The Optimal Time to Secure Your Flight Booking
Airfares experienced a notable surge earlier this year, but insiders suggest that there are multiple avenues to uncover enticing flight deals in 2023 and 2024. Here's a guide on how and when to seize those opportunities.
As a travel editor, one of the most common questions I field when friends or family are planning their trips is: "If I wait, will the price increase or decrease?"
The answer hinges on when you're browsing and reserving. Generally, the best time to book a flight is one to two months before your domestic journey. For international flights, the sweet spot for booking is six to eight months in advance. Nonetheless, several variables influence the fluctuations in airline ticket prices.
"Airline pricing models are intricate," explains Mark Crossey, a U.S. travel expert affiliated with Skyscanner, a flight tracking and booking tool. Crossey emphasizes that the primary determinant for airfares is demand.
In a similar vein, several factors can push airfares higher or lower, such as:
- The flight route: Do a multitude of airlines serve the chosen airports, or is the service limited? Limited service can make it challenging to secure a favorable deal, while competitive routes tend to yield more reasonable airfares.
- The time of year: If your travel plans coincide with peak seasons like summer or holidays, expect prices to remain high as the departure date approaches.
- Special events: Is there a notable event occurring, like a festival, a major sports event, or a conference? If so, airfares are unlikely to see substantial reductions.
- The booking window: How far in advance is your travel date? Prices can still fluctuate significantly if you're booking well in advance, but the likelihood of a price drop diminishes as the departure date draws near.
Airline tickets typically become available up to a year before the departure date, initiating the rollercoaster of pricing dynamics.
During the pandemic, airfares were significantly impacted by the plummeting demand, which led to a corresponding drop in prices. However, after the pandemic, the travel industry witnessed a robust resurgence in demand. Coupled with factors like reduced aircraft availability, higher oil prices, and inflation, this surge in demand caused airfares to soar.
The good news is that airfares peaked in April 2023 and have been gradually decreasing since then.
In September 2023, airfares were 13.4 percent lower than in September 2022, and they were 6.5 percent below the prices recorded in September 2019, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index. This downward trend has made airfares more budget-friendly, at least for the time being.
If you have a particular destination or time frame in mind, it's wise to start monitoring flights early to establish a baseline. This will enable you to recognize a good deal when you encounter one and act swiftly when an attractive airfare becomes available.
The ideal time to purchase airline tickets ultimately blends fortune with strategy. While we can't influence luck, we can provide some guidance on the strategic aspect. Fortunately, experts who dedicate their time to analyzing flight data have outlined ways to enhance your prospects of discovering cost-effective flights. Here's what they suggest.
How Far in Advance Should You Book a Flight for the Best Deal?
The optimum time to book a flight is generally one to three months before your domestic departure, and two to eight months in advance for international flights.
"We call these the 'Goldilocks windows,'" says Scott Keyes, the founder of Going.com. "Not too early, not too late—just right in the middle."
For holiday travel, spring break, peak summer periods, or major events like Mardi Gras or large music festivals, consider booking a bit earlier—three to six months ahead for domestic travel and four to ten months in advance for international trips.
The Best Day of the Week to Purchase Airline Tickets
Although there's a belief that flight prices are lower on Tuesdays, the consensus today is that there isn't a specific day of the week for scoring better airfare deals. Deals can appear any day of the week.
According to Skyscanner's Crossey, prices follow a weekly cycle, with the lowest prices usually available earlier in the week and the highest prices toward the end of the week.
The Most Economical Days to Fly
Hopper, a travel booking site, suggests that flying midweek offers the best prices. Tuesday and Wednesday are typically the cheapest days for domestic flights, while midweek is also the most budget-friendly time for international travel. Hopper advises departing earlier in the week (between Monday and Wednesday) and returning later in the week (between Tuesday and Thursday) for international journeys.
Tips for Finding the Best Airfare Deals
When searching for airfares, you can adjust your dates, use filters, and explore various search tools to discover more appealing flight prices. Here are some techniques to consider:
- Explore Different Dates: Google Flights is often regarded as the most comprehensive flight search tool. Its Calendar feature allows you to view airfares for the entire month, giving you a broader perspective. While Google Flights is for searching, not booking, it provides valuable insights into suitable flights, and you can book directly with the airline. Additionally, Google Flights now offers a tool to identify the optimal time for booking your flight based on historical data.
- Cross-Check on Multiple Sites: In addition to Google Flights, consider comparing options on sites like Kayak, Skyscanner, or Momondo.
- Set Price Alerts: Utilize price-tracking tools on sites like Google Flights and Kayak to receive notifications when airfare prices change on your preferred route.
- Take Advantage of the 24-Hour Cancellation Policy: For flights booked seven days or more in advance, the Department of Transportation permits customers to cancel without penalties within 24 hours. This offers you the flexibility to hold a good fare while you explore your options further.
- Filter Your Search: Adjust your search based on specific travel preferences, such as nonstop flights, checked luggage, number of stops, flight duration, airlines, and departure/arrival times. This ensures that you find deals tailored to your requirements.
- Explore Different Airports: Consider searching multiple origin and destination airports to expand your options. Some travel sites, like Kayak, make it easy to include additional airports within a specific radius.
- Use the Explore Tool: On Google Flights, the Explore tool lets you input your departure city and explore destinations within a specific timeframe. This is a fantastic way to generate ideas for future trips. You can also use it to explore regions, like Hawaii or Europe, to assess airfare options across various cities and airports.
- Subscribe to Airfare Deal Newsletters: Sign up for newsletters like Going.com and Dollar Flight Club, which notify members of exceptional flight deals as soon as they become available. This is especially useful during the planning phase.
- Join Frequent Flyer Programs: Members of airline frequent flyer programs often receive emails about the latest airfare sales, providing another avenue to secure a great deal.
Do Airfare Prices Drop at the Last Minute?
While airfare prices can fluctuate significantly in the months leading up to your travel date, they are unlikely to decrease significantly as you approach the departure date.
In reality, last-minute deals are less common than one might think. Waiting until the eleventh hour to book your airfare is unlikely to save you money. After the three-week mark, prices typically rise considerably, regardless of the route.