When’s the best time to buy an airline ticket? The answer, according to CheapAir.com’s analysis of more than 1.3 billion flights, is, “It’s complicated.”
If you want a hard and fast number, then the answer is 54 days out, if you’re traveling within the U.S. But of course, life isn’t that simple. A lot of the itineraries CheapAir offered are the cheapest tickets on other days, too. It was really a bit unpredictable. Which is the point CheapAir is trying to make, in no uncertain terms. “There is just no one magic number that you can rely on to create a calendar reminder x number of days in advance and know that that day is the best day to book,” the article states.
But there are rules. And that’s where you can be wise with your money. CheapAir divided the flight booking window into five different “zones,” from 11 months out to day-of purchases. What they found was that flight prices tend to start out high, slowly coming down and then climbing steeply back up again as the flight date approaches.
The TL;DR of the whole article is that you should book when it feels right to you. If you have specific times you need to be flying, or need, say, an aisle seat, it’s best to book out as far in advance as you can, when you have the best options. You’ll pay about $50 more for your ticket than you would be paying in the prime booking window, but that increased cost comes with increased flexibility. On the other hand, if you’re willing to chance it and aren’t going any place incredibly popular (think New Orleans mid-February), you can hold off on booking until two to three weeks out. You might score a deal, you might not.
Unequivocally, the worst time to purchase tickets is any time within two weeks of takeoff. You’re not going to score any last-minute deals. In fact, you’ll end up paying at least $75 more than you would have during the prime booking window.
As CheapAir points out, while it would be nice to be done with the game of booking times and have fixed airline prices, “it’s a unique marketplace, more like playing the stock market than anything else.” As long as we’ve got some rules to go off of, we’ll keep playing the game.