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When Is the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets?
It depends on where and when you travel, but for domestic flights, aim for 70 days in advance. For international flights, start searching earlier.
Lauren Schwahn Lead Writer | Personal finance, debt
Lauren Schwahn is a writer at NerdWallet who covers debt, budgeting and money-saving strategies. She contributes to the "Millennial Money" column for The Associated Press. Her work has also been featured by USA Today, MarketWatch and more. Lauren has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is based in San Francisco.
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The opportune moment to buy a plane ticket depends on where and when you plan to travel. Although there’s no sure bet, here’s some guidance. For domestic flights, book 70 days in advance. For international flights, start searching before that.
You’ll find more detailed recommendations below.
Domestic flights (within the continental U.S.)
When: Between 21 and 121 days in advance; in particular, 70 days in advance, according to a CheapAir.com study.
Airlines tend to price flights on the higher side at first, because there’s not yet a strong sense of market demand, says Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at Hopper, an airfare analysis app. After that, it’s simple economics: If demand is low, prices fall. If it’s high, seats fill up fast and prices get higher. But "there’s usually that sweet spot — two, three, four months in advance — depending on where you’re flying to,” Surry says.
What to expect
Spikes and dips in prices still occur, but your best chance to secure a ticket on the cheaper end lies within this window, according to CheapAir. You may not have as many seats or routes to choose from compared with when the flight was first announced, but competition — and therefore sales — will likely heat up.
When: It depends on the region. Here’s a breakdown of the best times on average, according to CheapAir:
Canada:66 days in advance
Mexico and Central America: 70 days in advance
Caribbean: 207 days in advance
South America: 110 days in advance
South Pacific: 197 days in advance
Asia: 120 days in advance
Europe: 160 days in advance
Africa and the Middle East: 199 days in advance
The prime booking window for international trips is further out than for domestic excursions, in part because these flights are generally costlier. The more expensive the purchase, the earlier the typical person plans, Surry says. If seats are grabbed early, that leaves a longer period for airlines to increase prices for the remaining supply. Another explanation is that international fares are especially prone to seasonal variations. “So buying the lowest fare in high season as soon as dates are firm is generally a wise course of action,” said Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Company, an airline industry analysis and consulting firm, in an email.
What to expect
Frequent, sometimes drastic, fluctuations in ticket costs.
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When: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, according to Hopper.
Computers normally determine airline ticket prices using complex algorithms, which makes it difficult to predict the exact day when fares are lowest. However, humans decide when to schedule flash sales — short-lived deals that usually last a day or two — and these often pop up during the week, Surry says. This could explain why more destinations — in both domestic and international markets — are cheaper midweek.
What to expect
Tickets might be less expensive — but not by much. The average savings between the best and worst days of the week to shop are about $10 for domestic markets and about $30 for international markets, according to Hopper.
“You’ll save a lot more by booking farther in advance, typically, than you will by picking a specific day of the week,” Surry says.
Note that prices vary based on which days of the week the departure and return are.
Anticipate seasonal anomalies
The above guidance won’t apply in all circumstances. Allow yourself extra buffer room for peak travel times, such as weekends and holidays. For less desirable periods, like the cold winter months, you can procrastinate a bit longer.
When to buy (for domestic flights):
Winter: 21 to 110 days in advance
Spring: 46 to 122 days in advance
Summer: 14 to 160 days in advance
Fall: 21 to 100 days in advance
Summer is the most popular travel season. It’s wise to book these trips earlier in advance, according to CheapAir.
What to expect
Buying tickets on the best day versus the worst day for each season yields about $200 in savings, according to CheapAir. Expect to pay more around holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.