The Cheapest Way to Fly
Booking a trip in the wrong time frame or too close to departure can cost you a lot in fare and convenience. It's best to know what the research says.
For many professions, flying is a mandatory part of the job. In addition, the ever-increasing accessibility to many destinations has made flying a very common practice, globally. In the midst of it all, it can be difficult to navigate the myriad travel sites, travel apps, and airline ticketing channels in order to procure the best deals. This is in addition to the fact that a fare can change, on average, every 6 days, which is about 62 times from the posting of the flight until it departs.
If you are a traveler, and you don’t have unlimited travel funds (i.e. most of us), then it is best to do your research and plan according to what has been found to be the ‘best practices’ for booking flights and getting the best deals.
As I perused the many articles written by airline ticket researchers, I found many common results.
Best time to book a flight is Tuesdays at 3 p.m. EST.
Tuesdays are the cheapest days to fly, followed by Wednesday and Saturday. (For international flights, choose weekdays over weekends)
You can save about $76 if you fly on Wednesday instead of Sunday
Book an early flight. The earlier, the better
Take time to check low-cost airlines individually
Sign up for price alerts to desired/regular destinations. They’re free.
If you tend to procrastinate, you will find that the pointers above will not be of much help in getting a good deal.
One study performed by cheapair.com, gives the following time frame tips for getting the best deals for your flights. (This info is based on 2019 trends, and changes slightly year to year).
For those not so driven by cost, but more driven by preferential times and seats, 315 to 203 days (10 – 6.5 months) prior departure is the most ideal. It will cost you about $50 above the "Prime Booking Window" (cheapest flights), but you’ll get the most options for your flight within this time frame.
If you want to get a pretty good deal and still be able to have a wide selection of flights, 202 to 116 days (6.5 – 4 months) before your flight is when you’ll want to purchase your ticket. You’ll likely pay, on average, $20 above the best deal, but you’ll have a better selection than waiting a longer time.
This next window is often called the “Prime Booking Window” and is 115 to 21 days (4 months to 3 weeks) in advance. Data on pricing shows that the lowest ticket prices occur within this window and they are within 5% of the absolute lowest fare.
For those who wait to book, these last three categories pertain to you.
For 20 to 14 days (3 – 2 weeks) prior to travel date, your chances of getting a lower fare begin to diminish rapidly. Occasionally, for destinations and times that are unpopular, fares can continue to decrease during this period, but you’re still taking your chances. In addition, quality of seats and quantities are very limited.
If you wait until 13 to 7 days (2 – 1 week) before your desired date of travel, you will almost definitely be paying more than the best deals, but still pay less (by about $135) than the final window of purchase. In addition, you will have even more limited selection in times and seats.
This last time frame, 6 to 0 days (less than a week), is by far, the costliest in purchasing airfare. In most cases, you’ll pay, on average, $220 more for a flight that is probably not in a convenient time frame and also has the poorest selection of seats.
Seasonally, things can also vary due to holidays and school vacations. Below are some pointers given by Forbes researchers. That is, if you have the luxury to plan according to season.
Keep in mind, these time frames pertain to the continental U.S. If you’re looking for fare windows for Hawaii, different rules apply. Being that it is an island with year-round great weather and being further in distance, there are some guidelines for getting the best prices to the islands:
Plan to visit during less popular times
The best prices are generally in mid- to late-April into May, and September and October
Avoid summer, December and January, if possible
Tuesday and Wednesday are the best-priced travel days, with Sunday being the worst
The best day, on average, to purchase your ticket is 66 days (about 2 months) prior to departure
But seasonally, these are the best windows:
Spring: 80 days in advance
Summer: 3 weeks
Fall: 2 months
Winter: 4 months
Bottom line: procrastination will cost you in airfare. Prepare in advance, know the trends, and shop around for the most cost-effective way to fly.
If you are interested in more specifics about the 2019 International Travel Study results, visit: https://www.cheapair.com/press/releases/cheapair-com-study-reveals-when-to-buy-international-airline-tickets/