Every traveler has a theory on the best time to book a flight. We’ve heard it all: The lowest fares are on Tuesdays at 3 p.m. Eastern. (No, Saturday at 6 a.m. is the best time to buy!) You need to book at least two months before you fly. (No, you should fly at the last minute to score a deal!) But even with all these recommendations, there’s still no guarantee that you’ll find cheap flights.
The notion that there’s a single best day and time to buy tickets to get a good deal is a myth that simply refuses to die. The reason it’s so persistent, is that this concept used to be true decades ago when airline employees would update prices every week, meaning that savvy passengers could snag deals by booking right after those updates. But the fact of the matter is this is just not how things work anymore, and it hasn’t been for a long time. Airfare these days is highly complex, and constantly changing, sometimes by the hour.
Considering that the pandemic has caused shifts in passengers’ buying patterns (flexibility is king) and how airlines have responded (no more cancellation fees), the best time to book a flight formula becomes even trickier.
Luckily, there are still some reliable strategies passengers can use to score the best deals. One rule of thumb: Aim to buy tickets during what’s known in industry terms as the “prime booking window” or “optimal booking window.” This is the sweet spot several weeks—or even months—ahead of departure when deals are most likely to be had, prices aren’t as likely to fluctuate, and passengers have plenty of choice.
When is the best time to book a flight?
According to a recently published report from Google Flights, which analyzed five years’ worth of historical airfare data, prices have been at their lowest between 21 and 60 days out, with 44 days before departure the average low.
The experts at Scott’s Cheap Flights call it the Goldilocks Window: According to their data, it usually falls between one to three months before flying domestically, and two to eight months for international flights. However, if you’re traveling during a peak time like July or Christmas, you’ll want to add a few months to those recommendations.
In addition, there’s even more incentive in the not-yet-back-to-normal travel landscape for early birds to catch the best deals on flights. One big change that’s worth noting is the increased flexibility that lots of airlines are offering in terms of changes or refunds. Increased flexibility means there’s less downside to booking early.
Just don’t wait less than 21 days before your flight, since prices spike the closer the departure date gets. They rise 25 percent two weeks out and another 30 percent in the final week.
Another key factor is the day you’re flying. Weekdays are the best for departures, whether internationally or domestically. Flying out on a Saturday or Sunday? Expect to pay a premium; same goes if you’re traveling for major holidays.
Figuring out the best time to book airfare also depends on the season, holiday, and destination. Here, some of the most commonly asked questions about when to buy—and when to fly—to score the cheapest airline tickets.
Which day of the week is cheapest to book flights?
According to many industry insiders, it’s time to retire the misconception that there’s a magical day—like Tuesday—to book cheap tickets. CheapAir.com says that there’s “little to no effect on price” depending on which day you book, and the average low fare varies by a measly $1 depending on the day. According to Google Flights’ data prices are only 1.9 percent cheaper when buying on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, versus Saturdays and Sundays.
One notable exception? Travel Deal Tuesday. While Black Friday and Cyber Monday may be the best days to score big on travel gear, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving is the best time to buy flights. According to Hopper, a whopping 43 percent more flight deals appear than usual on “Travel Deal Tuesday,” mostly because travel demand drops after Thanksgiving. It doesn’t mean every Tuesday is the best time to buy flights, but on this specific Tuesday, you’re sure to find a deal or two.
When’s the best time to buy airline tickets by season?
When to book spring flights …
Because spring breaks vary, airfares don’t skyrocket on specific days like they do for other date-dependent holidays such as Christmas or the Fourth of July. And travelers don’t have to plan too far in advance, either: According to Google Flights, prices for domestic trips beginning in March or April have generally been lowest 23 to 59 days before departure, bottoming out at 38 days beforehand.
When to book summer flights …
CheapAir.com’s most recent Domestic Annual Airfare Study found that flights are cheapest 42 days out from departure. Considering that domestic and international airfare peak in the summer due to higher seasonal demand, Hopper says the best time to book flights is a minimum (and ideally much longer) of five weeks ahead of departure for summer holidays like Memorial Day and July 4. Many travel experts, however, advise planning even further out and booking summer tickets during winter (and vice versa) to score the best deals.
When to book fall flights …
Fall’s shoulder season almost universally comes with cheaper flights following the summer high season. But you’ll need to plan ahead: CheapAir.com suggests booking about 77 days beforehand for the best deal. Even more so for Thanksgiving, when prices are trending 25 percent higher than in 2021, according to the company’s 2022 Holiday Cheap Flights Report. But if you’re willing to fly on Turkey Day, or the day after, you can offset those higher prices with savings of $75 and $90, respectively.
When to book winter flights …
Winter flights need advance planning, too: According to CheapAir.com’s latest data, you’ll need to book 110 days out for the best rates. Hopper’s figures are similar: The platform says the best deals for both domestic and international winter holiday travel appear around 90 to 100 days in advance, with domestic prices tending to spike seven percent two weeks prior to Christmas.
And there’s a bit of good news for last-minute Christmas holiday planners: According to Google Flights data, the lowest average prices for domestic flights have been 22 days before departure. However, the study also notes: “That may be cutting it close. Prices have tended to drop anywhere between 20 and 88 days before departure.”
What’s the best time to buy airline tickets according to destination?
If you’re going to Europe …
Good news, according to CheapAir.com’s latest data: Flights to Europe $500 less than in 2021, averaging $992. The prime booking window is a wide one, too: between 1 and 6.5 months prior to traveling, with prices bottoming out 79 days beforehand. For even more savings, travel during October and November, which are the cheapest months to travel.
If you’re going to Asia …
Airfare for some international trips, like from the U.S. to Southeast Asia, has been significantly more volatile (and pricey) since the pandemic. According to Hopper’s figures, average airfare to the region is up more than 28 percent from $900/round-trip this time in 2019. You’ll need to plan early for the best deals: Flights are cheapest a whopping 314 days from departure on average, according to CheapAir.com’s most recent data, with a wider range of 2.5 to 6.5 months before departure for the prime booking window.
If you’re going to Africa …
Flights to Africa have come down about $300 since 2021, according to CheapAir.com, but you’ll still have to plan way ahead for your trip (and not just with flights: We suggest engaging a safari travel specialist at least six months in advance). According to CheapAir.com, the best time to book flights is 213 days in advance, with a prime booking window of 2 to 10 months before departure.
When is the best time to buy airline tickets based on departure day?
According to experts, Tuesdays and Wednesdays have the best fares for domestic flights, since there’s less competition between business travelers and other fliers. CheapAir.com’s most recent data found that flying on Wednesday in 2022 saves travelers $57 per ticket versus Sunday, which is the most expensive day to travel. (Tuesday is close behind, with an average savings of $56).
What about last-minute deals?
Despite all the advice about advance planning, sometimes waiting until the last minute can score the best deal—especially as business travel continues to lag in the post-pandemic era. I advise my clients who miss out on booking during the “Goldilocks Window” to keep their eyes open for last-minute deals, which, although not super common, are still out there.
With business travel still down 25 to 30 percent, and even more on some routes, your odds of a cheap or at least decent last-minute flight are quite a bit higher today than in 2019. I certainly wouldn’t recommend putting off booking until the last minute in the hopes of a fare drop, but if you find yourself needing a flight on short notice, your prospects are substantially better today than pre-pandemic.
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