How ticket prices fall and rise
Prices on routes from London to major European cities including Rome, Barcelona and Berlin on three major airlines were monitored every day for six weeks.
The findings show that fares can actually fall and then rise a number of times during the period leading up to a flight.
The price of a Ryanair flight from London to Rome in the middle of April, for example, fell on six separate occasions in the six weeks before departure.
You could therefore have saved money by waiting for a day or so, and in a couple of cases, the saving was quite substantial. Between 14 and 15 March, the price fell from 40.14 to 28.14. And between 1 and 2 April it fell from 78.91 to 54.99.
"We will know whether we are over or below [the target for passengers buying seats]," says Michael Cawley, Ryanair’s deputy chief executive.
"And if we are above it, we can increase the fare, because we need to slow down the rate of booking, or if we are below it, we need to reduce the fares," he explains.
This is classic demand management, of course. But it makes particular sense for the low cost airlines, because their business models depend as much on selling extras hotels, refreshments and car hire as they do on selling tickets.
As they say at Ryanair, it is all about "bums on seats". Fewer passengers means fewer opportunities to sell gifts on board.
Fill your ‘buckets’
It is price, not place, that counts
Low cost air travel takes people to places they had never thought of visiting but not necessarily because they are fulfilling their travel ambitions. Often, it is just because the destination is the cheapest on offer.
"Passengers generally have a budget, and are in many cases indifferent to where they go, so long as it’s a sunshine destination or a historic destination depending on their preference," says Ryanair’s Michael Cawley.
"So if it’s Krakow or Prague it really doesn’t matter. Or if it’s Alicante or Malaga, it doesn’t matter. It’s the price that determines that demand."
For best man Richard Fry, organising a stag party for his friend, the best choice was Riga in Latvia because it was "cheaper than Prague and Amsterdam" and the trip took no longer than it would take to get to Liverpool or Manchester by train.
"It’s a bit of a no brainer, really," says Richard.
Media captionEasyjet boss Carolyn McCall is optimistic about growth
But while in general the later buckets have higher fares, to sell all the tickets in a particular bucket, prices may be cut to boost sales and move on to the next, higher priced bucket.
And if there’s low demand on a flight, the system may never reach the higher priced buckets.
"It doesn’t accelerate through the buckets at all if it’s a low demand flight, so it may never get to the final buckets, it may just carry on at a lower trajectory," says Mr Simmons.
That is what appears to have happened with the Easyjet flight to Berlin on 12 April.
The research for the BBC programme, Flights and Fights: Inside the Low Cost Airlines, showed that if you had booked on 13 March you would have paid 90.99. But on 10 April, just two days before the flight, the fare had gone up by just 9 to 99.99.
How to saveSo how can you try to get the best fare?
"Days of the week do vary. Tuesdays would be our weakest day from a revenue point of view," says Paul Simmons. "So if you are flexible, say you can fly on your summer holiday Tuesday to Tuesday, rather than Saturday to Saturday, you’d probably save money."
Also, check comparison sites because British Airways, often considered a more expensive "full service" airline, was sometimes cheaper than those known as "low cost" airlines.
On the route to Barcelona, for example, BA was cheaper than Easyjet for most of the period. It would only have been cheaper to fly Easyjet six weeks before the flight and for a few days right before take off.
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