The Best Time to Buy Plane Tickets Is 76 Days in Advance, Study Says
After dealing with canceled travel plans over the past two years, you’re probably more than ready for a vacation.
But if you’re not ready to see a drastic dip in your bank account balance, you’ve got to be proactive to get the best deal on flights.
When Is the Best Time to Buy Plane Tickets?
The sweet spot for travelers to snag the best deals on airfare is between 21 and 127 days — that’s three weeks to four months — before their departure date, according to a recent CheapAir study of nearly a billion domestic flights.
This booking window is about a month longer than it has been in previous years.
If you really want to nail down the cheapest day to travel, CheapAir found that travelers who bought their plane tickets an average of 76 days (about two-and-a-half months) in advance of their flight scored the lowest price. The lowest fare on average was found to be $261.34.
If you wait until the last minute to nail down your travel plans, you’ll end up paying for it. Gone are the cheap last-minute flight deals we saw during the peak of the pandemic.
Purchasing domestic flights only two to three weeks in advance of your trip means you’ll pay about $30 more than if you booked between three weeks and four months in advance.
Booking one to two weeks from your departure date can cost $90 more on average. Waiting until the week of your trip might cost you about $150 more.
While planning ahead is best, you can get penalized for buying airfare too early. Booking several months in advance may result in a better selection of seats and better opportunity to snag a specific flight time, but you’ll pay about $15 more on average if you purchase between 128 to 202 days (about four to six-and-a-half months) in advance.
Buying plane tickets 203 to 315 days (six-and-a-half to 10 months) early means you’ll pay about $30 more than if you waited until the prime booking window.
Of course, what time of year you travel also affects when you should book. For trips during the busy winter months, plan on booking 110 days in advance for the best deals. However, you’ll only need to make summer travel plans about 42 days in advance.
No matter the time of year, flying out on Tuesdays or Wednesdays will usually result in better deals. Avoid Sundays, which tend to be the most expensive day of the week for flights.
Why Do Airline Ticket Prices Fluctuate Throughout the Year?
The price of plane tickets tends to go up and down throughout the year based on seasonal demand.
Airfare tends to be the highest in November and December correlating to the spike in travel for the holidays. Flights are also costly in June, July and August as many people plan vacations during the summer.
January and February are generally the cheapest months to travel as demand is lower.
Many hotels, airlines and rental car companies honor military service. If you served, check this huge list of military discounts before planning a trip.
The Cost of Domestic Flights vs. International Flights
Domestic flight prices tend to be cheaper than the price of international travel, but costs will vary based on where you’re traveling to and what time of the year you plan to travel.
CheapAir’s 2021 Study on International Flights found the average costs of international flights to be:
- $436 to visit Canada
- $535 to visit Mexico
- $575 to visit the Caribbean
- $643 to visit Central America
- $999 to visit South America
- $1,332 to visit the Middle East
- $1,542 to visit Africa
- $1,580 to visit Europe
- $1,643 to visit Asia
- $2,113 to visit the South Pacific
Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be the cheapest days for both domestic and international flights. The best time to buy is generally between two and four months before your trip, but that changes based on the destination and time of year.
6 Tips for Finding the Best Airline Prices
1. Use Search Tools
Airfare search tools compile flight information from multiple sources in one place, so you know what options are available and which airlines are offering the cheapest flights.
Some of the best search engines for flights include:
- Google Flights
- Scott’s Cheap Flights
2. Set Alerts
Several airfare search engines let you set up notifications so you’re alerted when prices go down on flights to a desired destination. Use this feature to start tracking flight prices months ahead of time.
3. Book From Discount Airlines
Budget airlines — like Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant — often offer less expensive flights than major commercial airlines. Just be aware of the trade-offs, such as extra fees, less flight routes and flying out of smaller, more remote airports.
4. Book Group Travel Separately
Airlines sometimes charge a premium for selecting your seat. You could wind up paying extra if you want to sit next to your traveling companions.
If you’re fine sitting next to strangers during your flight, you may be able to save money by booking group travel separately.
5. Watch Out for Additional Fees
When booking travel, the cost you initially see may be less than what you’ll actually pay. Make sure you’re factoring in the cost of extras — like baggage, seat selection or travel insurance — when budgeting for your trip.
6. Fly on Weekdays or on a Holiday
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are usually the cheapest days to fly. While flying during the holiday season is often expensive, you’ll typically see the lowest fares on the actual day of the holiday — such as Christmas day or Thanksgiving day.
Frequently Asked Questions
Aim to buy airline tickets about three weeks to four months in advance of your upcoming trip.
If you’re counting down the days, the best time to book your travel is between 21 and 127 prior to your departure. CheapAir’s 2022 annual study on domestic travel found that this window is when you’ll see the lowest flight prices.
CheapAir’s study says it doesn’t really matter what day of the week you go online to purchase your airfare. Ticket prices tend to only vary by about $1 depending on the weekday. What has the most significance is what day of the week you plan to leave or return.
Wednesday is generally $57 cheaper than the most expensive day to fly, which is Sunday. Booking on a Tuesday will save you $56 on average compared to Sunday flights. You’ll also tend to have more choice for flights midweek than on the weekend.
According to CheapAir’s study, you should book your flights 110 days in advance when traveling in the winter, 76 days in advance when traveling in the spring, 42 days in advance when traveling in the summer and 77 days in advance when traveling in the fall.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.