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The Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 2019-04-29 Meredith Carey
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Every traveler has a theory on the right—and wrong—time to book a flight. We've heard it all: The lowest fares are on Tuesdays at 3 p.m. Eastern. (No, Wednesday at 1 a.m. is the best time to buy!) You need to book at least two months before you fly. (No, you should look for a deal and fly at the last minute!) Websites like Kayak suggest when you should buy (and wait) like we're all trading stocks—with still no guarantee you'll find the right price at the end of it. And according to George Hobica of AirfareWatchdog, "There is no secret time. You need to look four times a day—minimum—every day of the week, as far in advance as you can."

But CheapAir.com's recently released Annual Airfare Study says that based on millions of passenger flights, the best day to buy airline tickets isn't a day of the week at all—it's 76 days in advance, whether that ends up being a Tuesday or a Sunday. Just don't wait less than 21 days before your flight, since prices go up and up (and up) the closer you get to your departure date.

The real differentiator is actually the day you're flying. Tuesdays through Fridays are the best for departures, whether you're flying internationally or domestically, Expedia and flight tracker Hopper found. Flying out on a Saturday or Sunday? Expect to pay a premium.

The best time to book airfare gets even more specific, depending on what season, holiday, or destination your traveling for. Here's what else you should know about buying airline tickets.

Best time to buy airline tickets by season

When to book spring flights

Travelers' spring breaks fall all over the calendar, which means airfares don't rocket up on specific days like they do for other, date-dependent holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving. But that doesn't mean you can leave your booking to the last minute: CheapAir.com found that booking 84 days out will get you the best deal. Booking last minute—two weeks or less from your departure date—could cost you anywhere from an extra $33 on domestic flights to $44 on international flights this spring, Hopper reports.

When to book summer flights

Summer is the season you really need to plan ahead for: CheapAir.com's study found that flights are cheapest a whopping 99 days out from your departure. Hopper agreed in its annual holiday cheat sheet, suggesting that you book at least five weeks ahead of your departure for summer holidays like Memorial Day and July 4. Don't expect these fares to be cheap, either. "In peak travel seasons, airlines can raise prices not only because there are more people interested in traveling, but also because the average traveler is willing to pay more for their summer vacation," Hopper said earlier this year.

When to book fall flights

You have a little more flexibility when it comes to booking fall flights, when many fares are less expensive due to shoulder season. CheapAir.com suggests booking flights about 66 days ahead of time for the best deal. As far as Thanksgiving flights go, prices are cheapest in late September, according to Hopper—but you don't have to book ASAP with these. The flight tracker app found that prices didn't fluctuate too much until Halloween, when fares skyrocket, so you have a little time to negotiate when and where your family is meeting up for the fall holiday.

When to book winter flights

Winter flights need about as much preplanning as summer travel: it's best to book 94 days out for the best deals, CheapAir.com tabulated. That applies to Christmas and New Year's Eve, too, where Hopper suggests you book in mid-October, more than two months out. This time, you'll want to follow their advice because rogue flight deals don't crop up for December holidays like they do the rest of the year. You're also expected to pony up for New Year's Eve flights this year: on average, the lowest fares you'll find will be around $350 round-trip, compared to $323 for Christmas flights, according to Hopper.

Best time to buy airline tickets by destination

If you're going to Europe...

Summer fares to Europe are the cheapest they've been in three years, according to Hopper, but you'll need to plan ahead to get in on the less expensive flights. CheapAir.com says the lowest fares can be found 160 days out, and the best flight deals for travel are in early June, late August, and September (so maybe stay closer to home for July 4).

If you're going to Asia...

Flights are cheapest about 120 days from your departure on average, according to CheapAir.com. But you have a lot of flexibility when booking a flight since the prime booking window, when flights are low and aren't fluctuating too much, is nearly six months long. According to CheapAir.com, fares are relatively low between one month and seven months out from your departure—you'll also find the cheapest fares in June, so book accordingly.

If you're going to Africa...

Plan way ahead for a trip to Africa, and not just with flights. (We suggest starting to work with a safari travel specialist about six months in advance.) For the least expensive flights, book between three and six months out from your departure, CheapAir.com says. The best day to book is 199 days before departure and the cheapest month to fly is February, a great time to see the southern Serengeti plains in Tanzania or the gorillas in Rwanda during the short dry season.

Best days of the week to buy airline tickets

Weekdays

Again, you won't necessarily find a lower fare by booking on a particular day, but the day of the week of your departure matters. Generally speaking, Tuesdays and Wednesdays have the best fares for domestic flights, due to the fact that there's less competition between business travelers and other fliers.

Travel Deal Tuesday

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday may be the best days to purchase all of the suitcases, in-flight beauty items, and neck pillows you need, the following Tuesday, November 27, is one of the best days for flight deals. According to Hopper, a whopping 43 percent more flight deals appear than usual on "Travel Deal Tuesday," mostly because travels demand drops after Thanksgiving (especially if everyone has followed our advice and already booked their holiday travel). It doesn't mean every Tuesday is the best day to book, but on this specific Tuesday, you're sure to find a deal or two.

Additonal reporting by Paul Brady and Laura Dannen Redman. This article was originally published in March 2015. It has been updated with the latest information.

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