There are 747 cargo holds stuffed full of advice on when you when you should pull the trigger and buy a plane ticket. For awhile, everyone seemed to think you had to buy your ticket on Tuesdays if you ever wanted to save money. Today, that theory has been thoroughly been debunked. Other pieces of once accepted knowledge have fallen by the wayside too, after online airfare aggregator Cheapair.com released the results of a massive flights study last week.
After surveying nearly one billion transactions, they came to some clear conclusions about when to buy your ticket and when to actually travel. The 917,000,000 bookings from over 8,000 markets across the world paint a clear picture, and should motivate you to hit the road.
There is no “day” to score a cheap flight. It’s a window of time.
It bears repeating. No, you’re not going to magically get a cheap ticket on Tuesdays. The report found that prices on flights change constantly from the day they go on sale until the flight departs. There is a sweet spot though.
The site found that if you book around 70 days out from your departure date (on flights in America), you’re going to most likely get the best price. Interestingly, this was not the same as the previous year. 2016 clocked the best day to buy at 54 days before departure. This means there are fluctuating “windows” for the best prices.
Cheapair.com breaks it down like this:
- “First Dibs” or 169-319 Days in Advance
- “Peace of Mind” or 122-168 Days in Advance
- “Prime Booking Window” or 21-121 Days in Advance
- “Push Your Luck” or 14-20 Days in Advance
- “Playing with Fire” or 7-13 Days in Advance
- “Hail Mary” or 0-6 Days in Advance
Air tickets generally go on sale up to 10 months out. Between when they go up and the first 147 days, you should expect to pay a higher price that’s almost always on the decline. The next phase lasts for about 46 days and continues on the downward trend price-wise.
The next window of time is when you want to buy. The “Prime Booking Window” lasts 100 days — about four months to three weeks before departure. That’s a big window, we know. But around 70 days out from the departure date, the prices will bottom out and that’s when you should buy.
What’s interesting is how quickly prices start to ascend. Two weeks to 20 days before departure and prices are already back up to the beginning of the “Peace of Mind” phase. Then the last two phases over the last two weeks before the flight look pretty unequivocally like the most expensive time to buy a plane ticket, by far. Prices jump up well above all other times to buy and nearly double. We guess you could call this a tax for the indecisive and those who have to fly last minute.
Either way the data is clear — buying a flight at the last minute is not the way to save money on travel.
This all varies by season.
Right now, you’re probably thinking, “Great, now I know when to start looking.” Well, hold on a moment. The data has also shown that this rubric isn’t universal.
The above is the average overall. But when you break this down by season, a pretty big variation emerges. Here’s that breakdown.
- Best time to buy for Winter Travel: 62 Days in Advance
- Best time to buy for Spring Travel: 90 Days in Advance
- Best time to buy for Summer Travel: 47 Days in Advance
- Best time to buy for Fall Travel: 69 Days in Advance
What’s even more interesting is the difference in price between the best and worst day to travel in each season. The flight data showed that if you’re flying in the fall, there’s only an $83 difference between the highest and lowest prices. That’s not that much.
Comparatively, if you’re traveling in spring and don’t strike at the right time, you’ll likely experience a $263 difference. That, on the other hand, is a pretty steep increase for a single flight. Winter also offers a huge difference in flight prices with a $260 gulf between the lowest and highest fares. And, summer comes in at a $203 difference on average between flight prices.
So, yeah, you can save some serious cash by hitting one of these windows like a bullseye.
So is there a perfect “day of the week” to book?
No. After crunching the data of nearly one billion bookings, Cheapair.com debunked that myth. They found “the average lowest fares by purchase day of the week are all within $2 of one another” or less than 0.6% difference in price. Book any day.
What is not a myth is picking a day to fly on. Some days are simply cheaper than other days to fly — which makes sense if you think about it. Business travelers are going to be filling up planes on certain days, making them more expensive to fly on.
The data suggested that flying Tuesday and Wednesday are your best bet to save money on your flight. Sunday is the most expensive day to fly. You’ll pay an average of $76 more if you fly on a Sunday instead of Wednesday, for instance.
What we know…
In the end, once you know your departure date, you can find a great deal on a flight … if it’s far enough out. But you’re going to have to shop it. You’re also going have to be able to pull that trigger when you see a great deal. Don’t sleep on it because it will go away, sometimes faster than expected.
There are better days to fly on. But there are not better days to buy a ticket. The data has spoken.
At the very least, we now know when we should be thinking about traveling and know when to start looking for the best-priced tickets to get us out on that open road. It’s also imperative that we all remember that these are averages, not absolutes. Of course, there are always last minute deals and fire sales. And with the advent of super cheap budget airlines flying between all the continents now, ticket prices are the cheapest they’ve ever been regardless.