If you have some air travel coming up you’ll soon be looking to buy plane tickets. And of course, you don’t want to overpay which leaves you wondering when’s the best time to book flights.
When is it too early? Too late? Is there a best day of the week to book? How about the best travel days?
The best time to snag cheap flights is to book domestic flights about 11 weeks leading up to your departure date. International flights however need more lead time. The best prices for international travel are between six and 10 months in advance.
The best days to book flights
Right off the bat, let’s challenge a common “hack” you might’ve seen on TikTok or elsewhere: “The best time of the week to buy airline tickets is Tuesday morning / Saturday evening / Wednesday at 4:09am.”
And just so we’re on the same page, they’re talking about the best time and day of the week to sit down and actually buy your airline tickets — not the best day to travel.
It’s an important distinction to make, since there’s overwhelming evidence to suggest that there’s definitely a cheapest day of the week to travel, which we’ll cover in the next section.
But the best time and day of the week to book? It doesn’t exist.
“I regularly search for and book flights and have found great deals every single day of the week,” Phil Dengler, founder of TheVacationer.com, told CNN. “Flight prices depend on complex algorithms, and the day of the week is not one of the factors.”
“We see deals every day, and we send out fare alerts 24/7, so we don’t think the Tuesday hypothesis holds water,” writes ScottsCheapFlights.com. “Every day is a great day to find a cheap flight.”
That might be surprising to hear, especially considering that flight prices is heavily dependent on the price of oil, which itself can fluctuate on a daily basis. Case in point, there are best days of the week to fill up your car at the pump.
Even still, there’s no “red tag” bargain day of the week for flights.
“This flies in the face of what some Internet sources say,” writes CheapAir.com. “But, actually, the average low fare only varies by about $1, no matter the day of the week that you buy an airline ticket.”
So don’t worry about setting an alarm for Tuesday morning to book your trip to Phoenix.
You should, however, consider what days you could arrive.
The best days of the week to fly
The cheapest day of the week to fly is Wednesday.
According to CheapAir’s Annual Airfare Study 2022, Wednesday flights are $57 cheaper on average than the most expensive day, which is Sunday.
Tuesday was a pretty darn close runner up, highlighting how very few travelers — business or pleasure — feel like flying midweek.
The other perk to booking your travel for the middle of the week is just how (relatively) quiet and low-stress the airport will be. According to an interesting study by UpgradedPoints.com, major U.S. airports tend to have the shortest TSA lines on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, averaging just 1-3 minutes. By contrast, the wait times on Friday mornings tend to hover near a half hour!
And sure, traveling midweek isn’t always ideal — but if you have the option, it’ll be cheaper, less stressful, and there’ll be a much shorter line for some preflight Popeye’s.
How far in advance should you book a flight?
So it doesn’t really matter what time or day of the week you to buy airline tickets, just that you try to book your travel days for the middle of the week if possible.
Next question: how far out should you book your flights, both domestic and international?
The best time to book domestic flights
Everyone knows that if you wait too late to book a flight, you’re probably going to pay a procrastinator tax.
But did you know that it’s also possible to book a flight too early?
CheapAir’s 2022 data shows how ticket prices tend to follow a peculiar, leg-shaped curve:
- When the flight is first listed about a year in advance, the average domestic airline tickets costs around $280.
- Then, roughly 220 days in advance, prices reach an early peak of $300 at the “knee.”
- Next, ticket prices start cooling off before reaching a trough of around $260 at precisely 76 days out.
- Finally, within 76 days, prices start to increase exponentially before skyrocketing within that three week window.
The key takeaway from all this?
The best time to buy airline tickets is between 127 and 24 days out, with prices bottoming out around 76 days before departure.
To capture the best rate, consider setting a price alert with Google or Kayak around that 127 day mark, and keep an eye on them through the last month before departure. CheapAir calls this the Prime Booking Window.
Granted, you can always book flights sooner than that for a decent price, good seat selection, and overall peace of mind. And depending on the airline, you can simply cancel and rebook at a lower rate if/when it pops up.
The best time to book international flights
As you probably guessed, the ideal window for booking international flights is much farther out. According to CNN, it’s best to start looking and set price alerts between 10 and 11 months out, and to go ahead and pull the trigger between five and six months ahead.
Granted, certain global destinations can actually get cheaper within five months of departure. According to CheapAir’s Annual International Airfare Study for 2022, flights to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America actually have Prime Booking Windows of roughly two to five months out. But if you’re flying to Oceania, Asia, or the Middle East, you’ll want to find a seat 10 months out.
Europe’s Prime Booking Window falls right in the middle: one to six months before departure.
As for which days of the week offer the cheapest fares, they’re the same as domestic flights: Tuesday and Wednesday.
Sundays, of course, get mighty, mighty expensive. On average, you’ll save $103 flying to Europe on a Tuesday or a Wednesday versus a Sunday. If you fly to the South Pacific on a Tuesday, you’ll save a whopping $350 each way.
What about flying during the holidays?
The major holidays are easily the busiest and most expensive times to fly in the United States, and they’re not getting any cheaper.
According to Hopper’s 2021 Holiday Travel Report, the average domestic airfare for Christmas-related travel was $390 roundtrip — up a whopping 55% from 2020 levels. Turkey Day (aka Thanksgiving) was $300 roundtrip, up 23% from the previous year.
So how can you get cheap flights today?
For starters, our previously discussed deal-hunting hacks still apply:
- Start looking 127 days in advance
- Avoid traveling on Sundays
- Set price alerts
But the #1 “hack” to scoring cheap holiday flights is to just be flexible in your travel dates.
Just about everyone wants to fly in a day or two before the holiday itself, and fly out the following Sunday. As a result (and to no one’s surprise), the most expensive holiday travel days in 2021 were Sunday Nov. 28 and Sunday Dec. 26.
But according to Hopper’s report, the cheapest holiday travel days were Monday, Nov. 22 and Tuesday, Dec. 21.
Granted, that’s a pretty wide window for Christmas, and depending on your family dynamics, might be a little too much holiday cheer.
Thankfully, CheapAir also predicts a generous dip in prices — if not a bottoming out — the week of Dec. 28 through 31.
For the best deals, Set price alerts
A great hack to getting cheap flights is to set up price alerts. You can set up a price alert at Google flights and it will track prices for your destination and travel date. You’ll get an alert every time prices drop.
You don’t have to set it for certain travel dates either. If you select your city of origin and your specific destination and Google flights can keep an eye on all dates. This allows you to keep an eye on your desired flight and snag the lowest flight prices possible.
What if flight prices go down after I book?
If the price goes even lower after you book, many airlines will actually let you rebook on the same flight and save the difference.
Southwest is famous for letting you do this. Other airlines have more restrictions in place, or may require you to purchase an upgraded ticket (i.e., Delta Main Cabin) for the right to rebook at no charge.
But every airline is required by law to let you cancel a flight within 24 hours of booking. So at the very least, you can check the price of the flight you just booked the next morning — and if it’s cheaper, you know what to do!
The bottom line
Buying airline tickets at the right time can definitely save you $100s, but it’s not the only way to save on travel. For more advice on saving costs while seeing the world (or your own backyard), check out my guide on How to travel for cheap: 7 ways to see the world for less.
And for the right card to bring with you, check out our list of the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards.
Featured image: ViDI Studio/Shutterstock.com