Boy do I wish I had a crystal ball for airline ticket prices. I checked in with my “go to” airline expert and her response was, “Predicting airfares is like predicting the stock market – it can be a bit chaotic with the fluctuations. Airlines load fares 3-15 times per day. Every day. 365 days a year.” Yikes!! How can we figure out the best time to book?
When to Buy (How Far in Advance)
According to USA Today, book the following regions well in advance: Asia – 160 days, Europe – 120 days, Canada/Mexico/Latin America – 70 to75 days, the Middle East/Africa – 215 days, and the Caribbean/South Pacific – 320 days. These are recommendations, but remember what my airline expert said, those prices change regularly, so if you know where and when you want to go, set up some airline fare alerts.
Business class fares may have decent advance purchase fares as soon as 45-60 days out and there have been opportunities for last minute fares being offered at a great price. I booked a business class flight for $3500 per person to Italy for my clients a week in advance of their trip when $11,000 per person was the norm. Don’t expect to see that on a regular basis.
Consider shopping for your tickets between 1 to 3 months before your trip. Avoid purchasing fares closer than two weeks prior to your trip.
Days of the Week to Buy
International and Domestic
The best day to purchase is Sunday– no, wait –Tuesday at 3PM! A study by Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Corporation looked at billions of flights in 2016 and their data indicated the best day to buy airline tickets is Sunday. Compare that to CheapAir.com’s Annual Airfare Study that indicates that Tuesday at 3PM Eastern is the best time. They say that many airlines release sales pricing early Tuesday morning. I’ve had good experience on both days. If only I had that crystal ball, right??
If you’ve been regularly looking at prices for a specific itinerary, be aware that algorithms monitor activity. You may see price increases due to your interest in certain routes. Delete your cache and try searching again at a different time.
Days to Fly
Weekdays are the best days to fly according to FareCompare.com and Hopper.com. According to Expedia’s 2015 Travel Trends white paper, long haul flights that depart on Thursday and return on Monday offer savings over other days of the week.
The cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, according to FareCompare.com. Business travelers are usually traveling on the front and back ends of the business week, so there is usually less competition for tickets in the middle of the week. Also, don’t overlook less popular times to travel, such as the first flight in the morning (yep, o’dark thirty), lunch and dinner times.
With so many variables, it is difficult to develop a predictable model for determining when to buy your airline tickets and travel. It’s dependent on criteria such as the time of year, destination (and its popularity), fuel prices, airline promotions, and search algorithms.
Sign up for fare alerts. AirfareWatchdog.com will let you know when prices change. It doesn’t rely on computer systems, rather it relies on people to vet deals. A travel advisor has resources and may find deals on unpublished airfares.
Helen Jordan is the owner of Jordan Luxury Travel, an independent affiliate of Brownell Travel, a member of Virtuoso. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.