Before I had a family, I never even realized that airlines sold fares in buckets. Obviously, not buckets as in the kind you put water or sand in, but as in categories.

For example, most airlines have X amount of tickets they sell for each fare code they load into their complex system.

So, let’s say their lowest fare on a route from Hawaii to Los Angeles (LAX) flight in mid-January is $159 and they sell 10 of them at that low price. Once all ten go, the fares go into the next “fare bucket” which will be at a higher price. In American Airlines’ case, it’s $239.

What happens if the airline sells seven of the ten $159 fares and then a family of four comes along and prices out four tickets? Since there are only three fares available at the lower fare, the system automatically prices out all four tickets in the next fare bucket available that has four tickets.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

If not, below are two screenshots, which I just took while pricing out, you guessed it, four tickets on an American Airlines Honolulu (HNL) to LAX ticket for January 12.

As you can see, when I priced out a flight for four people, American is charging $239 per person for coach and $950 for First Class. When I priced out the same flight for one person the fare dropped to $159 for coach and $750 for First. I then put in two people, then three and it was the same price. See screenshot below.

American even told me they only had three seats left at the $159 price when I was booking three people but I didn’t see that warning when I put in four people as it was a different fare bucket.

By buying three tickets separately at the lowest fare and then one at the next fare bucket, one would save a significant amount of money. Four coach tickets at $239 each, adds up to $956. But three tickets at $159 and one at $239 is just $716. That’s a savings of $240 for just spending a few extra minutes.

And the savings for First Class is even more significant. Four tickets at $950 add up to $3,800 but three at $750 and one at $950 adds up to $3,200. A $600 savings!

The airlines are definitely using the laws of supply and demand and you can beat them by being clever. For more tricks on how to save on airfares, sign up to my free newsletter to read my post, 17 Ways to Find Cheap Airfares.

5 Comments On "This Travel Hack Can Save You Hundreds of Dollars When Booking Flights"
  1. SMS|

    While this is great information, just remember you’ll be on separate itineraries which might become problematic should there be a cancellation.

  2. Kathleen Pacheco|

    This was a great example of saving money, and so simple to understand! My husband goes to Peru every Dec. 28th. I go down there the first week in April. We both come back together at the end of June. So, I need to find tickets separately to go, and the same to come back. This will help the next time I go looking! Thanks!

  3. Elliot|

    Hotels do similar things…especially on third party sellers like Expedia. “Only 2 left”means only 2 left at that price.

  4. Dan Nainan|

    What a brilliant tip, thank you so much!

  5. Lee|

    I found that with hotels if I have an extended stay, the daily rate often goes higher. So I break it down into one week stays and the rate drops significantly.

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