The prices of airline tickets fluctuate markedly, and it can be difficult to figure out how far in advance to purchase tickets in order to get the best deal. CheapAir.com recently released its 2018 Annual Airfare Study, which examined 917 million flights in more than 8,000 markets, to determine when flights are cheapest, the best and worst days of the week to fly and save money, as well as seasonal airfare trends.
One of CheapAir’s most striking finds was that the lowest fare for any one trip changed, on average, 62 times while it was offered for sale—approximately once every five to six days. The price either increased or decreased an average of $36 for each one of those changes.
The company determined that the best time to buy a ticket in the United States, on average, is 70 days in advance. Last year, the best time to buy was 54 days in advance.
CheapAir notes that there are a number of variables, including the market, travel date, and traveller preferences.
Those who buy tickets between 169 and 319 days before a flight are categorized as “First Dibs,” and they’re likely to pay about $50 more on average. Benefits include seat selection and flying at a time that’s most convenient.
Those who book between 122 and 168 days in advance are categorized under “Peace of Mind.” These people spend around $20 more than average and are also generally able to have good seat selection and a decent number of flight dates to choose from.
The “Prime Booking Window” category occurs between 21 and 121 days in advance. This is the best time to find the most economical airfare. Fares can still change during this window, but it’s usually within 5 percent of the lowest rate.
The “Push Your Luck” category takes place between 14 and 20 days in advance. Fares often increase during this period, and many options sell out. However, some lower fares may still be available. Seat selection becomes limited, and it’s difficult to find tickets for destinations during the high season and for holidays such as Christmas.
Next is the “Playing with Fire” category, which occurs when booking a ticket seven to 13 days in advance. There are fewer flight options, but pricing is better than waiting until the last minute, which is known as the “Hail Mary” category (zero to six days in advance). Those who fall into this final category are likely to pay $208 more on average.
CheapAir notes that it doesn’t really matter which day of the week you book a ticket. However, it’s cheapest to fly on Tuesday and Wednesday, and it will cost, on average, $76 more to fly on a Sunday, the most expensive day.
The company recommends people with summer travel plans book their trips about 47 days in advance. The prime booking window is 14-160 days ahead of time.
Excluding Thanksgiving, the best time to book a trip for the fall is 69 days in advance—the Prime Booking Window is 21 to 100 days ahead of time.
Excluding Christmas and New Years weeks, the best time to purchase tickets for travel in the winter is 62 days in advance—the Prime Booking Window is 21 to 110 days from travel.
Planning ahead is essential for spring travel due to spring break, which can fall anywhere from March through April. The best time to book is 90 days in advance, and the Prime Booking Window is 46-122 days from travel. The difference in fares between the best and worst priced tickets is $263.
Overall, CheapAir advises consumers who have an itinerary in mind to buy tickets when they see a good fare. If you wait too long, you may lose the fare. Your best bet is to book within the “Prime Booking Window” to get the best deal.