You’ve probably heard about legendary magic websites that let you book flights for half price or a certain time of day you need to wake up to book a flight to find that super cheap price. Other popular travel myths I’ve heard from road warriors border on the superstitious like never sitting on the left side of the plane or always tapping the side of the plane when entering the boarding door.
Whatever you think you might know about travel, let’s take today to debunk three of the most common myths I still hear on a regular basis.
As recently as this year, media outlets continue to perpetuate the myth that wearing nice clothes will get you an upgrade. The fact is, upgrades on U.S. airlines are strictly controlled by a hierarchy of rules covering paid passengers, employees, and passengers with airline status. What you have on will not qualify (or for that matter disqualify you) for an upgrade.
If there are empty first-class seats left on a plane before departure, gate agents process the upgrade and standby lists in accordance with complex airline rules for who gets to sit up front. This continues even until the moment boarding is complete.
If there is still an empty seat up front, employees aren’t looking for who is dressed nicest, they simply go to the next person on the upgrade list and pull them from their economy seat up to first class. If no one is on the list, they’ll get the next “non-rev” (common slang for an airline employee or their family) and put them up front.
Perhaps at one-time gate agents had the freedom to upgrade at will based on stereotypes, but those days are long past — so go ahead and wear those sweat sets or whatever else you’re most comfortable traveling in.
You may have a friend or coworker who swears they always book flights at a certain website and save tons of money. For the vast majority of flights, this isn’t the case. The price you see on an airline’s own website will likely match exactly what you see on an online travel agency (OTA) like Expedia, Priceline, or Hotwire.
Airlines have worked hard in recent years to control where their inventory is sold. The airlines prefer not to have to pay a commission to online travel agencies and always want what we call direct bookings — tickets booked through the airline’s own website or app. This is the reason you won’t find airlines like Southwest a part of most online travel agencies.
There’s an occasional deal you can find here or there that a travel agency funds itself, but they are too rare and too limited in capacity to ever count on getting regular savings. For the best customer service and for the same price, book direct with an airline. This way you can go to the airline’s own customer service rather than having to call a website’s customer service.
Another myth I hear all the time from friends or read online is waiting to book a flight at a specific time of the week when they are cheapest. The usual folklore tells people Tuesday or Wednesday mornings is the time to buy at the right price. In reality, airline revenue management departments have such advanced pricing algorithms that no longer allow you to beat the computer.
Much more important to finding the right price is buying a flight at least two weeks or more in advance of departure, avoiding peak travel times like holidays and summer, and flying a route that has a lot of competition. Even then, the algorithms are optimizing the price every second and it’s tough to win. If you need to fly on Christmas eve or the Sunday of Spring Break week, booking on a Wednesday morning isn’t going to help you.
Technology and frequent flyer programs have made it tough to beat the system. There are rules and technology that control every aspect of flying today from booking your ticket to landing at your destination. Be sure to remain a bit skeptical of the typical myths you hear and you want to know if a travel myth you often hear is true or false, drop me a line at email@example.com.