When to Snag the Cheapest Plane Tickets

When to Snag the Cheapest Plane Tickets
Photo by Nicole Geri

Planning a trip is exciting, but airfare costs can cast a shadow. While it may seem like buying tickets as soon as possible might be the best way to secure the seat you want, it may not be the cheapest. While there's no magic bullet, understanding buying windows and using helpful tools can significantly impact your wallet.

Domestic Flights

Good news for last-minute planners: Studies suggest the sweet spot for domestic flights might be closer than you think. Expedia's 2024 report indicates booking around 28 days beforehand can yield savings of up to 24% compared to those who wait until the very end. However, I usually recommend a window between 1 and 2 months prior to departure.

International Flights

For international adventures, some planning is still wise. While the data suggests a shift from booking super early, ideally you shouldn't wait much longer than 3-4 months before your trip. The prime booking window seems to be around 2 months out, according to Expedia.

There's a delicate balance between booking too early, when prices might be high, and too late, risking limited availability and higher fares.

Beyond the Basics

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters

Here's the good stuff: knowing these general windows is a great start, but consider these additional factors:

  • Airline Sales: Airlines frequently run promotions and flash sales. Sign up for email alerts from your preferred airlines and budget carriers to stay in the loop. Don't forget to consider discount airlines that might offer lower fares on specific routes, but be mindful of potential baggage fees and other charges. Be sure to factor in the total cost, not just the base fare, before making a decision.
  • Weekdays are Wiser: Historically, Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be cheaper for both booking and flying. This is because airlines often adjust prices based on market trends, and weekdays tend to see less competition from weekend leisure travelers. Consider these weekdays for both booking and flying if possible.
  • Consider Flexibility: If you can be flexible with your travel dates and times, you open yourself up to a wider range of potentially cheaper options. Be willing to consider flying into secondary airports or buddying up with a travel companion to split the cost of non-refundable fares. Look for airports that might be slightly outside the city center but offer lower landing fees, potentially resulting in a cheaper ticket.
  • Think Outside the Box: Shoulder seasons (spring and fall) can offer significant savings compared to peak travel times. Consider destinations with less volatile pricing throughout the year. Destinations known for their natural beauty, for example, might see consistent pricing year-round, whereas popular beach getaways might have significant price fluctuations depending on the season.

Tools for the Savvy Traveler

Several websites can be your allies in the quest for cheap flights:

  • Google Flights: Tracks prices and offers handy features like price history and fare alerts. Set up alerts for your desired route and be notified of any significant price fluctuations.
  • Hopper: Analyzes historical data to predict price trends and suggests optimal buying times. Hopper's color-coded calendar provides a quick visual cue, indicating whether you should buy now, wait for a better price, or risk prices going up.
  • Skyscanner: Compares prices across airlines and online travel agencies (OTAs) for a comprehensive view. This is a great tool for finding the absolute cheapest option on a specific date, but be sure to factor in baggage fees, cancellation policies, and the overall reputation of the airline or OTA before booking. Consider using Skyscanner to find the cheapest option on a specific date, then researching the airline or OTA to ensure they meet your needs.
  • Airfarewatchdog: Signs you up for email alerts about price drops on specific routes you're interested in. This can be a great way to snag last-minute deals or score a good price on a route you've been eyeing for a while.
  • Momondo: Another airfare comparison site, Momondo offers a "best time to buy" feature that analyzes historical data to suggest whether prices are likely to go up or down.

Be Strategic, Not Fanatical

Remember, there's no guaranteed "rock bottom" price. Flight algorithms are complex, and prices can fluctuate for a variety of reasons. Use the tools and strategies above as a guide, but don't become consumed with finding the absolute cheapest option at the expense of everything else. If a good deal pops up that fits your needs and budget, grab it and move on with planning your dream vacation! Be happy knowing you've secured a great price and can focus on the exciting parts of trip planning.

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