Lifehacker says the best time to book flights is at least 45 days ahead for domestic, and 60 days ahead for international. This article on The Wall Street Journal says that booking 50 – 100 days before departure is the best. And that weekends are better for booking.
But are these studies applicable to Malaysia, and our favorite low cost airline, AirAsia?
I don’t think so.
Late last year, smugly armed with knowledge from the articles above — I waited till it was two months before my planned vacation. And then I bought the tickets — choosing slightly earlier (departure) and later (return) tickets — just to get the cheapest prices.
But about two weeks later, two friends of mine (who were joining our vacation) bought tickets for the same route for a hundred bucks less each. They even got to choose the departure time I really wanted!
It’s not just this case that bugs me though. In my experience with AirAsia, I’ve noticed certain trends with their pricing. So this week — I decided to run a simple experiment to see if I could finally answer the question: when’s the best time to buy AirAsia flight tickets?
Here’s what I did:
- Checked prices for 3 popular destinations in Southeast Asia: Bali, Krabi, and Ho Chi Minh City.
- Origin was Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2).
- Departure flight was always mid-morning or early afternoon on Saturday.
- Return flight was always on Monday afternoon.
- Collected at least 20 data points for each of the routes above throughout the year. I usually looked at prices for the 3rd and 4th weekend of the month.
- Avoided looking at weekends with public holidays. (e.g. the most expensive flight tickets are around Christmas).
- Looked extra closely at certain “sweet spots”, which I believe are unique to AirAsia.
- Made liberal use of incognito / private mode. Just in case AirAsia was tracking my browser. The urban legend is that airlines track your web browser using cookies. If they see that you have repeated interest in a certain flight — they raise prices for you. In my experience though, AirAsia doesn’t do this.
I plotted all the prices I found on AirAsia’s website into the three graphs below:
Notice some trends? The experiment taught me a few things:
- Buying tickets less than one month ahead of time is a bad idea. Tickets are most expensive then.
- Buying tickets too early wastes money too. And you can’t buy tickets more than 51 weeks ahead of departure. AirAsia doesn’t allow it.
- There’s a sweet spot about 7-8 months before departure. Tickets are cheap and there are lots of flights to choose from.
(Interestingly, a few USA-based websites I’ve read say above 8 months is a good time to buy tickets to Asia)
- There’s a small window where the price dips before the expensive one-month period. In my opinon, that’s the best time to buy flight tickets for AirAsia: 4-6 weeks ahead of departure. Unless of course, the tickets are fully sold. In that case — please don’t blame me
My experiment has some very obvious limitations:
- Not enough samples of data. I looked at >20 samples for only three routes. The studies I mentioned earlier looked at hundreds of millions of airline tickets. Suffice to say, what I did was extremely primitive.
- It doesn’t take into account AirAsia’s famous limited-time promotion fares. There were no promotions when I was running my experiment.
- Ticket-booking algorithms change all the time. I can’t guarantee that the trends won’t change tomorrow. Even if the algorithms remain the same, I bet if everyone starts buying tickets only 5 weeks before — the computers will quickly figure it out — and adapt.
This is the best data I have today though. And I’m not the type who plans for my vacation eight months ahead. So the next time I’m flying AirAsia — I’m buying tickets only 4-6 weeks in advance.
What about limited-time promotion fares, you ask? I believe they’re still the cheapest flight tickets in the market. But now I can check the promo fares against prices 4-6 weeks and 7-8 months in advance. To see if I’m really getting a good deal or not. Or if I should just wait.
Has anyone out there noticed the same trends, or run similar experiments? Please comment below, I’d really like to know!
For more ideas on optimizing time, money and relationships, follow me at mr-stingy.com
Pic Credit: Jyi1693 at en.wikipedia