An airplane, clouds, and luggage.

Searching for airfares can be a time-consuming and frustrating exercise. And unsurprisingly, the internet is teeming with advice from self-styled experts with ideas about everything from the best time of day to search to how many days in advance you should purchase your ticket.

The only problem is, many of these tricks are either outdated or simply wrong. And if you blindly follow them, you could be missing out on better deals and paying more than you need to.

The fact is that as the airline industry develops more sophisticated ways to sell tickets to consumers, the rules constantly change. Here, the half-dozen most commonly held myths, and the real deal.

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Myth: Tuesday Is the Best Day to Book Airfares

This magic formula for nabbing a great airfare has been so widely believed for so long that it even earned its own moniker: Travel Tuesday.  

Like many myths, this one sprouted from a grain of truth—the once-common practice whereby airlines “loaded” their fares into their reservation computers, with the highest volume of deals often landing on Mondays, meaning there’d be more low fares to snap up the following day, according to William J. McGee, aviation adviser to Consumer Reports.

But now airline reservation systems move at warp speed. “The airlines have become very sophisticated, and fares are constantly changing, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” McGee says.

Rather than offering the best deals on a particular day of the week, airlines increasingly use flash sales to stimulate business, and those can pop up anytime. An analysis by airfare research site Hopper showed that Tuesday was the cheapest day to book for only 1.6 percent of domestic routes. One exception is the Tuesday following Cyber Monday after Thanksgiving, when the airlines join the holiday sale frenzy with an official Travel Tuesday fire sale. But that’s only for that one day, and most good deals for winter vacation travel are sold out weeks, if not months, before then.

Myth: A Round-Trip Airline Ticket Is a Better Deal Than Two One-Way Fares

It has long been assumed that you’ll save money buying a round-trip fare over two one-ways, either on the same airline or by combining flights on different carriers.

But according to price data in a recent study by the Airlines Reporting Corporation, the clearinghouse that tracks all U.S. airline ticket sales, that’s not necessarily so. Part of what makes combining one-way fares potentially cheaper is the development of “hacker fares” by online travel search sites, such as Kayak and Hopper.

Kayak claims that consumers booking two one-way tickets are “usually paying less than they would if it were a regular round-trip flight.” Moreover, data show that this tactic is becoming increasingly popular: The percentage of one-way tickets sold (out of all ticket sales) grew from 29 percent to 42 percent between 2014 and 2017, according to the ARC report.

Myth: A Connecting Flight Will Always Be Cheaper Than Flying Nonstop

When you’re shopping for airline flights, a nonstop flight is always preferable to one that gets you to your destination via an out-of-the-way pit stop that adds hours to your trip and also uncertainty by raising the odds of delays or missed connections.

In a normal marketplace, a clearly inferior product would cost less than the preferred option.

But, oddly, a typical airfare search for all flights for a particular route and date turns up some one or even two-stop itineraries that not only don’t save you money but also might even cost more. Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research, says that you can sometimes save money by taking a connecting flight but that there's no logic to when and where this would apply.

“It all has to do with how complicated the airlines’ fare structures have become,” he says. “It's gotten a lot harder to game the system.” 

 

Myth: The Best Airfares Require a Saturday Overnight Stay

Major airlines long ago slapped a Saturday night requirement on their lowest fares to make them less attractive to business travelers on an expense account. And to some extent they still do: Saturdays tend to be slower for air travel, and thus you can often—but not always—find better fares for departures on that date.

But industry disrupters such as Southwest and JetBlue—and ultra-low-cost lines like Frontier and Spirit—have chipped away at this Saturday night penalty, so it’s no longer an ironclad rule.

“One of the key reasons airlines did away with this is that corporate travel managers were saying ‘we’re tired of paying so much more’” than leisure travelers, says Atmosphere’s Harteveldt.

But there are exceptions. “The Saturday night penalty is more likely to apply to international travel,” he says. 

Myth: It’s Always Better to Book as Far in Advance as Possible

Most airlines put their flights up for sale at least eight months in advance, and some, such as American and Delta, start selling tickets 11 months ahead of time. So if you know you’ll be traveling at a specific date in the future, it makes sense to lock in a fare as soon as you can, right?

Not necessarily. That’s because airlines don’t start actively managing inventory for a specific flight until around three months before departure, according to the website FareCompare. The site recommends that you hold off and sign up for fare alerts, which are offered by a number of airfare search sites.

They say that if you buy earlier, you’ll probably pay a midrange price, which is usually more than what you’d pay if you wait.

Myth: Low-Fare Airlines Will Always Beat the Major Airlines on Price

Years ago, there were basically two types of airlines: higher-priced scheduled airlines and cut-rate charter companies. That distinction disappeared after the government deregulated the airlines 40 years ago, and now every airline, it seems, is trying to be all things to all people.

And while you’d assume that an airline with lower costs can pass along those savings to customers—much like a discount warehouse can offer the same goods for less than a high-end store—it doesn’t always work that way.

Even though major carriers like American have higher unit costs than, say, Spirit Airlines, new fare types like Basic Economy have blurred the lines. But the cheapest fares on a mainstream airline often have onerous restrictions, so read the fine print before you put your money down.

“Our advice to travelers is that you have to shop around,” says Consumer Reports’ McGee.