Crunching the numbers to find best fare
Travel startup Hopper issues detailed reports on cheaper times to book, cheaper routes to fly.
The New York Times
Northwest travel guides
You may have heard that the best day to buy an airline ticket is a Tuesday.
But it’s outdated information. The standard explanation for the Tuesday theory was that airlines release their bargains early in the week and competitors scramble to match them. But even if there’s still some truth to that, other variables have complicated things.
There are plenty of companies out there offering reports and tools to help you navigate this and other airfare decisions — Google’s Explore Flights engine and Kayak’s price trend feature among them. But a few months ago, some smart people at a company called Hopper, whose primary business is aggregating blog posts for travelers, started releasing intriguing reports about how to lower your travel costs. The reports (available at hopper.com/research, by signing up for their mailing list or by following their chief data scientist on Twitter, @patricksurry) are coming with a frequency, transparency and detail I haven’t seen in other reports that try to answer similar questions — and I’ve looked.
And while static reports provide only broad conclusions, Hopper also provides customizable tools that are as powerful as they are simple to use. After taking the reports and tools for a long spin, here are a few useful tips.
When to book, when to fly
The overall take on the best day to book tickets turns out to be somewhat underwhelming, if you look at the country as a whole. Hopper’s data shows it’s actually Thursday, but don’t expect that fact to save you much money. Reserve a domestic flight on Thursday and you’ll spend, on average, $10 less than if you reserve on Saturday, the worst day to book domestic flights. With international flights, you’ll save, on average, $25 over Sunday, the worst day to book flights abroad. (Those are “maximum averages” that assume you would have booked on the worst day and are now booking on the best.)
But even before we get to those custom tools, some useful tips emerge: For the vast majority of routes, weekends are the worst time to book, and for about two-thirds of routes, Wednesday or Thursday is the best day.
Hopper’s reports also show that the day of the week you depart and the day you return matter more than the day you book. For domestic flights, leaving Wednesday (the best day) will save you $40 on average over a Sunday departure (the worst day); returning Tuesday will save you $45 over returning Friday. For international flights, Wednesdays are the best day to both leave and return.
Again, that’s on average. But of course, you’re neither an average traveler nor are you taking an “average” flight. That’s where Hopper’s “Origin-Destination” reports — available at hopper.com/research/hopper-research-data — come in. Pop in any route and get a customized report with the cheapest day to book, the cheapest day to fly, average costs and much more.
Take a popular route, like John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to Los Angeles International Airport, for which Hopper’s report uses 57 million fares quoted in the past month. Turns out you would save an average of $45 or so by booking on Wednesday. You’ll also find that returning Tuesday will save you an average of $35 over returning Thursday through Sunday.
Where to fly
It’s not all about when you fly, but where. One of Hopper’s most interesting reports tackles flying to Europe this summer. They produced a list comparing the most-searched European destinations from each of four cities — New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago — with the cheapest destinations and came to some intriguing conclusions.
Not surprisingly, London, Paris and Rome are at or near the top of the popularity list for all four cities. But the cheapest destinations from each of those cities varied widely. For New York, it’s Bergen and Oslo, Norway; and Copenhagen, Denmark; for Chicago, it’s Warsaw, Poland, and Stuttgart and Düsseldorf, Germany; for Los Angeles it’s Copenhagen, Stockholm and Moscow; and for Boston it’s Lisbon, Portugal, Dublin and Istanbul.
Say you live in Boston and want to take your family to Paris. The average flight costs $1,089, whereas the average flight to Lisbon is $677. Find a cheap flight from Lisbon to Paris — they go for as little as $150 — and voilà, you’ve got a Lisbon-Paris vacation for less than going to Paris alone.