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I have learned that spending quite some time on searching for a the best fare for a trip can be quite rewarding. It isn't uncommon that I save 1000 Euro on a trip, simply by going through various resources. Still I often regret not having waited a bit longer in booking, because I notice an even cheaper fare. Then again it is also not uncommon that I waited too long.

It would be so nice if you can know the rock bottom (real) price of a given route. I say "real" because I know that airlines sometimes have 1-10 Euro stunt prices airlines, but that is like winning the lottery since they are so hard to secure. So far I only managed once to buy a return trip for 1 Euro.

So I am not talking about the stunt prices airlines use for marketing purposes.

This question is inspired by a Dutch documentary where a group of journalists investigated what it costs the airlines to fly between Amsterdam and London. If I remember correctly it was on average 60 Euro per chair. So I would consider 60 Euro a threshold price for a trip from Amsterdam to London. Anything below 60 euro's becomes a bargain.

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Use Matrix ITA! –  Imray May 7 at 17:15

5 Answers 5

You can't. At any point a new deal could come out. And these aren't entirely predictable either - demand to some extent is predictable, but all you need is a 'random' event - a sudden football final in an unexpected location, for example, to drive air traffic and crowds.

Kayak has recently tried to predict, and they have a 'prediction' algorithm, that's quite indepth (article about how it works and what it looks like.

However, it's not a certain thing, as I mentioned. That's why many, many articles are written about the 'best time' to get a good price. And there are guidelines. 'Generally' cheaper flights aren't during school holidays. Generally, they're not at Christmas. But that's the 'cheapest'. What about the best at Christmas? We have an epic answer by Kate on this very topic. Still not perfect though.

However, even when I've seen kayak's algorithm at nearly 100% certain you should buy, and they have a price - that makes you think 'oh - it's the cheapest it's going to get'. Then some flight hacker on Flightfox or Darjeelin comes up with an even lower bet, through some clever trick hopping through South Neverheardofit and a 45 min window in the airport. So sometimes you may have the cheapest price, but at a cost. And you have to decide if that cost is worth it to you.

I've often heard that the best time to buy a ticket is when you're 'ok' with the price. At that point, that is the right price. Buy it and don't look back.

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well said, especially the last paragraph! –  jwenting May 7 at 10:04
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@markmayo that is what I did, until browser cookies enabled adds showing offers on recently investigated routes. –  andra May 7 at 11:25

Kayak provides a little "price trend" graph that includes advice on whether to buy or wait, and their confidence. This applies to both domestic US and international flights, but not all flights. This is the closest thing I've found to knowing the rock bottom real price.

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dito to this answer, but I'm always wondering whether they have ulterior motives –  EdmundYeung99 May 8 at 9:38

I don't think you can know the cheapest price for a given trip unless you know how airfare works. You need to know that in advance to come up with the average cheapest possible price then compare it with the listed prices in various sites. This knowledge is not as easy as it sounds, there are dozens of things to learn.

Anyway, even if you have this knowledge, you will come up with the cheapest possible normal price which will be the same for all IATA members, special prices are tricky and you will need to use common sense or experience, but at least after getting the cheapest normal price possible you will know for sure that any special price should be less than that. Here is a PDF file about fares and ticketing that can you help you a bit in understanding how air fares are calculated and types of them and so on.

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This talk from the ITA Matrix team also has a lot on why it's a really really hard problem –  Gagravarr May 7 at 9:50

And define "cheapest". What exactly is "cheapest" for you? If I can get a flight on a route where the average ticket takes 1 hour but the cheapest is $10 lower and takes 3 hours, do you consider that cheaper?
I wouldn't, I value my time at more than $5 an hour. Someone else might.
And if I'm flying to London, I'm factoring in the transit fees from the airport to the city proper. For Heathrow that's about 12 pounds (return). For Gatwick, that's about 60 pounds (return). If your flight through Gatwick is 10 pounds cheaper than through Heathrow, that transit fee makes the overall package more expensive yet those price comparison websites never mention that.
If I fly to Birmingham with KLM my luggage is included in the price. If I fly with FlyBe, it's extra, making KLM cheaper for the complete package price. Yet again those comparison websites don't take that into account.
Years ago I flew to Curacao. Could have taken an indirect route through Lisbon and Caracas with TAP, save me 100 Euro over the direct route with KLM. But it would have taken me almost twice as long. Not worth it for me.
Mind those examples were from a few years ago, specific situation might be different there, principle holds.

Same with many other considerations. If I'm looking to rent a car at my destination, and the "cheapest" ticket brings me to an airport where I can't get a rental from the agency with which I get a steep discount because I'm a repeat customer, overall package price will be higher, maybe much higher.

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This is more a lengthy comment, then an answer –  andra May 7 at 11:20
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This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. –  drat May 7 at 12:25
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@jwenting Not at all. The question is: For a given airline/connection, how to know what their lowest fare is. Whether a non-stop flight is worth paying more to you personally is immaterial and doesn't change the meaning of the word “cheapest”. Note that the problem is not even whether your comments are true or not; there are many statements that are indubitably true and still have nothing to do with the question. –  Relaxed May 7 at 15:35
    
Um. A standard class return rail ticket from Gatwick to central London (Victoria Station) is £25-30, not £60, as you claim. –  David Richerby May 7 at 21:51
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Just checked on nationalrail.co.uk, even at peak hours, you can get £15 tickets. Not that it matters for the answer, was more just concerned about my memory, but it checks out :) –  Mark Mayo May 8 at 4:36

If you search on ITA Matrix and under advanced options uncheck Only show flights and prices with available seats, you will get a good idea of the cheapest possible fare.

It will show all possible tickets even if they haven't been released yet or have all been bought. Unfortunately though, it does not include some budget airlines, e.g. Ryanair.

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