Tracking down those individual fares can be time consuming, which is why Hobica and Seaney recommend customers use tools like fare calendars offered by airlines and travel websites to view the lowest prices over a range of dates.

If there’s a specific place you’re looking to fly, alerts can help you know when the price drops and some even offer guidance on whether the price is expected to continue dropping or spike back up.

“People need to realize a fare can go down unadvertised any day of the week and they often beat the sale prices. People shouldn’t take advertised sale as gospel that that’s the rock bottom price,” Hobica said.

Book tickets one or two tickets at a time, even if you’re traveling with a group

If you’re traveling with a group, say a family of four, trying to buy tickets for all of them at the same time might not be the best route to go.

Often airlines will have one or two remaining seats available at the sale price, but if a customer is searching for a group of four tickets, only the higher price will appear.

Seaney suggests getting around that by doing your first search for a single ticket.

“It’s a weird glitch in reservation systems,” he said. “Try shopping for one and if you see that sale price, you know there’s a few cheaper seats available. You can split the ticket so maybe two in the family get the sale price.”

What’s in it for airlines?

If advertised sales don’t always offer the lowest prices, why do airlines bother?

For one, it’s an easy way to generate interest and attention, especially during slower travel seasons like the fall and winter.

Seaney said airlines often use sales as a tool for market research, gauging demand to certain destinations and comparing the results to sales in previous years.

“They’re probing to see if demand is still what it was in previous years. You can tell things like whether people are moving towards connecting flights that are cheaper,” Seaney said.

At Southwest, one of the most frequent and vocal discounters, sales are a way to draw in new customers, while reinforcing the company’s low-fare brand, said Bill Tierney, the company’s senior director of marketing communication and planning.
“For over 45 years we’ve been known for legendary low fares and sales are a core part of our product,” he said. “It just fits in with our overall approach, you get these low fares and they come with two bags free and no change fees.”

When it comes to shopping Southwest sales, Tierney advised customers to “look early and often.”

“There’s a lot of demand that comes in right away and the (fares) go fast,” he said. “

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