The Best Time to Buy Airplane Ticket: 3 P.M. Tuesday

If you've ever tried to buy a plane ticket online, then you'd know that prices can vary greatly from one day to the next. But is there a secret to finding the best fares online?

According to Wall Street Journal travel editor Scott McCartney, who writes the weekly The Middle Seat column, the answer depends on when you buy:

So a ticket can be $199 certain days and $499 other days even months ahead of a flight. "There's a lot of method behind the madness, a lot of rationality behind the moves for airlines," said Ike Anand, Expedia's director of airline strategy. "But for consumers, it does seem crazy."

Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare.com, studied three years worth of airline prices and concluded that 3 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday was the best time to buy. "That's when the maximum number of cheapest seats are in the marketplace," he said.

A daily check of fares in 10 different markets for the past two weeks showed that the average of the lowest prices offered in those markets was often mid-week, while weekends were higher priced. In the days studied, there were no "mistake fares" at ridiculously low prices that could skew results.

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