best time to buy flights

There are more than 42,000 flights over American airspace every day. That’s close to 950 million passengers that fly the friendly skies every year.

Everyone who flies wants to get the best deal on airfare. Discount sites and apps help in the search for finding the lowest airfare but one question still remains…

When is the best time to buy flights? We take a comprehensive look at the best times to book flights whether you’re planning to travel the world or visit your Aunt Susan in Omaha.

6 Booking Zones for the Best Time to Buy Flights

If you’re planning a family vacation, you want to save money any way you can. Families tend to travel during holidays, spring break, and in the summer. This means you can predict well in advance when you’re going to need to book your flight.

Couples without children plan more spontaneous weekend trips. Unless they’re checking off their bucket list destinations, they don’t tend to book too far in advance.

According to a recent study of 917 million airfares, the best time to buy airline tickets is a Goldilocks approach. The cost of flights is higher if you book too soon or too late. Buying airfare gets broken down into six zones:

The Advance Planning Zone – 169-319 Days (6-9 Months)

The early bird doesn’t always get the worm, especially when it comes to buying airfare. People who plan this far in advance end up paying $50 more per ticket on average.

This is because it’s common for airlines to release their fares for domestic flights during this time. They start the prices higher because they expect fluctuations. This destination could be a hot spot in 6 months or a dud.

But, you’ll have a better opportunity to pick your seats and stay together. You’ll also have your pick of the litter when it comes to flight times, so it may be worth it to you.

The Comfort Zone – 122-168 Days (4-6 Months)

This is the comfort zone because it’s when most people start planning their vacations. During this period, people think they’re getting the best deals because they’re booking so far in advance.

On average, you’ll pay about $20 more for your airfare. You won’t have first dibs on seat selections but you should still be okay with picking convenient flight times.

Prime Time – 21-121 Days in Advance (3 Weeks – 4 Months)

You didn’t expect the prime zone to be three weeks, did you? Three weeks to four months is the sweet spot to buy your tickets. This is when fares are at their cheapest because airlines start the price drop during this time.

The prices could still get lower, but everything closer than three weeks is a gamble.

The Gamble Zone – 14-20 Days (2-3 Weeks)

Like the name of the zone suggests, fares can either get higher or lower between 2-3 weeks. It depends on the airlines, the travel dates/times, and the destination.

If you’re booking a flight around the holidays, you’ll pay premium prices whether you fly at 5 am on a Wednesday (more on that in a bit!) or 5 pm on a Friday.

If you do get lucky and find a decent ticket price, you won’t have the same flight times and seat options you would have if you booked a week or two earlier.

The Fire Zone – 7-13 Days (1-2 weeks)

If you’re an ultimate gamble (or like roleplaying as Icarus), then playing with fire is your zone. Your costs are much higher than the prime booking time, but you’ll pay less than the last-minute travelers.

You won’t have a lot of options for seat selection or flight times. You may not even have the option of a direct flight at this point. But you’ll still pay 22% less than the next group.

The Hail Mary Zone – 0-6 Days

If Doug Flutie is your spirit animal, you’ll pay $208 more on average booking the week of the flight. In some cases, like emergencies and business trips, this can’t get avoided. But if you’re traveling for leisure, try to plan at least a little more in advance next time.

Best Days of the Week to Book Airfare

There’s conflicting info about the best days to click the “Buy” button to get the best prices. One study examined billions of data and determined Sunday is the best day and Friday is the worst.

The recent study of 917 million airfares found it doesn’t matter. The lowest airfare was $2 cheaper in comparison with the only changing factor being the day of the week. It’s less than a .6% difference, so don’t waste a whole day waiting for Sunday at 3 pm to roll around.

Best Days of the Week to Travel

But the days of the week you plan on traveling do matter. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest and Sundays are the most expensive. If you can switch your travel plans and replace Sunday with Wednesday, you’ll save about $76 per ticket.

Seasons Change and Airfare Changes With Them

You now have an idea of when the best time to buy airline tickets is, but we’re going to narrow it down even further. As the seasons change, so do the airfare buying trends.

Winter

As you can imagine, Christmas to New Year’s is very expensive for obvious reasons. But you can still get decent deals during the off-holiday winter months.

Best time to buy (on average): 62 days before you travel
Prime booking time: 21-110 days before you travel
The difference in fares from best to worst days: $260

Spring

Despite Easter being in the springtime, it’s spring break that drives the cost up in March and April.

Best time to buy (on average): 90 days before you travel
Prime booking time: 45-122 days before you travel
The difference in fares from best to worst days: $263

Summer

Summer is the most popular season to travel, like Christmas, for obvious reasons. July is the most expensive month to travel and August and September are the cheapest.

Best time to buy (on average): 47 days before you travel
Prime booking time: 14-160 days before you travel
The difference in fares from best to worst days: $203

Fall

Like Spring Break and Christmas, flying around the Thanksgiving holiday is pretty pricey. The rest of the season doesn’t fluctuate in price too much.

Best time to buy (on average): 69 days before you travel
Prime booking time: 21-100 days before you travel
The difference in fares from best to worst days: $83

International Flights

In general, international travel is more expensive than domestic. But you can save if you book during the prime times below:

To Canada: 66 days
To Mexico and Central America: 70 days
To the Caribbean: 207 days
To South America: 110 days
To the South Pacific: 197 days
To Asia: 120 days
To Europe: 160 days
To Africa and the Middle East: 199 days

Travel with Confidence

Knowing the best time to buy flights isn’t an exact science, despite the countless studies on the subject. But our comprehensive guide will give you the best opportunity to get the lowest airfare for your trip.

For more helpful tips on traveling, check out our travel guide blog.

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