How to optimize the price of your ticket by being more flexible
Airline ticket prices are extremely dynamic and can fluctuate wildly based on chosen departure and arrival days. Over the years, airlines have learned that customers have a higher willingness to pay in order to travel on specific days, and they have invested considerable sums on dynamic algorithms to maximise their revenues based on a wealth of historical and real-time data.
Anecdotally, this makes sense to all of us. How often have we noticed, when booking a personal trip, how being flexible by even a single day on either side of a trip cuts the cost of flights dramatically. Many times, the amount saved on those flights is much less than the price of an extra hotel night, meaning more money in your “personal” pocket.
We decided to see if it made sense to take this approach when booking business travel. How much could we save? But, in business travel, there will always be a heightened awareness and need for productivity. Leaving one day earlier or returning one day later doesn’t mean choosing a cheaper ticket because the flight is longer, with more stops, or at inconvenient hours. Accordingly, we felt it would be important to study comparable and business-suitable flights. This would mean we need to dig deeper than a traditional website’s (e.g., Kayak) price matrices. These matrices are not business-suitable, since they are based on the cheapest price of the day, which, as outlined, often represent non-acceptable flights for business travellers.
Objectives of the analysis
Determine to which extent we can reduce the price of a plane ticket by using date flexibility (travelling one day earlier or returning one day later).
We tested over 150 flights across 25 different routes (NY, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Rio, Hong Kong, LA, Seoul, Toronto, Bangkok, San Francisco, and more). We focused on long haul, more expensive tickets which generally cost around €1,000. The ticket prices on these routes were then tested for periods ranging from two weeks to two months advance booking. We only compared direct flights when possible, and otherwise considered flights with the shortest duration.
The results of our study show that having flexible business travel dates leads to a potential reduction in flight prices. In 54% of the cases, being a day flexible when planning a trip resulted in savings on the price of the tickets. Leaving a day earlier on departure (marked D) produces on average 18% savings across all itineraries. If we focus on the cases where there actually are savings, the price reduction jumps to 30% — see chart. Similarly, returning one day later than initially planned (marked A) also allows for 18% savings on average. Again the price reduction jumps considerably to 35% if we only consider cases where there are savings — see chart.
If you want to dig into the numbers behind our graph, the full, detailed results of our study are available here.
Putting it into practice
To make these flexible dates worthwhile for your employees, we suggest encouraging bleisure as part of your corporate travel policy, in order to optimize it (check out and adapt our Travel Policy Template!). This corporate “act of kindness” will surely be well-received, making business trips more enjoyable and consequently increasingly productive.
While people of all ages might take advantage of this “perk”, we recommend tailoring your messaging and offerings to Millennials. As of 2020, almost half of global business travel expenses is by Millennial travellers. According to McKinsey & Company, this age group values “the genuine blending of their work and personal lives”. Millennials have become accustomed to blurring the lines (e.g., they are more at ease working from home and often don’t stick to strict working hours) and they want their company’s travel programs to be just as flexible. More and more often, travel flexibility is an essential perk they weigh in when considering which jobs to accept.
Millennials have had a profound impact on markets and corporate cultures, but travel policies seem to lag behind. Modern policies which include bleisure travel perks are a great opportunity to quickly catch-up as well as reduce travel spend — a win-win. While implementing this change may be challenging (it can often lead to a shift in company culture), it is part of the path companies must take in order to swiftly adapt to a rapidly evolving market that is more and more determined by the trends, both internal and external, set by younger generations.
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- 5 levers to smartly cut your travel spend by 30%
- Optimising business travel management: the 4 archetypes