How Long Do Airline Tickets Last?
(Note: this post was written in late 2009. It is here for historical purposes only. The information in this post is no longer current.)
I’m often asked, “How long do you have to hold a ticket before you fly?” and “How long does it take to find a cheaper fare once tickets are on sale?” To answer these questions, I’ve looked at the cheapest (non-error) fares from U.S. departure cities to 20 popular destinations over the last two years. The results are below. (Click on the chart to view larger).
This chart shows the average price of the cheapest ticket (in dollars per person) during each period. The y-axis represents time until departure in days, and the x-axis represents total travel time in hours (including layovers).
How Long Do Airline Tickets Last?
“How long do airline tickets last?” is a question with an obvious answer. In fact, the answer is so obvious that it is rarely asked.
Airline tickets are valid for one year from the date of issue (the “ticket date”). The ticket date is shown on the flight coupon (first page) of the ticket. The ticket expires on the last day of the 11th month after this date. The month of expiry is printed in black ink on the top left corner of the flight coupon.
Airline tickets expire because airlines change their fares constantly. For example, if you booked an airline ticket today and you were not able to use it by tomorrow, chances are that your ticket would have become more expensive by then. So, in order to protect themselves from losses arising from changes in fare structures, airlines require passengers to use their tickets within a period of one year.*
You might have heard the story of how a $10,000 airline ticket from Toronto to Newark turned into a $977 ticket after the reservation system was down for an hour. It’s true: you can get some incredible deals, if you’re lucky. But how long do you have to wait?
How long do airline fares last? That is, what percentage of fares are available at any moment? The answer is almost none. If it seems like airline fares are always going up, that’s because they are.
The existing fare distribution system, called Passenger Service System (PSS), is very old and expensive to maintain. And it doesn’t allow airlines to update fares and inventory in real-time. Airlines have been trying to replace it with a newer system called FareFamilies, which will allow them to update fares and inventory in real-time. For example, if an airport has a weather delay or cancellation, the airlines will be able to change their fares and inventory within minutes instead of waiting for the next morning when the PSS systems update.
This is all very interesting stuff but still doesn’t explain why airline fares are so unstable. The answer is simple: there are lots of people trying to buy tickets at any given moment. And when there
In the airline industry, as in most industries, there is a lot of room for error. We don’t often hear about the tickets that are simply thrown out after a few days or weeks because no one has ever made an offer on them. It’s just too complicated to keep track of all these little mistakes, so we just assume they happen and pass them off as a cost of doing business.
If you want to maximize your return on every ticket purchased and not get stuck holding unwanted tickets, it pays to know how long airline tickets last. Most airlines allow you to cancel a ticket up to 24 hours before departure for a full refund, but there are some exceptions. Some airlines allow you to cancel up to 48 hours before departure for a full refund if you booked directly through the airline’s website or call center.
Some airlines are more generous than others when it comes to refunds for unused tickets. A few airlines will allow you to cancel your ticket up to 72 hours before departure for a full refund if you booked directly through the airline’s website or call center.
For those of you who don’t know about the airline industry, airlines are required to sell tickets far in advance of the date of departure. There are two reasons for this regulation:
1) If a airline gets caught trying to gouge customers by raising prices just before takeoff, they can be fined by the Department of Transportation. Airlines have been known to do this in the past.
2) It allows airlines to plan their schedules and inventory levels more efficiently. They don’t want to overbook their planes, but they also don’t want to underbook either. They need enough passengers so that they can break even or make a profit on each flight. That’s why you start seeing lower airfares around a month or two before departure.
It used to be common practice for airlines to raise their fares significantly as the departure date got closer, but that changed in 2008 when new regulations were put into place making it illegal for an airline to change its price once an itinerary is purchased by a customer. Nowadays most airlines set their prices based on demand and will only lower fares if there is too much inventory left over when the departure date gets closer.
Airline ticket prices have been tumbling down this week. Here are some tips that can help you find cheap flights to anywhere.
The first rule of buying airline tickets is there are no rules, only guidelines. The second rule is to be flexible: the more flexible you are in terms of dates and times, the better your chances of finding a bargain fare.
There is no magic formula for timing your ticket purchase, although some experts claim that buying early or late can make a difference. The airlines themselves will say it is best to buy early, while others argue that booking late is the best way to save money on airfare.
Since there is no consensus on this matter, you may want to try both strategies: plan your trip well in advance and then watch for fare sales once you are ready to book your ticket.
Day of the week:
The most expensive day to buy your airline ticket is Sunday and the best day to buy is Tuesday. This is not a hard and fast rule, but in general, if you want to get the lowest fare, try to book your airline ticket on a Tuesday.
Time of Day:
Airfares will update in the system many times throughout the day. It’s best to search at night because most of these updates happen between midnight and 1am EST. Keep in mind that the prices are updated by each individual airline, so it’s still possible that one airline may update their fares at a different time than others. Also, if you find a great fare early in the morning, chances are that it won’t be there later in the day. Don’t wait – buy it when you see it!
Day of Travel:
For domestic travel, Thursday and Friday flights tend to be more expensive than other days of the week. For international travel, Saturday flights tend to be more expensive than other days of the week. Many people start their vacation on Friday and return on Sunday. If you can fly during the week instead of on weekends, you will most likely get cheaper airfare.