According to a recent survey conducted by the British travel-data company OAG, people are changing the way they travel in 2021.
More travelers are taking staycations, and when they do plan to fly, they’re booking shorter, last-minute, flights — and 27% hold off on buying tickets in hopes of getting cheaper fares.
Yet volatile flight prices are becoming the norm, and prices are indeed rising. U.S.News & World Report found that prices have begun to return to pre-pandemic levels. Most people reconsider traveling if they see a 20% increase in the ticket price.
So when should you book your flight for the best deal?
Finding the best-priced airline ticket takes a solid strategy and a little homework. Here are five points to consider and not consider when you buy your next flight ticket.
Buy tickets a certain number of days in advance
CheapAir.com says the best time to book a ticket is 64 days from the day of travel, but they warn that this is an average, and the lowest price can be found anywhere between 21 and 95 days out.
Airlines start releasing tickets almost a year before the flight, but prices are higher when first released and tend to get cheaper as the day of travel approaches. This is why buying a ticket too far in advance doesn’t help you save money. Your goal is to hit the price somewhere between Day 21 and 95 when airlines are motivated to sell more than buyers are willing to buy. When you buy too early, your high, early-booking prices look like last-minute late-booking prices.
Within three weeks of the flight, there is an unknowable point when the price will increase closer to the travel day. Pushing your purchase date too close to your preferred travel date will likely result in overpaying for your ticket, as airlines are less motivated to sell than last-minute buyers are to buy.
You’d have to know the supply and demand for travel to your destination to be able to accurately predict the best time to buy tickets. But it’s almost always better to buy before the week of travel when last-minute prices are typically among the highest.
Consider the cheapest seasons to travel
Are your travel plans definitive? If not and you’re flexible, traveling at certain times of the year can save you money. You’ll find the cheapest tickets when no one else is flying much. Traveling after holidays and popular vacation times are perfect for budget-conscious travelers.
You’ll find that prices, in general, are lower in the winter than they are in the summer. And they’re most expensive around holidays. Expect prices to rise around spring break in March, summer travel in June, Thanksgiving in November, and Christmas in December. The U.K. travel-search company Skyscanner says September is the best month for buying tickets and May is the worst.
CheapAir.com says to book your summer travel 67 days in advance, fall travel 89 days in advance, winter travel 68 days in advance, and spring travel 21 days in advance. Just remember, these predictions aren’t exact.
Monitor the airlines for trends in pricing. But don’t stress it too much. Airlines are only reporting about a $100 difference between the most and least expensive travel dates.
Find the cheapest day of the week
Gone are the days when you could buy a ticket on Tuesday night and know that you were getting the best price. CheapAir.com says waiting for a specific day of the week to buy your ticket is pointless, as ticket prices only fluctuate about $1 during any given week.
However, Expedia reports that prices may be cheaper on Sundays and more costly on Mondays for both domestic and international travel. Still, most changes are week to week and month to month. Don’t wait to plan your travel.
Perhaps the best answer is to look at ticket prices over time to see how they are changing. Keep in mind that most airlines allow you to purchase a ticket and cancel within 24 hours
Look for the cheapest hours of the day
Soe travel experts suggest that certain times of the day have lower prices. This isn’t true. Airlines change their prices by a few dollars several times throughout the day, but it’s pretty random and sporadic.
Airlines use pricing algorithms based on lots of factors. As such, pricing depends more on supply and demand than on time of day. When more people are buying tickets, prices go up. And when fewer people are buying tickets, prices go down. So if you tend to see prices going up later in the week and later in the evening, it’s most likely the result of more people buying.
The cheapest time to book international flights is a different story
International travel is a different case and can be more expensive than domestic travel. While domestic flights tend to get cheaper as the travel day approaches, the opposite holds true for international flights. International flights can be booked nearly a year in advance for the best pricing.
It’s best to book as soon as you know your travel plans, as the prices are likely to rise each passing week. Airfares to different locations tend to have different pricing and prime booking windows. The cheapest month to fly internationally depends on the country’s best travel days. For example, travel to the Caribbean is cheapest in October and the most costly in winter.
The bottom line
Predicting the best time to buy flight tickets isn’t an exact science.
The best time to buy depends on factors like destination, time of year, supply, demand, and the airline’s overall operating costs.
In general, your best bet is to buy your domestic ticket 21 to 45 days before your travel dates, but pay attention to when you’re traveling and when the airlines are the most motivated to sell.