The early bird gets the worm.
Or so the saying goes.
This popular adage couldn’t be further from the truth when booking airfare.
For context, we purchase airfare on behalf of a wide range of clients, including tour operators, meeting planners, sports teams and companies. Often, our customers will book large blocks of space on a plane.
Since there is a need to secure the seats on a plane, our customers will often book 7-11 months in advance of the date of departure. When buying airfare, especially in a group, you have a tough choice. You can optimize for one of two things:
- Ensuring you get space on the plane
- Optimizing for price
If your group size is less than 50 passengers, we recommend waiting to book flights. There are a few reasons for this.
First, you need an understanding on how fares get loaded. Nine out of ten times, the fares available for purchase are extremely high outside of 7 months prior to departure. The airlines have a lot of data science around demand and know the current consumer behavior is to book flights much closer to travel.
There is no advantage for airlines to discount the fares far out from purchase, so customers who book well in advance often end up paying a higher price. Once the airline sees that they didn’t sucker anyone into booking the higher fares, they will lower price in order to begin to fill out the plane.
An airline generally sells between 85-88% of their total seats on a plane and they have a lot of good historical data on certain routes.
With that said, airlines run a low margin business and they often will lower fares as travel gets closer to attempt to sell as many seats as possible.
The second reason we recommend waiting to book flights is the dreaded schedule change, which has been happening with increasing frequency.
If you are looking at a flight 7-11 months from departure, there is an extremely high likelihood this flight will change. Airlines are constantly changing flight schedules.
I feel victim it the dreaded schedule change in the Spring. I booked Boston to Halifax 6 months prior to travel for a golf trip. The route didn’t sell well, so about 2 months prior to travel, the airline simply canceled the direct flight and rebooked me.
This also happens with groups, and the larger your group is the more painful the rebooking process is.
With all that said, if your flight is capacity challenged, meaning there are limited seats relative to your group size, go ahead and forget optimizing for price. Book the space.
If your group is relatively small compared to the size of the plane, go ahead and wait for prices to drop.
Here are some example of flights and what we would recommend:
EWR to MCO
March 10 - March 15 (Spring Break)
Recommendation: on popular routes, like during Spring Break, go ahead and grab the space. Don’t optimize for price, the demand is so high, you need to act quickly.
LAX to DFW
May 21 - may 15 (Spring Break)
Recommendation: no reason to rush on this flight, this plane will likely be something comparable to a 737 and will seat 170 passengers. This means up to 50% of the plane will be available for groups. Wait it out and keep an eye on price.
JFK to FCO
July 3 - July 10
Recommendation: this is a pretty large group on a popular route during the summer. We would recommend booking this space early and not chancing losing out of the space.