Flight tickets are painfully expensive, which is why we’re obsessed with getting the cheapest deals. But even with the latest apps, monitoring air fare is exhausting. One study found that the prices fluctuate on an average of 71 times between announcement and take off!
Luckily, someone’s done the hard number crunching for us. CheapAir.com did an extensive study on over 921 million domestic airfares to find out the best times to purchase your flight.
5 Booking Zones
CheapAir.com’s research found that on average, there are 5 ‘Booking Zones’ where travelers typically buy their flights. These are windows and price fluctuations between a flight’s announcement (11 months before) and day of departure.
The Booking Zones divide the year into First Dibs (6 to 11 months in advance), Peace of Mind (3.5 to 6 months), Prime Booking Zone (3 weeks to 3.5 months), Push Your Luck (2 to 3 weeks before), and Hail Mary (2 weeks to the day before).
Buying earlier isn’t always cheaper, and prices in the First Dibs Zone can cost $50 more than the best price. But if you’re willing to pay a reasonable premium on stress relief, book no earlier than 6 months before. While ‘Peace of Mind’ zone fares are around $20 higher, you have of options to choose from.
3.5 months to 3 weeks before your flight is what CheapAir.com calls the ‘Prime Booking Zone.’ Neither too early or too close to your flight, this Goldilocks window is where you’ll typically find the lowest prices. This window can vary across seasons and holidays, but more on that later.
If you miss out on the Prime Booking Window, you’ve still got a chance at the Push Your Luck Zone. Prices will tend to be on the uptick, especially for holidays and popular vacation spots. But if you’re traveling off peak season or to more offbeat destinations, you might be able to score a sweet deal.
Aptly named, the Hail Mary Zone is the worst time to buy your ticket. You’ll spend around $150 more than buying during the Prime Booking Window, and if you buy a flight the day before (you shouldn’t), expect to shell out roughly $250.
The Seasonality Effect
It’s not always about the holidays. There are peak and off peak seasons, and your Prime Booking Windows can be shorter or longer. If you’re planning your trip based on the season, here are the best days to purchase your flights.
Summer Window: 21-140 days | Best Time: 76 days before
Summer vacation means no school and lots of family trips. This typically means more expensive flights, so don’t wait too long to book. On the upside, the Prime Booking Window is longer, which gives you more time to compare prices.
Fall Window: 21-91 days | Best Time: 47 days before
You have a little more leeway with Fall, mainly because the kids are back in school. And the cool, bright weather makes for great trips. The main exception to the season is Thanksgiving, where prices are at a premium.
Winter Window: 21 – 86 days | Best Time: 54 days before
Once the holiday season ends, prices can drop dramatically. Your window is shorter, but if you’re looking to extend your vacation, this is a pretty good time to do so. If the cold weather doesn’t suit you, opt for trips to new and exciting cities.
Spring Window 21 – 105 days | Best Time: 75 days before
While there aren’t any national holidays in the spring, college spring breaks can affect air fare prices. Like Summer, spring also has a fairly long window. It’s also a great time to plan outdoorsy trips and vacations.
CheapAir.com claims that between the days of the week, price differences don’t matter. But a similar study by Expedia argues that it’s best to buy tickets on a Sunday. Their study claims travelers can save up to 30 percent on Europe flights, and 17 percent on domestic flights.
Travel day is also a major consideration. Both studies agreed that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days to travel, since there’s less competition with business travelers. Sundays are the worst, since most people are flying back in time for the work week.
Holiday season is a whole different ball game when it comes to airfare, but the search engine Skyscanner analyzed the prices and booking habits of its users. They found that for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, it’s best to buy your tickets in October, or 4 months before.
That’s our quick guide to booking great deals for airplane tickets. Keep reading for more travel tips, like Booking an Airbnb? 5 Tips for Choosing the Right Place! and the 3 Easy Ways to Make Friends While Traveling Solo.