The Price of Procrastination

This post is originally published on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog by Kelly Soderlund and Meg Ellis, on the 8th of March 2017.

Let’s face it: procrastination is almost as American as pie. More than one-fourth of us identify as procrastinators, while 20 percent identify themselves as chronic procrastinators, meaning it affects every area and spans every spectrum of their life.

But people usually plan travel in advance. At least, that’s what conventional wisdom tells us. “When is the best time to buy tickets?” consistently is one of the most-asked questions of Hipmunk’s bot. On the flip-side, travelers consistently are told to book at least six weeks in advance.

Basically, it’s assumed that Americans desire for price savings would trump any maladaptive character traits—like procrastination.

And so we were stunned when we analyzed Hipmunk’s 2016 US flight booking data and found that 60 percent of domestic bookings occurred within three weeks of departure. That finding naturally made us wonder how much last-minute bookings were costing US travelers.

Hint: booking early is always better, but travelers won’t really see prices jump until inside the three-week mark. From week eight to week three, prices only increase by 24 percent. But from week three to week one, the booking price jumps 42 percent. 

More Travel Procrastination Findings:

 Price Change on Popular Routes
 Route  1 Week Prior  3 Weeks Prior  Savings
 SFO-EWR  $522  $312  $209
 LAX-SFO  $305  $130  $174
 JFK-SFO  $482  $337  $146
 LAX-JFK  $488  $351  $137
 SFO-LAX  $268  $142  $126
 SFO-JFK  $473  $350  $123
 JFK-LAX  $465  $348  $117
 BOS-SFO  $498  $381  $117
 JFK-LAS  $419  $305  $114
 SFO-BOS  $519  $408  $111
 LAX-HNL  $498  $398  $100
 BOS-LAX  $388  $319  $70
 ATL-LAS  $216  $163  $53
 SFO-LAS  $178  $154  $24
 LAX-LAS  $140  $128  $13

NY (Last) Minute

  • Most Popular Last-Minute Getaway Destination: New York City
  • 52 percent of Hipmunk travelers flying to NY book within 3 weeks of departure date
  • Other popular last-min destinations
    • Chicago (52 percent book within 3 weeks of departure date)
    • San Diego (51 percent book within 3 weeks of departure date)
    • Los Angeles (50 percent book within 3 weeks of departure date)

Travel Planning Tips:

  • Set fare alerts so that you’re always the first to know when prices drop.
  • Apps like Tripit will automatically scan your inbox for booking confirmation emails and compile your itinerary.
  • Sign up for TSA Pre-check and Clear for quick flight clearance.
  • Use Hipmunk and take the agony out of flight search.

Methodology: Hipmunk analyzed average flight booking prices by weeks in advance of departure from the top 30 DMA destinations, made from Jan 1 – Dec 31, 2016, as well as average flight bookings on Hipmunk most-searched routes made from Jan 1 – Dec 31, 2016.