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An aircraft files near the setting sun in New Delhi.
Reuters/Adnan Abidi
Delhi airport is India’s busiest.

The best time to book a flight ticket, and other insights into how India flies

By Devjyot Ghoshal

Over 110 million passengers get onboard flights in India every year—and most get their bookings wrong.

This is despite the unending fare wars, flash sales and airline launches, which together should mean that the Indian air traveller has rarely had it better. (How the airlines themselves are doing, however, is entirely another matter.)

Based on January-June 2014 data from MakeMyTrip.com, which accounts for about 13% of all airline tickets sold in India, here are a few charts that’ll decipher the airline industry. And help you find the cheapest ticket.

Book early, but not too early

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Nearly 70% of airline tickets bought in India are purchased less than 30 days before travelling. Some of that may have to do with last-minute travel plans and the wisdom that booking just about a month in advance is good enough, but is unlikely to yield the cheapest tickets on offer.

That’s because the sweet spot for lowest fares on the 20 most popular sectors for the January-June 2014 period is actually between 30-59 days, when only 18% of travellers buy their tickets.

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And buying tickets last minute, which seems to be the most popular purchasing trend, is probably the worst choice.

The variation in fares available 10 days and a month before travelling is so substantial that for most sectors, it might even be enough to buy another couple of tickets.

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In the meantime, keep an eye on those flash sales that’ve set the market alight.

“We have seen a 25% jump in first time customers at MakeMyTrip during the sale periods, indicating that these sales are helping to get new fliers, which is good for long term growth of aviation industry in India,” MakeMyTrip.com chairman Deep Kalra told Quartz.

The traffic triangle

India’s aviation superhighway winds around three cities—Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Together, they are the top six routes of all time in the subcontinent, says Kalra.

MakeMyTrip.com
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The trio’s domination in the travel space is so complete that, after the Goa, they are the top searches destination for hotels, and also the top sources for searches on MakeMyTrip.com

Mobile machinations

 And lastly, chances are that if you’re logging in from an Apple iPhone to make a booking, then you’re probably going to spend more than others.

“iOS users are more engaged as compared to users on other platforms,” says Kalra, “The average transaction-value for hotel bookings is around 20% higher on iPhone compared to Android-based devices.” But there are far more Android users tapping the portal’s services.

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Almost 90% of iOS bookings are made in the three star hotels and above, while only 75% of bookings made on Android-devices end up in that bracket. On higher-priced Android devices (more than Rs30,000), however, the hotel category bookings share is comparable to that of Apple devices.

Online, the cheapest hotels booked were for Rs400-500 per night in Kolkata and New Delhi. The most expensive was about a hundred times that, at between Rs 40,000-50,000 for a room at the Taj Lake Palace and Leela Udaipur hotels.

Also, there’s some serious money flowing through mobile phones. The most expensive domestic flight transaction booked on a phone was for Rs2.23 lakh, while the largest international travel transaction was about double that at Rs5.4 lakh.

But for most of the 110 million Indians who flew last year, the transaction sizes were much, much smaller. And it could’ve been even lower had they booked a tad earlier.