The best time to book flights for the cheapest airfare in 2024

1 month ago 26

At TPG, one of our key goals is to help you find the cheapest airfare. However, your ability to find valuable airline deals depends on a few factors.

Flights during spring break, the peak of summer and, of course, the holidays are often much more expensive.

We're all looking to find the best deals we can. That's where some of our next tips come in.

Have you ever heard that booking a flight on a certain day of the week will yield the cheapest results? Perhaps you're thinking of a cousin who claims he found a great deal when he checked on airfare prices at 12:01 a.m. on a Wednesday. Maybe your friend swears by setting a reminder on their phone for 1 p.m. on a Thursday when they're shopping for flights.

While there is no shortage of rumors (and "studies") out there, here's what airfare experts say about how timing influences airfare prices so you can maximize airfare savings.

Is there a day that's cheaper than others to book a flight?

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It's a question we get asked all the time: "What is the cheapest day to book a flight?" There's a common misperception that certain days are better for finding flight deals. However, research shows that this is a myth.

There is no magic day to book, but there are some sweet booking windows when airlines lower prices, according to Lindsay Schwimer, a consumer travel expert at the booking app Hopper.

Hopper relies on 10 years of data and 80 trillion flight prices to recommend the best time to book specific routes and dates.

"Typically, we tell travelers for domestic trips to start monitoring prices three to four months in advance of a trip," Schwimer said. "Expect to book one to two months in advance."

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For international trips, the window is a bit larger. You should start monitoring six to seven months prior to the trip and book it three to five months in advance. That's the recommendation from both Hopper and TPG.

"When you're traveling internationally, planning ahead is key to getting the cheapest airfare," Hayley Berg, Hopper's lead economist, said in another interview. "Travelers often book international flights too far in advance or too last minute, overpaying significantly for their tickets."

Remember that the strategy changes pretty dramatically if you book with points and miles. Airlines often open award space for coveted business- and first-class seats either when the schedules open or at the last minute.

As for whether there's a particular day that's cheaper than the rest for booking, Schwimer mentioned that "there's no one day or golden rule when to book."

Berg echoed this sentiment.

"There's a common myth that 'booking on a Tuesday' will guarantee a traveler the best price," she said. "The reality is prices change so often and depend on the route, the travel dates, etc., that there isn't one day that guarantees you the best price."

What's the best day to travel?

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Although airfare prices fluctuate based on when you book, midweek travel is generally cheaper than flying on weekends. That said, Sundays can also be a sweet spot.

"Flying midweek can save you nearly $100 off your ticket," Schwimer said. "So when you're thinking about when you want to travel, try shifting your dates midweek versus flying over the weekend. If you can be flexible and book either a Tuesday or Wednesday versus a Friday or Saturday, you're gonna save significantly off your trip."

Berg had similar thoughts.

"Travelers who fly midweek, usually Wednesday, can save an average of $56 per ticket on domestic airfare throughout the year," she said. "Midweek savings spike over $60 per ticket during busy spring break and summer vacation months while flying midweek over the holidays can save you $100 or more."

Schwimer also had some good advice to price the first flight of the day. Often, you'll find those early departures can save you some big bucks. It's not easy to set the alarm for 4 a.m., but it's easier to wake up when you know you're saving money.

"We always recommend booking the first flight of the day, not only to avoid delays and cancellations but also in terms of price," she said.

Additionally, according to Bob Harrell — an airfare consultant at Harrell Associates who analyzes airline pricing — you might also find airfare prices fluctuate Monday through Friday. That's because airlines look at customer demand and monitor booking trends to decide whether to open or close certain types of fares and whether to raise or lower existing fares.

So, how can you use this information to your advantage when buying airline tickets?

Try using a price monitoring tool to get real-time updates to help you decide when to travel for the lowest fare. Tools like Google Flights and Hopper's "Watch This Trip" can help you track the price of your desired route before booking and indicate or directly notify you when prices are at the lowest for your trip.

When to book holiday travel

Best time to book flights for spring break

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The best time to book your spring break trip is very soon. You should already be monitoring prices for where you want to go, and you should be ready to pull the trigger soon if you haven't done so already, depending on when your (and your family's) time off falls.

For example, if your spring break falls in March, the ideal time to book is by early February.

That said, if you see a deal, jump on it. We've seen a lot of deals pop up around spring break, and if you can score one, it's all the better. Flexibility will also help here.

Remember that demand surges during the spring break period after the doldrums of winter. Many people wait too long to book those trips and end up paying more than they need to.

Hopper says prices for airfare will fall between one and three months before departure, and prices will rise rapidly in the last three to four weeks before spring break.

Best time to book flights for summer trips

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As spring draws nearer, it's not too early to start planning ahead for summer holiday travel.

"If you're booking a trip over Memorial Day weekend, you'll want to start monitoring prices now and book as soon as you see a good deal," Berg said. She also noted that prices tend to drop on average one to two months before departure.

If you are planning on staying closer to home this summer, Hopper recommends monitoring flight prices a minimum of three to four months in advance and then booking one to two months before the intended travel date.

"Prices will change frequently," Berg said. "Don't wait too long to book, and prices can increase by almost double in the last three weeks ahead of takeoff."

If you plan to head abroad this summer, the booking window is naturally further out, particularly for longer-haul transpacific flights.

"For trips to Asia and Oceania, we recommend booking five to seven months before takeoff," Berg said. "For Europe and other regions of the world, we recommend booking anywhere from three to six months before departure to get the best prices."

Best time to book flights for Thanksgiving and Christmas

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The cheapest holiday airfare deals are generally available in September and October.

"We tell people to start monitoring in August," Schwimer said, "but our typical book-by date is mid-October, so usually around the 14th of October." She added that "no later than Halloween is usually our book-by date for both Thanksgiving and Christmas."

Similarly, a Google Flights booking trends report suggested that average flight prices around Christmas were lowest 71 days before departure.

Prices will only rise as the holidays approach, so your best bet is to book sooner rather than later.

Best time to book flights for New Year's Eve

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Like Christmas flights, Hopper says you should try to lock in bookings for New Year's by Halloween at the latest.

That is true for "really any of the major winter holidays," Berg said. "We recommend booking further in advance. I would book that New Year's Eve trip as well before Halloween."

What about hotels?

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Hotels are a special category where you can often wait until much later to score good deals.

"We often see good deals last minute for hotels in big cities. Something to keep in mind ... especially for those holiday weekends," Schwimer told TPG. "And you know that [during] the Christmas holiday period, you can often find some really great last-minute deals in big cities if you wait.

"Obviously, that's not always ideal in terms of planning," Schwimer continued, "but we have seen some really great deals in that last-minute window in big metro cities."

Bottom line

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While there is no magical time or day to book airfare for the best prices, your best bet is to fly midweek, specifically on Wednesdays, for both domestic and international travel. Flying over the weekend can come at a significant price premium, though Sundays have occasional deals.

Also, try booking domestic flights one to two months ahead of time.

For international flights, your best bet is to aim to book three to five months ahead of the trip.

If you are using airline miles, remember that it's never too soon to start checking and booking.

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Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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