There are a lot of myths when it comes to how to find the cheapest flights.
I’ve heard that the best time to book flights is on Tuesdays. It’s also said that the earlier you buy airline tickets, the cheaper they are. And have you ever cleared your browsing history out of fear that sites will up the prices of flights they know you’ve searched for before?
All of these myths have been debunked (if you don’t know, now you know). So is there a best time to book flights for the cheapest price?
CheapAir.com recently conducted a study to answer just that.
The website dedicated to finding cheap flights studied 917 million airfares from 2017 to reveal when to book flights without making your bank account implode.
CheapAir.com’s study assessed four main data points including the “prime booking window,” or the time period that yields the cheapest flights, the ups and downs fares go through from the moment tickets go on sale to the day flights depart, the best (and worst) days of the week to buy tickets, and finally, seasonal trends.
According to the study, there are six “booking zones” you’ll encounter when you’re looking for cheap flights.
1. First Dibs (6-11 months in advance)
While you might think that the earlier you buy, the cheaper your ticket will be (as with a concert or sports game ticket, for example), it turns out that’s not the case at all. In fact, if you’re one of those people who plans a trip and buys a flight a year in advance, pause. According to CheapAir.com’s study, you’re likely paying about $50 more on average than people who book more last minute.
2. Peace of Mind (4-6 months in advance)
This is usually where I fall on the spectrum when it comes to buying flights. I like having enough time to plan my trip without booking too far in advance. But now I’m rethinking everything, because according to this study, I’ve been paying about $20 more per ticket on average than those who purchase even closer to their departure date.
3. Prime Booking Window (3 weeks - 4 months in advance)
This is the time you’re most likely to see cheap flights popping up on those flight aggregating sites. So if you have an idea of where you might want to go within the next few months, set an alarm to remind you to start looking a couple of months out.
4. Push Your Luck (2-3 weeks in advance)
Okay, if you tend to book your trips only two to three weeks in advance, I respect your spontaneity. However, you’re likely going to end up paying more than you would’ve if you had booked sooner. This is especially true during holiday seasons.
5. Playing With Fire (1-2 weeks in advance)
I get it. Life happens, and sometimes things pop up that force your hand (quite literally) into booking a last-minute flight. At this point, flight options start thinning out and you’re most likely going to pay more than someone who booked that same exact flight a few months ago.
6. Hail Mary (0-6 days in advance)
Really, the only people who are able to do this and come out with a win are flight attendants, pilots, and other airline crew who get to fly for free. On average, people who purchase these extremely last-minute flights pay $208 more on average than those who booked way back during the “prime booking window.”
Now onto the cheapest travel days.
While there’s no specific day of the week that you’ll always find the cheapest flight price, according to CheapAir.com, choosing a flight that departs on a Tuesday or Wednesday will save you about $76 per ticket.
Finally, there’s also a sweet spot for each season. For example, if you plan on going on vacation during the summer months, you should plan on purchasing a flight about 47 days in advance for the cheapest flight. But if you want to head somewhere new on winter break, you’ll find the best buy about 62 days in advance.
I know, I know. This is a lot to take in. And do any of us really have the time to count how many days out we are from a desired trip? Answer: no.
Luckily there are ways to get cheap flights while doing minimal work.
Sites like Kayak allow you to set alerts that’ll keep you in the know about fare changes, and also give hints as to whether prices are likely to go up or down from the moment you start searching. There’s also the controversial method of skiplagging, which is basically purchasing a multi-leg trip that you don’t intend on taking all the way through.
Even better, joining a site like Dollar Flight Club will do all of the work for you and send you emails every day informing you of cheap flights so you never miss out (I wrote a full review of the service if you’re interested).
While you can never be completely sure you’ve found the cheapest flight, hopefully this study will help you feel more confident when booking — just don’t check fares after you’ve already hit “book” to save yourself from any anguish!