How Airlines Price Tickets And How To Find Cheap Flights
Finding cheap flight deals is what we're all about here at Mighty Travels. But with so many factors influencing the cost of flights, how can you be sure you're getting that great deal?
Here is what you need to know about to find cheap flights, why airlines price them the way they do and how you can find your next awesome travel deal with Mighty Travels Premium
How does airline ticket pricing work?
Avid travellers who are keen to secure great-value airfares may often wonder when the best time is to buy a flight ticket. Should you snap up that promotional fare advertised nine months before your travel? Or will last-minute price drops land you with a price that’s even cheaper again? Which is the best day of the week to book, and which time of day will yield better prices?
To find any sort of a clue to answer some of these questions, it’s important to understand how airline ticket pricing works. Many years ago, there was a set price structure based on the route, aircraft type and service level provided, and it didn’t matter whether you bought your ticket on the day or several months before – everyone would pay the same.
But since the introduction of the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978, airlines have had to compete harder with other carriers to secure their share of the traffic. This has led airlines to start using what is known as ‘dynamic ticket pricing,’ with fares fluctuating based on a multitude of factors leading up to the flight’s departure date.
Airlines have to tread a fine line to remain competitive. On the one hand, they need to price their fares affordably enough so that passengers don’t defect to competitor airlines offering a similar service for less. On the other hand, they need to maximise profit on every seat sold to remain a viable business. Selling tickets is about finding that sweet spot between what the flight is worth to the passenger and what the airline needs to avoid losing money on the trip.
To find this sweet spot, modern airlines use complex algorithms and AI technology to set their prices and to determine when to make changes. The algorithm is fed with extensive amounts of data and business intelligence gained from years of analysing markets, competitors and their own customers. As technologies become more sophisticated, airlines can be increasingly smart with their fare-setting methods.
What else is in this post?
- How does airline ticket pricing work?
- Factors that influence how cheap your flight will be
- Is it possible to find cheap business class flights?
- Tips for booking cheap business class flights
- Finding cheap flights with Mighty Travels Premium
- Top tips for finding the cheapest flights on Mighty Travels
Factors that influence how cheap your flight will be
As one of their most powerful business tools, airlines tend to closely guard the technology and methodologies involved in setting ticket prices. However, there are a number of factors that are well-known to influence the price of the fare. Some of these include:
- Type of travel: Business travellers are often paying for their seats with company money, so it’s less important for airlines to offer these sorts of passengers competitive fares. They’ll still want to offer good value for money, but can afford to be less aggressive in their discount offerings. Leisure travellers tend to be more brand agnostic and more price sensitive, requiring better offers to be made available.
- Time of purchase: Prices can vary dramatically over the months and weeks leading up to the flight departure. Airlines use historical data to predict their pricing strategy and to find that sweet spot between sales and profits at any given time. Last-minute bookings might not be as cheap as you think – while an airline could sell their last few seats at a discount to fill up the plane, often the opposite is true, with airlines recognising last-minute travellers are sometimes desperate to go now, and willing to pay a premium to do so.
- Popularity of the route: More popular routes may be priced higher per mile of travel all the time, with airlines confident they can sell their seats at a higher price. But highly competitive routes with lots of alternative airlines to choose from may also drive down the prices, as airlines race to be at the top of the cheap flight search results.
- Popularity of the service: As individual flights fill up, airline tickets tend to rise in price. This is because airlines will release a set number of tickets in one fare bracket and, when those are all sold, will release the next batch at a higher price. Algorithms notice when there is a sudden pick up in demand for a particular route, and will adjust the price upwards if it notices a trend.
- Cost of operations: Pricing will usually take into account all the airline’s basic overheads such as cost of crewing, fuelling and servicing the flight, as well as the taxes and fees incurred for using airports and overflying specific countries on their route. However, when an element of this drastically changes, it will influence the price. For example, in 2022, the price of jet fuel has risen exponentially due to the conflict in Ukraine – airlines are yet to pass on all of this to the flying passenger, with many attempting to compensate through savings on the operational side, but it has seen a rise in ticket prices in many markets.
- Peak dates and blackouts: Certain times of the year will be classed as ‘peak,’ such as school holidays and major festivals like Christmas. Airlines may ‘blackout’ these dates, removing the lowest fare classes from their booking matrix. They will also look for important events such as the FIFA World Cup or big expos in specific cities, and raise the average ticket price in response.
In short, airlines are using increasingly sophisticated strategies to determine ticket pricing, and this can mean the cost of a flight varies wildly from one date to another. Carriers have access to all sorts of business intelligence, from their own data to data from flight search engines and much more. This can make it harder than ever to weed out the cheapest flights independently.
Is it possible to find cheap business class flights?
With all this talk of algorithms and AI, figuring out how to find a cheap flight has become a lot more daunting than in the past. Finding a cheap lie-flat business class flight might seem like an impossibility, but Mighty Travels Premium is living proof that this is not true. Before we get into how to find cheap lie-flat seats with Mighty Travels, let’s look at why airlines might want to reduce prices on business class tickets.
Business class will always command a premium, mainly due to the sheer amount of personal space you take up. Look at Virgin’s A350 Upper Class, for example. Here, passengers are laid out in a 1-2-1 arrangement, with each row taking up approximately the space of two rows of economy class. So that’s four passengers in Upper occupying the space of 18 in economy – that has to be accounted for.
Not only that, but premium cabin passengers will also get access to enhanced perks on their trip. There’s access to the lounge before the flight, with all its wonderful food and drink, plus sometimes a chauffeur transfer to the airport. Onboard, service is more attentive, often with one cabin crew per 10 or 15 passengers as opposed to one per 50 down at the back. And the food and drink are much more high-end and more expensive for the airline to provide.
And yet, we do find cheaper tickets in these top-end cabins, with some regularity. Why, when airlines are providing so much better service and perks, would they seek to discount these seats?
In short, airlines discount business class seats because they want to fill the cabin. Even at a bargain rate, business class seats are usually still three or four times more expensive than economy on the same flight, and selling as many as possible is a good money maker for the airline.
While the seats do take up more space and more expensive service and amenities, flying with empty business class seats is even worse than flying with a lower paying passenger. This is why airlines will sometimes offer cheaper upgrades closer to the flight date, or lower their prices when they anticipate having trouble filling the business cabin.
And sometimes airlines just plain make mistakes. This doesn’t happen often in our technology-laced present, but it does still happen. Error fares are the holy grail for cheap luxury flight hunters, and they do still turn up from time to time.
Of course, knowing these cheap premium flights exist is only the start. The next challenge is to find the fares yourself – and that’s a whole other issue.
Tips for booking cheap business class flights
Finding a bargain fare is not easy, but there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of finding your dream flight for less:
- Consider school holidays: Conversely to economy class fares, the average business class flight price actually drops during school breaks. This is because businesses too are often taking a holiday, so bookings from corporate clients will be lower. To entice leisure travellers into the upgrade, airlines often fly their cheapest business class seats during vacation time.
- Be flexible with your dates: Traveling one or two days outside of your ideal flight times can yield huge savings in business class. Avoiding Monday and Friday flight times can be beneficial, as can adding a Saturday night stay to your itinerary. Studies have shown that Tuesday afternoons are the best time to buy airline tickets as this tends to be when discount fares are released.
- Think outside the box with your departure location: Your nearest airport might be London Heathrow, but what about the price of flights from Gatwick? What about taking a couple of hours train ride out of the city and going from Birmingham or Manchester? What if you connected in Amsterdam and took the long-haul portion from there? Being smarter and more flexible with where you fly from can uncover huge savings on business class flights.
- Go somewhere unexpected: Popular travel routes sustain high fares year-round, but going somewhere a bit off the beaten track could not only let you discover a hidden gem, it could also be much cheaper. Broaden your destination search to find new, exciting countries and cities with lie-flat seating for less.
Finding cheap flights with Mighty Travels Premium
Not everyone has got the time to trawl flight aggregator websites and airline ticket matrices to weed out these bargain flights for themselves. Thankfully, as a Mighty Travels Premium member you don’t have to, because we’ve already done all the hard work.
Mighty Travels takes data from multiple flight sales facilities – websites like KAYAK and Skyscanner, Google Flights and airlines own booking engines – and extracts the best bargain flights for your benefit. We look at what the average fare is on a route, and find those that are significantly under that typical price. We make it easier to find bargains without spending hours doing it, and our search works on all classes of travel.
Plenty of passengers have found bargain economy class flights using Mighty Travels Premium, but where we really come into our own is searching out the best business class fares from around the world. Getting started is easy – simply sign up for your free trial of Mighty Travels Premium and head to the homepage.
Here, you’ll see options to set where you’re traveling to and from, to select the cabin class you are looking for. To see all business class deals from around the world, leave everything blank and select ‘more filters’ to bring up the options on cabin classes.
Going for 100% lie-flat will show you all the options with a fully flat itinerary. However, there are very few deals out there with 100% fully lie-flat – often there are better offers with connecting flights on narrowbodies at one or other end of the trip. If there are no 100% flat itineraries, Mighty Travels will show you the best deals with high percentages of lie-flat, which you can see in the ‘airline’ section of the results.
Value versus cost
Let’s take an example of a deal from Chicago to Bozeman in December. To find out exactly what this trip is all about, head to the ‘book now’ options, and selecting your booking platform of choice – note that Google Flights requires you to input the departure date and indicate business class when you arrive on the site.
From here, we can see the trip is partly on a widebody, from O’Hare to Denver, with flat seats. However, the final one hour and 40-minutes is on United’s 737 with recliner seating. It’s not a bad deal, but could we do better?
An interesting statistic on Mighty Travels is the CPM, or cost per mile, of each trip. Our Chicago deal had a CPM of $29, so that trip is costing you $29 for each mile you fly. This is a much better representation of value for money than the headline cost of the flight. Thankfully, there’s a filter for that! Keeping our lie-flat percentage at ‘above 50%,’ we can set the CPM lower to see better value options. Let’s be bold and set it to $20.
Now we can see some cracking international deals – Chennai to Dubai for $710 in fully flat business class for 77% of the trip. That’s $19.50 per mile – a much better value deal than our domestic US flight. Can we go any lower?
Setting CPM to $10 or less, there are still deals to be had. Top of the crop here is a flight in November from Tunis to Kuala Lumpur for just over $1,000. This is a CPM of $8.60 and a significant saving for a flight that is usually priced at some $4,700.
A great way to see value-for-money offers within your chosen parameters is to select ‘CPM lowest first’ from the ‘sort results by’ dropdown.
Narrowing down your options
Most of us will not be able to travel from anywhere to anywhere just to take advantage of a flight deal. But that doesn’t mean we can’t dig out some great deals all the same. The key to finding the best offers is to be more flexible in your search, avoiding limiting results too much.
Let’s say we’re living in California, with relatively easy access to a vast number of international airports. We want to go somewhere warm in the winter, but aren’t too limited on destinations or dates at this stage. Let’s set LAX as our nearest airport, but with the flexibility to travel to more airports nearby – a radius of 150 miles should do it.
We want somewhere warm, so let’s go ahead and set the destination temperature to a minimum of 70 ℉. We also know we want to travel in the winter, so we’ll select all the months between November and February for our trip.
Searching with our low CPM results displayed first, the top airfare at the time of searching is LAX to Hurghada in late November for under $2,400. It’s 71% lie flat seating on the SWISS Boeing 777, with a CPM of $15.30. Not bad!
Tweaking the dates
If the date you’ve been shown is not an ideal time for you to be travelling, browsing other available bargain dates is easy. Our site will automatically show you the very best offer on any date in your range, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only time you can fly.
Clicking ‘view more dates’ will bring up a browsable calendar showing the best prices for your parameters on any given date. To make it even easier, we’ve colour coded the dates so you can rapidly see where the sweet spots are. Purple dates are higher prices, yellow are good offers, and green are the very cheapest options out there.
Mighty Travels gives you the flexibility to book with a number of partners. We find great results through Google Flights, but perhaps you prefer to book with sites like Skyscanner, Kayak or directly with the airline. But is there any difference in price?
Google Flights required fresh input of the dates and travel class, but then arrived at the same price we saw on Mighty Travels.
Momondo and Kayak both found our original deal at slightly more money, but also found a deal that was a few dollars cheaper. Skyscanner required us to change the cabin class, but otherwise found the same deal at the same price.
The booking engine at SWISS required the input of all our choices again. From there, we honestly found it very difficult to track down our offer price again. We could see some good offers on the outbound, but even on ‘business basic’ we couldn’t get the price as low as it was appearing on the other search engines.
Not all airline booking sites have this price discrepancy, but quite often, there are better deals to be found at any of our other partners. Do note that these sites, and Google Flights, are all aggregators, so payments and bookings will be handled by third parties.
Top tips for finding the cheapest flights on Mighty Travels
We do our best to bring you all the bargain fares from airlines around the world, but you can help yourself get better results too. Here are some top tips for getting the most out of Mighty Travels Premium.
- Search a wider range of departures: Rather than selecting your home airport, search for more options by selecting your home country or even region. Traveling from London but happy to drive? Select ‘United Kingdom’ to see all departures from around the country. Happy to connect from somewhere outside of the UK? Select by region ‘Europe’ to see more options.
- Be open to alternative destinations: If you want to travel to Europe from the US, does it have to be Paris? Open your search to places in France to see more options, or widen it even more by choosing ‘Europe’. If you know you want to get away but don’t really care where, leave your destination blank to see all of your options.
- Consider lowering the lie flat percentage: Choosing 100% lie flat will only show you flights from your origin point that pick up on a lie flat equipped aircraft and have all lie flat seats for the entirety of the route. Changing this to 75% or 50% will also show you connecting flights that maybe have smaller aircraft for part of the route, but could save you thousands of dollars on the trip.
- Keep an eye on the value, as well as the cost: While the overall cost of your trip will be dictated by your budget, don’t forget to check the CPM as well. A $1,000 flight that is only in the air for four hours is not such good value as an $1,100 flight that takes you 10 hours across the world.
- Check all booking partners: In generally, Mighty Travels will have the latest pricing information, but just occasionally our partners are able to offer slightly lower. Check all the booking options to see if there are any further savings to be made.
With the help of Mighty Travels Premium, you could be jetting off to a new exotic destination in lie flat comfort for less than you thought.