cheaper on Expedia than the same flight on United’s website.

The reason for this price difference is that airlines allot a certain number of seats to third-party vendors at discounted bulk rates.

They do this to fill as many seats as possible without having to lower prices across the board. So while they may show as full price on the airline’s site, these seats are actually available at a lower cost on aggregator sites.

Next time you’re booking, be sure to compare the airline’s direct price against third-party sites.

I recommend checking at least 3-4 vendors, including online travel agencies like Expedia and Orbitz as well as metasearch engines like Kayak and Google Flights. You don’t want to assume the airline’s website is the best deal without doing your homework first.

Myth #2: Incognito Browsing Gets You the Cheapest Fares

Many people believe that browsing for flights in an incognito or private browser window nets better deals by hiding your search history and personal information from the airline.

While this prevents sites from tracking you and displaying higher prices based on your past searches, airlines don’t actually offer secret discounted fares this way.

The idea behind this myth is that in a normal browser, the site can identify you based on tracking cookies, logins, and other stored profile information.

So if you search for a flight, don’t book it right away, and then come back later, the airline may show a higher price because they know you’re interested.

By using incognito or private browsing, it hides all of this past activity so that the airline thinks you’re a new customer. In theory, they should then show the lowest possible prices to attract what they perceive as a new shopper.

However, modern airline pricing algorithms have advanced well beyond simple tracking cookies.

While incognito browsing does hide your identity, airlines use much more sophisticated data points to determine flight prices like day-of-week, time to departure, current seats sold, and overall supply and demand.

The best way to find deals is comparing prices across multiple sites and dates in a normal browsing window.

Don’t worry about trying to “trick” the airline into lower fares. Focus your energy on casting a wide net across airline and third-party vendor sites.

Myth #3: Booking Early Always Gets the Best Price

It’s tempting to book a flight months in advance to lock in what seems like a good price.

However, airlines will often lower fares closer to the travel date if they haven’t filled all seats. While last minute deals are risky, the happy medium is booking 3-8 weeks in advance when airlines have a clearer picture of demand but still have plenty of availability left.

For example, I once booked a roundtrip flight from Los Angeles to New York just three weeks before my trip.

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While I monitored prices carefully those last few weeks, I ended up paying only $287. Looking back two months earlier, that same LA to NYC route was over $600!

Here are some tips for getting the best prices without booking too far in advance:

  • Start checking prices about two months before your travel dates so you have a baseline expectation.
  • Comparison shop across airline and third-party booking sites.
  • If fares look high, check prices again in 1-2 weeks as sales may be introduced.
  • Aim to book within the 3-8 week pre-travel window when airlines have solidified schedules.
  • Set price alerts in case there are last minute fare drops.

The 3-8 week window balances the tradeoffs between early discounts, last minute deals, and the best overall availability and pricing.

Myth #4: Airlines Release Seats at Midnight

A very common myth is that airlines release unsold seats or discounted fares right at midnight either in the airline’s local time or Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

This may have been true decades ago in the early days of modern commercial aviation, but airline pricing practices have evolved significantly since then.

Back then, airline revenue management largely relied on human analysts who needed to make pricing adjustments overnight for the next day’s flights. This made midnight an ideal time for new seat availability or discounted fares to show up.

However, today’s sophisticated airline pricing algorithms are much more dynamic. With machine learning powering billions of fare calculations daily, prices can change at any time of day or night as availability and predicted demand shifts.

Rather than staying up until midnight hoping for a fare drop, using price tracking services is a much better way to catch deals as soon as they hit. Most major booking sites from Expedia to Google Flights offer price monitoring and alerts for specific flights you’re interested in.

Next time you have some flexibility on travel dates or airports, set up a few different price alerts across a 1-2 week period. You’ll get pinged as soon as a fare drops, no matter what time of day it happens.

Myth #5: Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the Cheapest Days to Fly

Conventional wisdom in the travel world says airline tickets tend to be cheapest in the middle of the week, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays specifically. When travel demand drops during the week, airlines lower fares to attract more passengers.

However, with continuously changing airline sales and dynamic pricing algorithms, there are no consistently “best” days to fly anymore if your main goal is finding the lowest fares.

While weekend flights are more expensive on average, a Tuesday flight could easily be more expensive than a Saturday on any given route depending on sales and availability. Being flexible across multiple days of the week is key.

Here are some tips on finding cheap flights regardless of day of week:

  • Avoid locking yourself into “magic” cheap days – be open to flying any day.
  • Browse across full weekly calendars to compare different date combinations.
  • Check both budget airlines and major carriers for sales.
  • Consider flying on off-peak times like early morning or late night.
  • Use price alerts to catch drops as they happen, any day of week.

The days of consistent “cheap Tuesday flights” are gone. Focus instead on being flexible across multiple dates rather than assuming certain days are always cheaper.

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Myth #6: Clearing Cookies Gets You a Better Deal

Similar to incognito browsing, many airline passengers believe clearing their browser cookies tricks airline and booking sites into thinking they are a new user, leading to better prices. This myth is also rooted in the past when cookie tracking was a bigger part of how airlines priced flights.

Here was the thinking behind this myth:

  • User searches for a flight across multiple days but doesn’t book right away.
  • The site tracks this interest through cookies and identifies you as a “looker.”
  • Next time you visit, the site shows higher prices because they know you’re interested.
  • Clearing cookies makes them think you’re new and gets the “real” low prices again.

However, airline pricing has advanced far beyond simple cookie tracking for identifying customers. While clearing cookies does remove your search history, airlines and third-party sites use a variety of persistent identifiers like IP address, account logins, and device IDs to maintain your identity.

They feed these data points into their dynamic pricing algorithms, along with other factors like demand forecasts and competitive pricing. So you’re highly unlikely to see any pricing benefit from removing cookies alone.

Bottom line – don’t waste time worrying about cookies. Focus your flight search energy on casting a wide net across travel dates, airlines, departure airports and flexible travel times.

Myth #7: Booking Super Early is the Best Way to Get the Cheapest Flights

Booking flights many months ahead of time may seem like the perfect way to get the lowest fares. But despite the temptation, booking too far in advance can actually result in paying more overall.

Airlines only release a limited number of seats at those deep discounted rates. Once those are gone, pricing is based on their more dynamic supply-and-demand algorithms. With so much uncertainty that far out, you run the risk of pre-paying higher “expected” pricing.

In most cases, the “Goldilocks” zone for the best fares is booking 3-8 weeks before your travel dates. This timeframe hits the sweet spot where:

  • Airlines have released most seats for sale.
  • Pricing algorithms have firmed up based on bookings so far.
  • You still have some flexibility to adjust plans if needed.

Exceptions to this rule would be holiday travel like Christmas or New Years where earlier bookings may be needed to lock in limited seats. But for regular travel, keep the 3-8 week pre-travel window in mind.

Some other tips on booking timeframe strategy:

  • Start initial research 6-8 weeks out to establish baseline fares.
  • Re-check prices multiple times as you get closer to 3-8 week window.
  • Use price alerts for cheap seats opening up last minute.
  • Aim for 2-3 weeks out for international flights which require more planning.

While the urge to book super early is strong, fighting the temptation can pay off with better fares in most cases.

Myth #8: Being Flexible Doesn’t Matter

One of the biggest mistakes travelers make when booking flights is locking themselves into very specific dates, flight times, and airlines. While it’s understandable to have preferences, being completely inflexible cuts you off from money-saving options.

Having some wiggle room to adjust your flights around the optimal price opens up a lot more possibilities. Here are some ways to build flexibility into your flight search:

  • Departure/return dates – even 1-2 days can make a difference
  • Flight times – flying early morning/late night often cheaper
  • Airports – search neighbouring cities for deals
  • Airlines – don’t limit yourself to just one
  • Layovers – direct isn’t always necessary
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To make the most of flexible search options, use full calendar displays on booking sites allowing you to easily browse different date combinations. And leverage price alerts that will notify you when cheaper flights matching your parameters open up.

Locking yourself into rigid flight details cuts out so many options. Build in some wiggle room and let the savings roll in!

Myth #9: Airlines Can’t Re-Open Sold Out Flights

Seeing a “Sold Out” notice on a flight you wanted can be disheartening. But don’t assume that a full flight today will stay that way right up until departure. Airlines regularly open up more seats as the travel dates approach.

Why does this happen?

  • Passengers change travel plans leading to cancellations.
  • Airlines add more supply based on demand.
  • Reservations expire if bookings aren’t completed on time.

Seats also open up when passengers miss flights or need to change dates at the last minute. So there are many reasons you could see booked up flights reopen availability.

If you really need a sold out flight, periodically check online in the final weeks leading up to departure to try catching newly available seats. And as a last resort, calling the airline directly can sometimes access reopened availability that is not visible online.

The key is staying persistent on flights you need – sold out isn’t always final with airlines.

Myth #10: Calling is Always Better than Booking Online

Traditional wisdom has promoted calling an airline agent as the best way to book cheaper fares not found online. But in most cases today, calling an airline just leads to frustration with:

  • Long hold times to speak to an agent.
  • Extra fees for booking by phone.
  • Agents having access to the same fares online.

With advanced airline pricing algorithms and online travel agencies, booking yourself online is faster and can surface better deals through expanded comparison shopping. Dynamic pricing has also leveled the playing field for call center agents.

However, calling the airline still has benefits in certain cases like:

  • Complex itinerary changes like multi-city or codeshares.
  • Immediate confirmed ticketing for nearly sold out flights.
  • Getting assistance applying specialized fares.
  • Making seat assignments or other special requests.

Bottom line – don’t rely exclusively on the phone number, but do use it as a backup option when you need more custom assistance from an agent.

The Bottom Line

Booking flights can be frustrating, but understanding the facts behind common myths helps set realistic expectations and save money. Focus on being flexible with dates and flight times, comparison shopping across multiple sites and carriers, and using technology like alerts to find deals.

Stop believing outdated or inaccurate advice. Book smart by staying flexible, casting a wide net, and letting dynamic pricing algorithms work for you across booking sites.

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What flight booking myths have tripped you up in the past? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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