If you go on any travel forum, you'll find people offering their best tips for finding a cheap flight. The price of an airline ticket can change based on your location, the number of times you've searched the flight, the day of the week, and basic supply and demand. To full-time travelers, wanderlusters, and vacationers pricing can seem completely random.
One question still remains... WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO PURCHASE AN AIRLINE TICKET?CheapOair.com recently studied over 1.3 billion of their bookings. What they found is just as complex as the booking tips from the most traveled people. The simple answer for within the United States was to buy 54 days in advance. The more complicated answer...
All airline trips are different. Duh? Right? So, let's dig into the study a little further.CheapOair.com sectioned the study and looked at just under 3 million bookings (2,926,688 to be exact). These trips were from point A to point B on a specific outbound and return date. They pulled the lowest fare for these trips based on a window from 1 day in advance to 320 days in advance.
This will not come as a shock to anyone who travels, but there was no one right answer for the best time to book a trip. Of the nearly 3 million bookings, the magic 54 days in advance number was correct for only 13,000 bookings. Roughly the same number of bookings had the best day to buy at 45, 52, 53, or 60 days. For nearly 30,000 of the trips the best day to buy was the first week the flight was available for sale. A last minute booking was best for a very, very small fraction of the bookings.
When is the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets
There is no magic number of days in advance.
But, there is a pattern to flight cost. Flights tend to begin highly priced and then slowly drop in price. Then a few weeks before the flight, the price starts to go back up until it skyrockets 14 days in advance.
The study broke out the pattern into 5 booking time "zones." Please note that these zones do not apply to flights for trips around the holidays like 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
The “First Dibs” Zone
197-335 days in advance (about 6½ – 11 months)
Flights are usually available 335 days in advance (about 11 months). Usually, these prices are high, but not in all cases. This period offers the most options, as tickets are sold and flights become sold out. The options dwindle. Seat availability is also wide open. These tickets are on average $50 more than the "Prime Booking Window" time zone, the least expensive time to buy.
The “Peace of Mind” Zone
113-196 days in advance (about 3½ – 6½ months)
This time zone showed bookings were about $20 more than the "Prime Booking Window" time zone. This is the last window with a large number of flight options and seat availability. So, if you like options and to cement your plans in advance, this is the best time zone for you.
The “Prime Booking Window”
21-112 days in advance (about 3 weeks – 3 ½ – months)
Deal hunters unite! The magic "Prime Booking Window," is when you will most likely find the best price for your trip. Every year this study has occurred, this 3 month window has consistently been when the lowest fares are found. 3 months is a long time so the fares will fluctuate during this period, so a cheap fare found 112 days in advance might be higher than 30 days in advance. Expect large swings in price and check the airfare for your trip frequently. A good rule of thumb is if you find a deal during this period is book it immediately. The price could be much higher the following day.
The “Push Your Luck” Zone
14-20 days in advance (about 2 – 3 weeks)
This is the Forest Gump box of chocolates, "you never know what you're gonna get." You could find an amazing deal or find the price has increased hundreds of dollars. At least you're not in the next time zone...
This zone is dependent on the demand. If the flight is full, expect to pay near full price for the tickets.
If your destination is timed to a seasonal "hot spot" like Florida during Spring Break, Los Angeles during a college football Bowl game, or New York in winter, expect to pay full price. Seasonal "hot spots" are in demand, so book early.
The “Hail Mary” Zone
0-13 days in advance
Good luck to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The best options are usually gone and seat availability is greatly diminished. Purchasing a flight during this period might also mean that all the direct flights have been sold. A last minute flight is about $200 more than the "Prime Booking" zone. A deal search will most likely end with you paying more than when you started searching a few hours ago. Buying a week in advance will cost an average of $75 more than the lowest fare available.
How to get Cheap Airline Tickets
Don't pray to find the gold at the end of the rainbow. It's not there.
Do follow the tips from frequent travelers, so that you don't pay more just because your computer has a cookie. (Hint: use the private browser option when searching for flights and if possible trick the system into thinking you are in a different city from where you want to fly out.)
Looking to book a flight? We've partnered with GoEuro, a great site to find flights, trains, and buses. If you're in or traveling to Europe, it includes the discount airlines!
To get a personal opinion, we've included a video from SoniasTravel below.