Checking daily for a flight’s lowest fare

By Ken Sherman
This item appears on page 12 of the December 2015 issue.

My letter about the best day on which to book certain domestic flights on United Airlines was printed under the title “Wednesday’s Fares” (Aug. ’15, pg. 50)

I recently booked a round-trip flight from EWR (Newark, New Jersey) to LAX (Los Angeles, California). For almost two years, I had been going to United’s website ( on Wednesdays and booking my flights. I usually book six to eight weeks in advance, but this time I had to wait to finalize dates and, three weeks before my preferred departure date, the best fare was offered on a Friday.

Here’s the lowdown. On Thursday, July 2, 2015, I found out that I would have to be in California on Aug. 14, so I started looking at fares for an Aug. 12 departure. (United has multiple flights per day in each direction between EWR and LAX.) At the time, the fares seemed high to me, so I thought I would wait until the following Wednesday to book any flights. Nevertheless, I checked fares each day. 

On Wednesday, July 8, the fare was actually higher than it had been the day before, so I decided to not buy the tickets that day and continued to check prices daily.

I noticed that not only were the fares changing from day to day but, depending on the departure time of the flight in either direction, round-trip fares could vary by $100 or more. Also, if I wanted to book a round trip, the lowest published fare sometimes required a stop for the return flight, but I wanted nonstops in both directions.

Finally, since I knew fares rose significantly within two weeks of the flight, on July 23 (19 days before the first leg of my round-trip flight) I decided to book. 

To get the lowest fare that day ($503 round trip), I had to choose an outgoing flight that wasn’t as convenient as I would have liked, but I knew that United has a 24-hour grace period in which you can make changes to an itinerary without penalty. The next day, Friday, I found that the more convenient outgoing flight I wanted was eligible for the same fare, so I switched to that flight.

Just to compare, I looked at fares again in the first few days of August, and prices for my Aug. 12 departure were starting in the $600 range.

This entire discussion is in regard to economy-class seating. On all flights, Economy Plus (a section of economy-class seats with more legroom) is available for an additional fee. Normally, getting an Economy Plus seat ahead of time costs an extra $89-$139 in each direction. 

Flying 25,000 miles in a year with United, you can qualify for Premier Silver status and upgrade to Economy Plus for free at the time of check-in (24 hours ahead). At Premier Gold level, or 50,000 miles per year, you can upgrade for free at the time you book your flight (weeks ahead).

The economy-class section is likely to sell out before Economy Plus, but it seems to never sell out completely; there are usually some middle seats left, even a month before the flight. I have been fortunate to fly enough to qualify for Premier status, so I look for a low-cost economy-class seat on a flight I’m interested in, then upgrade to Economy Plus for free.

To recap, while I usually sit down at my computer on a Wednesday in order to find flights listed at the lowest prices, this time, three weeks out, it was on a Friday that I found the lowest-listed price.

Now, regarding the days of the week on which the lowest-priced flights actually take place, I’ve found that the flight days on which fares are lowest are Tuesday and Wednesday, so, for this trip, I booked my EWR-LAX flight for a Wednesday, Aug. 12, and my return flight, LAX-EWR, for the following Tuesday, Aug. 18.

The bottom line of all this is that once you know the dates you want to travel, you need to be flexible with the day on which you sit down and book the flights you want. And if you really want the lowest fare (and you can’t purchase months in advance), you might have to consider flight times that aren’t so convenient.


Jackson, NJ