Travel Myth Busters: The Truth Behind the Best Ways to Find Cheap Flights

By Kyle Potter

March 02, 2021

TripIt is teaming up with our friends at Thrifty Traveler, a site that helps you travel more for less, to find out the truth behind two pervasive travel myths.

Even with most travel on pause during the pandemic, our collective quest as travelers to find the best deal possible on flights marches on. 

At Thrifty Traveler, finding cheap flights is our business. So we’ve heard every tip and trick for scoring a bargain in the book. Over time, two tips in particular have been passed around so much that they’ve become common knowledge: 

#1 You should clear your cookies (or search incognito) to sneak under the airlines’ radar and score a better deal. 

#2 There’s one day in particular you should search for flights to get the best prices.

There’s just one problem: They’re not true.

It’s time to separate fact from fiction and fill you in on what’s actually happening when you search for a cheap flight.


Travel Myth #1: “Clear Your Cookies or Search Incognito to Get the Best Prices”

It’s been passed on for years to the point that it’s become conventional wisdom. The theory goes, “airlines track what you’re searching, so clear your cookies or search with an incognito to prevent them from increasing the price on you.” 

However, airlines are not—we repeat, they are not—tracking your searches. They aren’t logging what flights, or other things you’re looking at or searching for to manipulate pricing when you decide to buy. It’s just not happening. Sure, we can see how it would make sense considering how we’ve seen dynamic pricing work in other industries, but when it comes to airlines, it’s just not the case.

Yet, this travel myth has crystallized, taking hold because it offers an easy explanation for a frustratingly common phenomenon. Why else would the price of a flight you’re looking at jump just hours, if not minutes, later? 

Everyone has a story like that. But the real explanation often boils down to two words: Fare classes. 

When you and I get on a plane, we see first class, premium economy, and economy seats. But from the airline’s perspective, there’s actually an alphabet soup of different types of fares. And we mean alphabet: From first class back to economy, there are 26 different fare classes, each with their own rules, restrictions, and most importantly, their own prices. 

Airlines are always changing these fare classes, adding or subtracting what’s available at what price all while flyers are shopping. It turns the seemingly straightforward act of buying a flight into a constant moving target.

So let’s say you search for a flight from your hometown to Miami and find a great fare for $108 roundtrip. Little do you know, there are only four of that fare class still available. While you check back in on work or see if your spouse or a friend can join you, someone else came along and bought four tickets to Miami. Or maybe the airline decided to pull that fare class altogether. 

So by the time you check again, that $108 fare you were just eyeing is gone. And so the airline has automatically bumped you up to the next lowest-priced fare at $142 roundtrip. 

To you, it looks like the airline suddenly decided to charge another $34 for the flight you just looked at. In reality, the actual fare you wanted sold out. And it really can happen that fast. 

There are some other explanations for why flight prices change so quickly. 

Sometimes, popular search platforms may display slightly outdated data that doesn’t reflect a recent pricing change, making it look like the price changed by the time you go to actually check out. And if you’re comparing prices between searching via mobile and desktop, it again may boil down to fare class. Some airlines will show you basic economy fares on desktop, but searching for the same flights via mobile will show you their main cabin fare first. 

Regardless, these quirks and changes have nothing to do with the airline tracking your searches. So, rest assured, you can stop clearing your cookies. 


Travel Myth #2: “Search for Flights on Tuesdays to Get the Cheapest Price”

If the myth about clearing your cookies is a consequence of the growing power of technology in our lives, this one’s the opposite. It’s a legend; ancient history that lives with travelers to this day. 

So let me say it unequivocally: Searching for flights on Tuesdays is not the key to getting the cheapest price. 

Is this travel myth a holdover from simpler times when airlines loaded new flights for sale far less frequently? Was it ever true? We can’t say for sure. 

But here’s what we can say: From Black Friday to Cyber Monday to Travel Tuesday—and any old Tuesday, for that matter—there’s no magic day or time to get a bargain on your next trip. These are more marketing tactics than money-saving opportunities. The unpredictable and constantly changing nature of flight prices means the best prices can pop up at any time. 

Can you find a good deal on a Tuesday? Sure. But you’re just as likely to find a cheap flight on a Wednesday. Or a Thursday, a Saturday, or any other day that ends in “y.” 

Rather than get hung up on the best day to book a flight, we focus on the below factors that drive flight prices instead: 

  • It’s less about when you book and more about when you actually fly. Departing or returning on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or a Saturday will almost always be cheaper, while flying on higher-demand days like Sundays or Fridays will drive the price higher. Think of it as an excuse to extend your trip in the name of a bargain. 
  • Use powerful flight search platforms to start your search. The best search tools will allow you to quickly filter for the flights you want. Choose to fly nonstop (or not) and only on the airlines you want to fly. They can also steer you toward the cheapest dates to fly and let you know whether the prices you’ve found are good, average, or high. 
  • Booking last-minute is almost always a recipe for paying too much. Be sure to book your flights at least 30-45 days in advance—and even earlier if you’re planning to travel internationally. While airlines aren’t punishing last-minute bookers nearly as much during the pandemic, it’s a good rule of thumb to keep in mind.
  • When you see a good price, buy that flight! U.S. law requires all airlines (foreign and domestic) to give travelers a full refund if they cancel within a 24-hour window of booking. 
  • Right now is a great time to book travel for the future. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven airfare to record lows. Airlines are also offering travelers some unprecedented flexibility to change or cancel their tickets without a fee. Combined, that makes this one of the best times to book your future travel. 

Tip: TripIt Pro regularly checks airline prices, always looking to see if there's a better price than what you paid (less any change fees). If we think you're eligible for a credit or refund, we'll send you an alert to contact your carrier or booking agent. Learn more about Fare Tracker.>

Just as with the myth about clearing your cookies, the advice you’ve heard about booking on Tuesdays seems to simplify the ever-elusive hunt for the cheapest flight possible. Unfortunately, it’s also just not true. 

These travel myths have taken hold because they neatly explain the mystifying, ever-changing world of flights, airfare, and airlines. They seem to offer a simple explanation to two of the most vexing questions travelers face: When will I get the best deal? And why does airfare keep changing when I want to book? 

However, finding cheap flights is more art than science. To score a good deal on airfare, start by leaving these myths behind.