Airfare tips for Australia winterim, part III: When to purchase

It only takes a bit of searching around  the web to realize how complex purchasing an airline ticket can become.  A final aspect I’ll deal with, at least for the time being, is when to purchase tickets.

If we really wanted to save on airfare, we'd have to schedule our Australia class in September.

If we really wanted to save on airfare, we’d have to schedule our Australia class in September. (hopper.com on Chicago-Sydney flights)

In a nutshell, check for flight deals on Tuesdays (because airlines post sales on Mondays) and plan on buying soon to be safe.  But keep in mind that prices could go down, according to some reports, and always remember that you’re dealing with a business with lots of data but which is still difficult to predict.

We may have already seen the best prices for Australia, at least according to research, some of which may seem conflicting.   Many travel agents will tell you that limited numbers of flights mean ticket prices generally don’t go down as departure dates approach, at least on more popular routes, because airlines won’t add more flights.

Not surprisingly, there are numerous sites dedicated to how to buy airline tickets. One of them is hopper.com, a site that tells us we are flying to Sydney from O’Hare during its peak demand periods (which makes sense, given that we’re flying from our winter to their summer).

The site is handy because you can plug in specific airports, which reminds us that flying from Central Wisconsin Airport in Mosinee is a little more expensive than going to Chicago. The lesson here would seem to be “try to fly from Chicago, and book a little earlier” — which generally gives with our concerns about winter weather and the other information we’ve gotten.

Demand is stable, Prices are flat.

The average demand fell -6.6% to 1,034 flight searches per day compared to 1,107 daily searches during the previous four weeks. Last week’s weighted average round-trip ticket price from Chicago to Sydney was the same as the prior month at $1,545

— hopper.com’s Aug. 11 report on the ORD-SYD route.

Another useful site is cheapair.com, which annually posts its research findings on best times to purchase tickets,  including breakdowns of world regions as part of its analysis.

The site indicates the prime time for purchasing Australia tickets may have passed about four months ago, at least according to its most recent research (we should have bought 244 days out, this study says), but we’ve already seen prices drop slightly in recent days and there are some indications that we might get lucky with further cuts.

The cheapair.com 2014 report focused on domestic travel and concluded that the optimum time to purchase a ticket was 54 days in advance.  A followup report indicated that purchasing tickets to the South Pacific (including Australia and New Zealand) was 70 days out, as opposed to its 2015 report, which recommended purchasing much earlier.

Confused?  Just let these contradictions reinforce the notion that you in all likelihood don’t want to wait too much longer than mid-to-late October to get your ticket, and probably the sooner the better.

Here’s another page (with a podcast in addition to text) with great tips on what flight tickets to buy. Many of the tips won’t work for most of us — the constraints of our class starting time and ending time, as well as my flight already being booked, mean that we can’t necessarily follow the “fly hungry” rule or the “fly on Tuesday or Wednesday” rule.

But it’s worth a listen if you’re planning alternative travel before or after our class, or even if you’re still trying to buy a ticket within the general time frame I talked about in my two earlier posts (direct links here and here).

Other tips:

  • USA Today reports that Qantas is among the airlines that occasionally posts cheaper fares on its sites than on Expedia or Orbitz. There are some other interesting ideas in this article, too.
  • Try sites like airfarewatchdog to set up fare alerts. I’ve never tried this, but it might be worth the effort to set them up if you don’t mind the ads and spam that may result.
  • Student-oriented travel sites can be helpful.  A good starter link is this one that the International Programs office also has on its  Facebook page, which you should be sure to like if you haven’t done so already.  There are several student-oriented sites linked on the starter link above.
  • The Australian dollar’s fall against the U.S. dollar might help your money go farther once you’re in Australia, but isn’t likely to make your flight cheaper, as it generally encourages airlines to keep its ticket prices stable instead of lowering them, according to this Sydney Morning Herald article.
  • Finally, remember that the staff in the International Programs Office is happy to talk to you, or your family, about airline options if you wish:  715-346-2717.

A final summary:  if you want to take the conservative and safe approach, my previous advice applies. Purchase soon and stick as closely as possible to our group itinerary.  But check numerous sites (including those focused on student travel) and if you’re vigilant and perhaps a little lucky, there’s a chance of saving some money on your ticket.

Good luck!

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