Best Time To Buy Airline Tickets

If you’re looking to travel, when is the absolute best time to buy airline tickets?

Logic says that if you plan as far in advance as possible, then you should be able to scoop up a great deal.  But then you might get the occasional promo email offering flights for less than $50 as long as you can travel within the next month.  So who wins – the planner or the last-minute deal seeker?

In this post, we’ll examine data from a few different sources and determine when the optimal time to book your flight really is.


How Far In Advance Should You Buy Airline Tickets?

Perhaps one of the best-known studies on airline ticket prices comes from the site Cheap Air.  In their 2019 Annual Airfare Study, they analyzed data from over 917 million airfares in more than 8,000 markets. 

What’s their conclusion?  The best time to buy a domestic airline ticket (which they call the “Prime Booking Window”) is 21 to 115 days (3 weeks to 4 months) in advance of your planned travel date.  Fares during this period were within 5 percent of their lowest point.  Inside this zone, the absolute low point was 76 days out from your travel date. 

Think that might be just a fluke for one year?  Actually, its relatively consistent with the previous year’s findings as well.  According to their 2018 Annual Airfare Study, the Prime Booking Window was 21 to 121 days in advance of your planned travel date.  Again, the absolute low point was 70 days out from your travel date.

Altogether, that’s not much different from what other popular websites are reporting.  According to Fare Compare, for U.S. flights you should begin shopping about three months before departure and complete your purchase about a month before take-off.  U.S. News suggests waiting 50 days before your flight to get the lowest fare – approximately 10 percent below the average price.

Are There Certain Days That Are Cheaper Than Others?

Anyone who has ever gone to a flight comparison tool has probably noticed that certain days of the week seem to be cheaper than others.  

That’s not a coincidence!  According to Fare Compare, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are still the cheapest options for flying within the U.S.  This is because most people (particularly business travelers) will leave for their destination on a Monday and then want to come back later in the week.  

When Should You NOT Buy Airline Tickets?

not book a flight

Looking at all of the data from Cheap Air’s 2019 Annual Airfare Study, there are some times you’ll want to avoid if you can help it.

Way, Way In Advance

Like we said earlier, you’d think that planning way ahead would help you to snag all the best deals first.  But unfortunately since airline ticket prices fluctuate all the time, it just doesn’t work that way.

In the zone that Cheap Air calls “First Dibs”, buying your tickets 315 to 203 days (about 10 months to 6.5 months) in advance of your travels tend to be higher than the Prime zone.   However, it’s not that much of an increase; approximately $50 more on average.  Therefore, if you really want to lock-in on a specific date and time and don’t have a lot of room for flexibility, then go for it.

Within 3 Weeks Of Your Trip

Once you get past the 3 week minimum of the Prime zone, the prices of airline tickets start to increase exponentially.  

The most extreme of these is the zone called they call the “Hail Mary”.  This is 6 to 0 days before your flight and can cost you almost $220 more than you would have paid during the Prime window.

Maybe its an unexpected business trip?  Maybe there’s an emergency and you have to visit a family member?  Whatever the reason, if you can help it, avoid this purchasing zone and save yourself some money.

Other Ways To Save Money On Flights

So maybe you didn’t exactly book your flight 76 days ahead of your travel date.  That doesn’t mean you still can’t save some money.  Here are a few more tips to help you get the best price possible.

Use Google Flights

If there’s one place you should always consult before you buy any airline tickets, its Google Flights.  Google Flights is a free comparison tool that combs through all available airline prices and then organizes them into helpful charts and graphs to reveal the best deals around.

By far, Google Flights is one of the best tools you can use for airline ticket research.  For as long as I’ve known about it, there isn’t a vacation I haven’t planned without consulting Google Flights first.

Google Flights

Shop The Airline’s Site Directly

Believe it or not, not every flight is eligible to be listed on popular comparison sites like Kayak or Expedia.  So if you have a specific airline in mind that you like to fly, it’s worth it to go directly to their site and see if they’re offering a better deal.  You might just get lucky!

Best Time To Buy Airline Tickets: Final Thoughts

Now you know the best time to buy airline tickets. Don’t book your flight too early, but also don’t wait until the last minute! Use this guide to find the best time to buy, and get the best price on your tickets.

Considering driving for your next travel adventure? If so, make sure your tires are ready to go and find the best time to buy tires with our guide.

DJ Whiteside

DJ Whiteside is a financial enthusiast who believes in helping other people to achieve financial independence. He’s constantly looking for practical ways to optimize savings, reduce spending, and create a lifetime of passive income. DJ holds an MBA from the University of Michigan, which allows him to take an analytical approach to financial topics. He has been a financial writer since 2011 and has self-published 5 personal finance eBooks relating to saving, retirement, and financial independence.

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