"I am so angry with Delta," began an e-mail I recently received. The reader had purchased seats in April, and when she subsequently checked the price, it had dropped by $208. Delta's change fee, $250 per ticket, would have wiped out any savings from nabbing the lower fare.
It is totally maddening -- and it happens all the time. To make matters worse, prices are on the rise, especially at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where Delta dominates. Last week, Carlson Wagonlit Travel predicted that the cost to fly out of MSP will rise from 5.4 to 7.9 percent next year, compared with a rise of 2.8 percent across the rest of the U.S. and Canada.
The fickle pricing of airline tickets means that passengers sitting side by side may have paid fares hundreds of dollars apart -- to fly the same route, on the same plane.
If you're like me, you're wondering how to be the one who pays less.
Don't buy tickets more than three months ahead of a flight. Buy before then, when airlines begin to manage a flight's revenue, and there's no chance the airline would have adjusted the price downward if the flight is empty. Be willing to fly early in the morning or late at night; forgo nonstops; shoot for the slow days: Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. Sign up for airfare pricing alerts at various travel websites. Shop at bing.com/travel, which predicts whether the prices you're looking at will go up or down.
Still, no trick works all the time. Perhaps the best strategy is to decide what a trip is worth to you, buy a ticket in that range, and don't go looking at prices again.
Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.