Friday, July 08, 2016

Perils of booking air ticket too early!

Every website and blog out there suggests that you should book your air tickets as early as possible to save more. In general it is true, but booking ticket early has its own drawbacks. I have booked cheap tickets- several of them- as early as 12 -15 months before travel date. By and large it has worked for me but there have been drawbacks as well. In this post, I am listing risks and drawbacks of booking your flight tickets too early.
Issue 1: Interest Money lost
If you book one year early, factor 10% of the ticket fare lost as interest had you booked it later and invested this money elsewhere. For couple of months this isn't big amount, but if booked 9-12 months or more then interest component adds to few thousands on its own.

Issue 2: Flights get cancelled, rescheduled throwing your plans out of gear.
Scenario 2A: Direct flight cancelled, Re-routed
Last October, I had booked Chennai- Port Blair direct flight, travel date being August 1st week, 2016 on jet airways for 2 guests. Reason I booked this flight was because I had already booked 5 people on a spicejet flight and no more seats were available at discounted rates on Spicejet.  For two family members who couldn’t be accommodated on Spicejet (one it was little more expensive and second I thought it is a risk to put everyone from family on a same flight). Jet Airways had a direct flight at reasonable rate adjacent to Spicejet flight. All looked good until recently (Early June) Jet Airways decided to cancel their Chennai-Port Blair mid-day Direct flight.

Jet airways automatically rescheduled the original 12 noon departure, 2 PM arrival ticket to 2 AM Chennai-Kolkata + 5 AM Kolkata-Port Blair flight. This meant my guests now have to reach airport at midnight and reach port blair at 7 AM much ahead of others, which was not convenient. (They were supposed to reach Chennai early morning from BLR)

My other option was to take full refund, but that wasn't much viable as there were no other convenient flights at reasonable rates. Then I worked it out with Jet airways call centre to route them Bengaluru-Delhi-Kolkata-Port Blair flight, which is now 10 hours instead of original 2 hours. However, I could salvage the situation as my guests could save on 6 hour Bengaluru-Chennai road/rail travel, instead board the flight in BLR, go to Delhi, change the flight, which will stop once in Kolkata and then finally reach Port Blair, after giving my guests an India tour at the same price of Chennai-Port Blair flight. Not the most convenient thing to do but best I could do under the circumstances. May be I should have tried my luck asking for BLR-BOM-Jodhpur-Delhi-Kathmandu-Kolkata-Port Blair, and return trip via Colombo-Male-Tiruchirapalli-Mangalore-BLR with 2 days stop over at each city... :)

Scenario 2B: Flight timings change
One year ago, Osaka was the only airport in Japan that Air Asia operated. When I had booked my Chennai-Osaka (Japan) roundtrip ticket, return journey was originally supposed to start at 4.30 PM and I had a reasonable transit time of 6 hours at KUL. My plan was to make the most of the morning half and reach airport by 1 PM. But then, later AirAsia introduced a flight from Tokyo as well and along with that they changed timings of Osaka-KUL flight to 11 AM in the morning. How I need to reach airport by 8 AM, spend whole day in travel, spend 12 night hours at KLIA2. Effectively I lost half a day worth of sight seeing. Airlines often adjust timings based on various factors and sometimes the new time may not be optimal and compromise on the value you were hoping to extract. As long as date remains same, they thing it is OK, but sometimes it could make you lose one full day.

This also poses concern if you had booked connecting flight or train etc, which goes for a toss if one of the leg is rescheduled.

Issue 3: New Promo Sales/Discounts
Airlines often launch flash sale. If you had booked tickets when there was no sale, then you might regret it when there is a sale announced. For Super long haul flights to Europe and US usually there won’t be much sales and it is fine to book early without a sale if your travel is near 100% confirmed. For short haul destinations, for Asia/Australia etc, I suggest do not book if there is no sale. Check this post for target prices- unless you see a price similar to these low fares, it is not really wise to book 9 months or more in advance if there is no sale. Wait for a sale if you are flexible with your dates and destinations. Sometimes airlines launch discounts in competition, just because another airline lowered its price.

Issue 4: Your plans change/Leave issues
This is the biggest concern for many of us. We can’t predict our life or plan anything beyond next week. Unless you’re firmly based in departure city and have some sort of control on your life, you can’t afford to risk big amount on a flight ticket and risk it all. Couple this with issue 5 and you may end up regretting your decision to book early.

Issue 5: Restrictions on your ticket
Tickets sold under sale come attached with more restrictions- mostly no refund clause, heavy fees for date change etc. When Bali airport closed last year, our trip had to be cancelled. We didn't get cash refund, but only credits for use in future bookings. Of course this volcanic ash and related airport closure couldn't have been avoided even if one had booked say 1 week in advance, as situations developed just a few days prior to our travel.

Issue 6: Fares do not always increase over time
Your primary reason to book early is the possibility that fares will go up as date of travel comes closer. This need not always be true, as air ticket pricing is very dynamic and depends on dozens of factors such as load factor, competition fares, demand/supply and so on, which can't be predicted. For example, I spent close to 19K per person for Chennai-Macau and back in Air Asia, 9 months ago. Factoring some interest, it is close to 20k. I checked fares 3 weeks prior- it was around 26k. So there was some saving but not significant. If you are not saving huge, all the risk taken by booking so early will be waste.

What other reasons can affect a ticket booked months in advance? Do share from your experience.

So what to do? When should we book early and when we should wait?
Check 1: Destinations- For Europe and Americas, probability of a sale/fare drop is much less. If you're sure to travel then go ahead and book. For Asia, Middle East, if you are flexible with the dates, it helps to wait for a sale or when rates are closer to cheaper side of the fare range.

Check 2: Risk Profile: What is the probability of your travel on those dates, can you risk a near 100% cancellation fee or expensive rescheduling cost? If you can take the risk, then book, else wait for some more certainty.

Check 3: Promo Sales: If an airline sale is going on and you've identified a super low fare, then go ahead and book. It is unlikely that airline will launch another sale within 2-3 months with a fare even cheaper. For this it is important to have a bench mark price so that you know what is normal fare, what is cheap and what is super -cheap.

Check 4: Your flexibility: If you are desperate to travel or have to travel anyway irrespective of fare, then book now without waiting for further discount, if travel date is within few months. If you are flexible with dates and feel current fares are not good enough, then wait.

Also read: Air Asia big sale tips and tricks *


Jess Shpek said...


Shrinidhi Hande said...


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GaadiKey said...

Great info. Thanks.

Kalpanaa M said...

Hahahah - good points. I've never been that organised that I booked a ticket a year in advance.

Ravish Mani said...

Interesting take, Shrinidhi :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Ravish Mani, Kalpana

Anupam Patra said...

Very informative Shri

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Anupam