Some passengers avoid flying on Friday the 13th – but do non-triskaidekaphobes get cheaper tickets as a result, as superstitious travellers stay at home?
There are a lot of myths in aviation, but the idea that flights are cheaper on Friday the 13th because people choose to stay at home out of superstition has always made me laugh a bit. But is it true?
I took a look at Friday the 13th of November, for a bunch of popular routes, using my favourite search engine, Google Flights, for standard return trips in economy.
First, I looked at London to New York, and nope: not the cheapest day. Turns out that for the month of November the cheapest flights are €264, which are available most Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The popular Tokyo-Sapporo route? Not there either: quite a lot of days in November have the same €199 fare. Sydney-Melbourne? Nah, mate. It’s 40€ for most of the month. Seoul to Jeju-do? Ani! Friday the 13th is actually one of the more expensive days — looks like people love a good weekend trip to their favourite holiday island.
Mumbai to Delhi? Nahin. It’s actually one of the more expensive days of the month here too.
I’m not saying that flights were (or are) never cheaper because people are superstitious. But it’s very much not the case anymore. So if you want to fly on Friday the 13th, be my guest — download one of the cheesy movies onto your phone or tablet, and pick your favourite spooky costume, though you may have to gate-check that witch’s hat, your Dracula cape needs to come off for security, and I’m not sure a hockey mask is appropriate for flying…
If you really want to go full out, you’re a bit late: Finnair used to operate a flight from Copenhagen to its Helsinki base that was flight 666 to HEL, which operated 21 times on Friday the 13th over the years. Sadly, when the airline renumbered its flights in 2017, the flight number was changed to the significantly less spooky flight 954.
Okay, then, so when is booking flights more expensive?
As a rule, demand for flights is seasonal, and prices tend to be lower when there’s a concurrent lower desire to travel by business travellers, leisure travellers, and what airlines call VFR travellers: people who are Visiting their Friends and Relatives.
If you can do it, flying outside major events and holiday peak periods is probably smart. New Orleans during Mardi Gras is going to be expensive. So is Geneva when the motor show is on in the springtime, and New York during the UN’s General Assembly each autumn.
If you don’t have kids in school, flying outside the holiday peaks is not only calmer but also a good bit of travel karma: families with children have fewer options when it comes to timing, so be a sport and don’t take up all the flight capacity.
But don’t be too crazy about finding low season fares — because sometimes low season is low season for a reason. Japan’s hot, sticky, humid tsuyu summers can be overwhelming if you’re not used to them, for example.
What about cheap travel periods?
Flights to and within the United States is often cheaper between Thanksgiving in late November and the week before Christmas, because with the two large travel holidays so close to each other most folks don’t travel far. If you love a beautiful crisp autumn day, it’s the perfect time to head up to the northern parts of the country.
Flying between the US and Europe is usually relatively inexpensive after the Christmas rush (so late January, usually) and early spring. In fairness, though, late January through late March isn’t exactly a delightful month to visit much of Europe, but it can be very rewarding: I recall a wonderful trip to Venice in the snow when St Mark’s Cathedral was practically empty, and warming up frozen hands with hot cappuccinos and/or a glass of a warming digestivo a real pleasure.
Spring and autumn are usually pretty safe bets, though you’ll often have to be careful to avoid things like school half-terms, national events like Japan’s Golden Week, China’s Spring Festival, and Easter across Europe. (Don’t do what I did once and visit Finland over Easter, assuming that because it wasn’t a Catholic country it wouldn’t be shutting down — instead, it’s sort of the “last chance for a frozen lake cabin weekend” holiday, and Helsinki pretty much shuts down!)
Instead of trying to beat the system by relying on other people’s superstition, the best thing to do is rely on your own planning instead.
Airlines open their schedules 300-330 days out, although some low-cost carriers give less notice. As a rule, the further out you buy a ticket the lower the price. It’s hard to figure out whether you can expect a price to drop, so I wouldn’t rely on it.
Use sites like Google Flights to look at multiple city options when planning: is there something big on in London one weekend? Fly to Paris instead, spend the weekend there, and then take the train to London during the next week.
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