If you put “best time to book a flight” into Google you’ll get more than 11 million results. Apparently people ask this a lot too. On a story trying to determine the magic booking window, CheapAir’s study of their customer data started out with this explanation:
Since the majority of questions we get asked every year start with “When is the best time to book my flight to…”, the first thing we always do with this data is determine, on average, how far in advance should you book your flight to get the lowest fare.
There have been a slew of these studies and the magic number is usually between 40 and 60 days. That doesn’t mean it’s when your flight will be the cheapest of course. You can use an app like Hopper to see if the price you’re seeing is historically good, bad, or average. Google Flights has this baked into their results too.
Sometimes the best deal will be a week before, sometimes it’ll be six months before. A lot of it depends on simple supply and demand between the two destinations. Throw a hub airport in there and it gets even more complicated. Plus a July flight to Europe is going to vary a lot less than one in January when demand is lower.
Next people will ask things like, “I heard if you book on a Tuesday night after midnight you’ll get the best deal.”
Well, not really. As soon as any warp in the wormhole like that opens up, it closes as soon as everyone catches on. In reality fares are changing by the hour or even faster these days. The airlines have gotten really good at cramming every single cramped seat full of
The Day You Fly Really Matters
If you’ve ever priced out a Friday to Friday vacation flight to a resort area, you have seen the pain of peak time pricing. If you’re a business traveler trying to fly out Monday morning and return Friday afternoon, ditto.
I’m constantly harping on the need to have flexibility in your travel plans. It’s the main theme of my book Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune. Otherwise your pursuit of a great deal is going to lead to lots of frustration. The more variables you have open, the less you’ll pay.
If you need any proof that the day of the week you fly makes a huge difference, check out this e-mail I just got from Delta:
This is no bait and switch either. When I pulled up flexible dates for a random route from Tampa to Seattle, the round-trip price ranged from $395 (Saturday) to $760 (Sunday). When I checked Atlanta (Delta’s main hub) and San Francisco it ranged from $246 (Wednesday) to $343 (Sunday and Monday).
In some cases it didn’t make much difference though. NYC to London, Cancun, or L.A. only varied by 5% or so. The intense competition from three airports there may have something to do with it.
This is not just a Delta thing though—they’re just putting the natural patterns into an e-mail and making it look like a sale. You’ll see the same patterns on the others whenever it’s a route flown by business travelers. Where business and leisure intersect is Sunday: vacationers are coming home and sales reps are flying out to be rested for their Monday meetings.
Flexibility for Free Tickets
You’ll also see the same patterns when you try to book frequent flyer tickets. I’ve done a lot of travel hacking over the years and have probably scored 30 free tickets at this point. I’ve flown to Southeast Asia, Fiji, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Hungary, and Belize, plus a slew of domestic destinations. (I’m leaving on a free flight to Alaska tonight!) It has seldom been as simple as punching in my dates and getting the exact flight I’d love to have. If a plane is already close to full, there won’t be any free tickets available. If the plane is half empty and is likely to stay that way, however, there’s a much higher likelihood of cashing in those miles.
So again the day of the week matters a lot. If you’re trying to fly to Hawaii on a Friday with everyone else from California, well, good luck with that. If you can go on a Wednesday, however, you might get that coveted ticket, plus three more for your family members.
There are entire membership websites and paid consulting services devoted to the pursuit of hard-to-book mileage tickets, but most of the time you can get something close to what you need by keeping your variables open. Just moving the trip a couple days forward or backward can make a huge difference.