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Delta Air Lines

When to buy US domestic tickets cheaper

A new business travel study pinpoints the optimum number of days before the flight that tickets are cheapest.

US domestic economy tickets for business travel that are bought 22 days in advance are 61% cheaper on average than those booked within three days of departure, a new analysis finds.

An economy ticket for a domestic flight purchased 22 days in advance costs $454 on average, compared to $733 for a ticket bought within three days of departure.

The study comes from business travel consultancy Egencia and ticket transaction services firm Airlines Reporting Corporation, based ARC data covering 2,000 US and 4,000 European Union travel management companies.

For first class and business class, US domestic tickets cost an average of $1,260 and $1,703, a 37% difference.

For first and business class from the US to Asia, a corporate ticket bought 22 days in advance is 15% cheaper than a ticket purchased within three days of departure, $6,494 versus $7,450.

Of all domestic advance purchases for corporate travel, 29% were bought 22 days in advance, for US to Asia flights 48% and from the US to Europe 52%.

“Saving by planning travel farther out is not new news, but this study gives much deeper insight into the amount of savings that is available,” said Chuck Thackston, Airlines Reporting Corporation managing director of data science and research.

“This is vital information for travel managers trying to balance the needs of travellers with the need to get the most for their travel spend.”

Advance bookings are a discount
To understand why airlines offer a discount for booking ahead, Egencia says that travel buyers should know that a plane is “basically a cash-eating monster made of metal”. There are huge fixed costs to get each aircraft in the sky, and flying with too many empty seats loses money.

So to reduce their uncertainty about empty seats in the future, the airline offers you an incentive to book ahead, Egencia explains. “You’re doing them a favour, basically”, by reducing their risk of flying with empty seats. They return the favour with a discount.

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