Airline sales explained: who has the best sales and when

Airline sales explained: who has the best sales and when

    When you’re planning to buy a ticket for a flight, should you wait for a sale? The answer isn’t as obvious as it seems... mostly because airlines can have a creative definition of “sale”.

    We’ve been monitoring flight prices for over five years, and we’ve picked up on some useful insight and patterns in that time. Some airlines have sales seemingly at random, while others have them at the same time each year like clockwork.

    Sometimes, a sale is a sale in name only. That “featured price” could simply be the highest price the airline thinks it can get you to pay. So, it’s important to know what a good price is for your ticket before you buy, even during a sale.

    We’re going to break down when most airlines have sales so you’re prepared next time you plan to book a holiday.

    What is an airline sale, anyway?

    Just because an airline says they’re having a sale, it doesn’t mean you’re getting a great deal. Equally, if you buy a flight at a random time you could snag a bargain purely by luck.

    When you think of a sale, you naturally imagine something the airline brags about with a special home page design and advertising for their “special fares”.

    These official sales can be a great time to buy your ticket, but they’re not necessarily the best time. 

    Flight prices naturally fluctuate throughout the year according to demand - you can read our article about how flights are priced.

    What you need to know is that sometimes the best price on a flight isn’t announced at all - it’s only found in those quietest moments of the year when the airline notices a certain route isn’t getting much interest.

    The best way to catch those unannounced deals is to track and regularly check a route you’re interested in. Or, sign up for our deal alerts and we’ll do all that for you so you never miss a true deal.

    Do all airlines run sales?

    All airlines claim to have sales, but we can say from experience that only some sales are worth paying attention to.

    Many airlines advertise sales with prices only marginally better than usual, but you wouldn’t know unless you’re keeping track. Others might have decent discounts but still be way more expensive than their competitors for a comparable flight.

    We’ve written this guide to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, using our five years of experience hunting the best flight deals out there.

    How our ratings work

    • The real deal: These sales are almost always as good as the airline offers. You should mark these dates on your calendar.
    • Worth a look: A little hit or miss - it’s worth checking out their sales but you should go in already informed about what a good fare for your destination is.
    • Forget it: This airline barely ever does a sale, or when they do the fares are average or even poor.

    The real deal

    Air New Zealand

    When: Black Friday

    Air New Zealand does not do sales very often, but their reliable Black Friday sale is a doozy.

    In the past, they’ve offered flights between London and Los Angeles for only £175 return (on a limited, first-come, first-served basis). 

    They will usually also have a “headline” fare, which is an excellent deal, all things considered. 

    Their other routes won’t be as special, but if you’re set on flying with them for features like the “Skycouch” then their sale is worth waiting for.

    British Airways

    When: British Airways always has a worldwide sale starting on Boxing day and through to the end of January. Then, another toward the end of August that lasts for a month. In recent years they also do a sale during Black Friday at the end of November, with equally good fares. 

    Generally, almost all of their long-haul routes will be discounted and as cheap as they will ever go. Some years have been better than others, but buying during their sales is never a bad idea.

    For their short-haul flights, you can sometimes find slightly better deals outside of their official sales, but most of the time they’ll be excellent too.

    Another nice thing about their sales is that they usually cover a good range of months - it’s not just a few dates here and there that are actually cheap.

    Etihad

    When: Etihad sales don’t tend to align with any special events, but they usually crop up every 3-6 months.

    If you’re looking for the cheapest routes to Australia (outside of Chinese airlines) this is your best bet. Apart from that, their sales often boast the cheapest non-stop fares to their hub, Abu Dhabi.

    Their sales are also worth tracking for routes to the biggest cities across South East Asia: think Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Plus, you can occasionally get a great deal to Sri Lanka.

    Japan Airlines (JAL)

    When: Japan Airlines sales match British Airways’: December-January, late August and Black Friday.

    As they’re part of the same airline alliance as British Airways, JAL also coordinates their sales with them. You can fly with either if you’re going to Tokyo or Osaka, but if you’re planning to go anywhere further afield, then JAL will have you covered. 

    From Sapporo, all the way down to the Okinawa Islands, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better deal outside their sale events.

    Singapore Airlines

    When: Singapore Airlines reliably has a sale on Black Friday. Sometimes they have one around Christmas and in Spring or Summer.

    This one is extra sweet as they’re one of the top-2 rated airlines in the world! That doesn’t stop their sale prices from being as good as you’ll see to South East Asia. If you’re planning to go to Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia or Malaysia you should definitely be looking out for their sale.

    Their Australian routes are also worth a look. Although other airlines go slightly cheaper on sale, you might prefer their cushier service and connection in Singapore.

    Virgin Atlantic

    When: Virgin Atlantic run their sales at the same time as British Airways: Christmastime to the end of January, in late August and a shorter sale over Black Friday.

    The longtime British Airways rival can’t help but keep the rivalry going by running sales at the same time to many of the same destinations.

    It’s usually worth checking both to see who’s cheaper, but Virgin Atlantic does have a few unique routes to Havana, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Shanghai. If you’re in northern England their non-stop routes from Manchester to Florida, New York, Barbados and Jamaica should also be on your radar.

    Worth a look

    Aer Lingus

    When: Aer Lingus’ best sales come mid-November - usually 7-14 days before Black Friday.

    This is a good sale for flight deals between Europe & North America, including the Caribbean. As Aer Lingus also has lots of short-haul routes around Europe, you’ll usually see a nice mix of destinations that are often missed by other airlines.

    Other than Black Friday, their sales are often underwhelming compared to their usual price fluctuations throughout the year. Best to track the price of the Aer Lingus routes you’re interested in.

    Alaska Airlines

    When: Alaska Airlines do frequent sales, not only the big yearly sales events like Black Friday but also federal holidays like Labor Day.

    Funnily enough, their routes to Alaska aren’t included in their sales as often as their routes to Hawaii and Mexican hot spots like Puerto Vallarta and San Jose del Cabo. 

    Definitely worth checking out their sales if you’re on the US west coast, just don’t expect every sale to be as good as their best. They definitely scale their discounts up and down depending on their mood.

    American Airlines

    When: American Airlines' biggest sales are over Black Friday and in January.

    You generally don’t need an official sale to find a deal on an American Airlines flight - their fares do fluctuate a lot, so you’ll find plenty of opportunities if you’re monitoring one of their flights.

    It’s worth checking their winter sales out - they usually have at least a few routes with stand-out fares. If you have loyalty points to use, that’s usually the best time to redeem them.

    Cathay Pacific

    When: Cathay Pacific consistently runs a sale during Black Friday.

    Pre-pandemic, we always looked forward to a sale from Cathay, but they’ve not impressed much at all lately. Still, now that travel is returning to normal, it’s worth keeping an eye on them.

    Their excellent non-stop service to Hong Kong is often the top pick, but routes across South East Asia and Australia are often included in their sales. 

    It’s worth setting up price alerts for their flights because they often do “unannounced” sales at random times during the year.

    Finnair

    When: They always do something over Black Friday.

    Heading to Helsinki? Finnair’s BF sale is one you should mark on your calendar. For their other routes, don’t assume their sales are offering truly great deals. 

    Finnair tends to price their flights in “phases”. They jump between very expensive, average and very cheap for a few months at a time, mostly with no announced sales. You can get very good deals with them to Asia from Europe, but waiting on a sale isn’t the way to do it.

    Lufthansa Group (SWISS/Austrian/Brussels Airlines)

    When: Historically, we see Lufthansa Group’s best sales most often in early winter (November) and late winter (February).

    They usually do a “companion deal” that offers nearly half-price flights when you buy two or more tickets. This isn’t just for economy cabins, it usually applies to premium economy and business class too.

    These airlines also do small, sporadic, announced sales to a selection of international destinations during the year. Sometimes they do voucher codes for a flat discount on all their flights. You can find them advertised on their homepage or if you subscribe to their newsletter.

    Ryanair

    When: They have a “sale” every week, more or less.

    Truly the king of flight sales, Ryanair are “having a sale” more often than not. Occasionally, their sales take the form of a “buy one get one free” offer that’s particularly good for partners and families.

    They’re more aggressive about reacting to the market demand than any other airline, so they’re one of the few airlines that you can fly cheaper short-notice flights with sometimes. Still, try to book at least two weeks before if you can.

    Most of their sales (probably about 75%) are not worth your attention, but they’re worth checking out for the proper blowout fares that they can serve up now and again.

    Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)

    When: You can be confident that there’ll be a SAS sale for Black Friday and another over Christmas. They will generally also do a sale in the spring and a “back to school” sale in late summer.

    This is a good sale to look out for - you’ll find much more than deals on flights to Scandinavia. Their route to Tokyo is often one of the highlights of the sale. You’ll also find plenty of deals between all regions of Europe and the USA.

    Sale fares do fluctuate between great and just good, so it’s worth having a target price before you click buy. If you’re a member of Jack’s Flight Club, you can look through our old deal alerts to see their best fares. Hint, hint.

    Southwest Airlines

    When: Southwest advertises some kind of sale every few weeks.

    If we were writing this a couple of years ago, we’d be raving about Southwest’s sales. Their headline prices could be so good - sometimes $58 round trip with luggage on domestic flights!

    Lately, things have changed for the worse. Their sales are nowhere near as attractive, and we often see great deals on their flights that aren’t part of an official sale.

    Still, if you like having free flight changes and tend to pack a lot, they’re going to work out cheaper than the competition most of the time.

    WestJet

    When: WestJet has sales over the Black Friday and Christmas holiday periods.

    One of the few airlines whose “normal” fares are only somewhat higher than their sale fares. But hey, who doesn’t want to knock an extra 30-50 extra currency units off your ticket. An especially useful sale to look for if you’re interested in flying to Western Canada.

    It’s worth noting that WestJet fares often go “unofficially” on sale - definitely one to track through the year.

    Wizz Air

    Wizz Air Logo

    When: Wizz Air usually participates in big events like Black Friday/Christmas sales and impromptu sales at other times.

    We would call their sales “hit-or-miss” - many of their best fares aren’t part of some announced sale. When their sale is good, however, it’s often really good. 

    They’ve really been increasing their destination network recently, so you can find amazing fares to Greece or the Canary Islands.

    Even outside of sale time, it’s worth checking out their “Wizz Discount Club” membership. Adding it can (but not always) save you more money than it costs. Plus, you’ll get more discounts if you fly with them again in the next year.

    Forget it

    Air France KLM Group

    When: Very rare special event sales.

    KLM & Air France don’t really bother with sales. KLM did have a 100th Anniversary sale a few years ago, but how often are those going to come around? 

    We do see them sending promo codes out now and again, usually for a small percentage discount. The problem is the terms and conditions make them only valid for flights that are already too expensive to make it worth it.

    On the plus side, their standard prices are on the low end most of the time and don’t fluctuate as much.

    All Nippon Airline (ANA)

    When: Extremely rare.

    It’s a big shame that ANA never seem to do sales because they’re very highly rated. 

    Although they advertise “featured fares” now and again, we’ve never seen them be truly competitive. Maybe one day!

    Emirates

    When: Almost never. The last big Emirates sale we saw was in November 2018.

    That doesn’t mean that you’ll never find deals on Emirates flights, but their announced sales are not special. 

    Most of the time they discount only a few routes at a time, seemingly at random. Dubai is the most frequent destination you’ll find deals for.

    Thai

    When: Black Friday is your best bet.

    Thailand’s official airline claims to have deals or a sale all the time, but they’re rarely anywhere close to good.

    They are getting a bit better with time, thankfully. In the last few years, their Black Friday sale has had some genuinely good deals to Thailand and even to New Zealand with a connection.

    Most of the time you’re getting nonsense, however, save yourself the time and inbox space.

    Transavia

    When: They do have sales sometimes, but they’re barely worth mentioning.

    Transavia, a Dutch low-cost airline, likes to have one price for their flights and then stick to it. 

    That price can be a decent deal, so don’t feel bad about booking with them if they seem like the best option. You can be confident that they’re not going to get cheaper after you book.

    That's it! We'll keep adding airlines to this list as we discover new patterns and trends. Send us an email if you have any questions or tips that we can add :-)