You're planning a trip, so you check flight prices to get an idea of what tickets will cost. Then, when you go to buy the ticket a few days later, the price has inexplicably gone up. What happened? Well, the day you fly can have a big influence on the cost, but so can the day you buy your ticket.
Avoid overpaying for flights by knowing the best days to book a flight and when to fly. Read on to learn more about how to get the best flight deals.
When is the best time to book a flight?
The best time to book a flight can depend on various factors such as the destination, the time of the year and the airline. However, there are few general guidelines to consider. For domestic flights, it is often recommended to book from one to three months in advance, and if you’re planning an international trip, booking two to eight months ahead is advised.
However, bear in mind that costs may vary depending on demand, seasonality and special occasions. Monitoring prices and setting up fare alerts can help you stay informed so you book your ticket when the price is right.
The best day of the week to book a flight
Research suggests that the day you choose to book a flight affects how much you pay for it. According to Expedia’s 2023 Air Travel Hacks Report, booking on a Sunday may save you up to 5% on the total cost of domestic flights and up to 15% on international flights. Google Flights recommends booking a flight in the middle of the week instead.
Airlines announce deals throughout the week, prompting competitors to match each other’s sales at different points. The price adjustment process is primarily governed by computer software and various algorithms, rendering price fluctuations rather unpredictable. To maximize your savings, start looking early and consistently monitor fare rates so you can act when the best deal comes up.
The best time to book international flights
For international travel, the rule of thumb is to book two to eight months in advance. This window offers the best combination of flight availability and affordability.
Prices vary depending on the popularity of the destination and the peak tourist season. For example, when flying to a popular destination such as the Caribbean between mid-December and mid-April, or visiting Italy in the summer, it is advisable to make advanced bookings to secure the best prices and flight times. A similar approach applies during New Year's Eve and the holiday season, as many people have time off for vacations.
The best time to book domestic flights
If you're planning a domestic flight, the best time to book is one to three months in advance. According to Expedia, you can expect to pay about 20% more if you book within 21 days of departure. On the other hand, you may save about 15% if you book at least two months in advance.
The best time to travel
Flying throughout the week, especially on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, is frequently less expensive than traveling during the weekend because there is less demand. If you don't mind sacrificing a little sleep for a good deal, early morning and late night flights also tend to be cheaper and less crowded, making for a smoother airport experience.
If possible, you should also avoid traveling on major national holidays. For example, if you're planning a trip to the U.S. over the Thanksgiving holiday, you may save a significant amount of money by traveling on a date that's farther away from the holiday itself.
Seasonality also has a big impact on flight demand and prices. The best time to travel to popular vacation destinations usually falls within the "shoulder season," which is the period between peak and off-peak seasons.
Shoulder seasons typically occur in Spring (March-May) and Fall (September-November), although specific timings may vary by destination. Choosing to travel during the shoulder season allows you to enjoy favorable weather, great deals and smaller crowds at your chosen destination.
How to book a flight
Booking a flight can be time-consuming due to the multitude of flight search engines and options available. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are four essential steps to booking a flight: planning your trip, searching for flights, comparing prices and purchasing your ticket. Follow a structured approach to find the best deals and make the process more manageable.
Outline your travel plans
Unless you can afford to travel on a whim, outlining your vacation itinerary is the first step in reserving a flight. Choose your destination, potential trip dates and desired departure and arrival times. When picking your vacation dates, consider factors like weather, regional events and the busiest travel seasons — all these factors can influence ticket prices and availability. Once you know your vacation itinerary, start looking into flights and establishing an airfare budget.
Start shopping around months in advance
To increase your chances of finding the best deals when booking flights online, give yourself plenty of time to monitor prices. Start monitoring flight prices earlier than the optimal booking windows mentioned above in case deals show up farther in advance. By starting your search early, you'll have more time to track prices, compare different airlines and routes and take advantage of sales or promotions.
Compare flights on multiple flight search engines
When searching for flights, compare your options on multiple flight search engines, as some platforms show information that isn't available on others. Certain websites offer fare projections, indicating the likelihood of finding a better deals and recommending waiting a few days before booking a flight. Additionally, using a flight search engine with calendar views can simplify the process of comparing fares for different departure and arrival times.
Check out websites that aggregate flight information from multiple airlines, allowing you to compare prices and options quickly and easily. Some search engines can present data from airline websites and competitor aggregator sites at a glance so you can get a quick idea of market rates for your itinerary.
In addition, some booking websites offer exclusive deals or discounts that are unavailable on other platforms. These deals tend to be short-lived, so do your research to know when a great ticket-buying opportunity is likely to arise. Just be sure when you're searching to include the number of seats you want because many sites only have a certain number of tickets available at each price.
Book your plane tickets
After you've thoroughly researched and compared your options, book your tickets. If you're purchasing through a flight search engine or aggregator, it is advisable to check the airline's website as well. Occasionally, airlines offer exclusive sales for direct bookings. Plus, booking directly with the airline provides access to the most current flight information.
If you are considering a third-party flight platform, be sure to review their policies regarding delays, changes, cancellations and other common flight issues before finalizing your ticket purchase.
Before making the payment, double-check all your travel details, including your name and the names of fellow travelers, travel dates and destination. Finally, take the time to review the airline's cancellation and flight change policies, as these can vary and impact your ability to modify your travel plans if needed. Many sites offer the option to buy trip insurance. Knowing how to get a flight refund if you need it will give you peace of mind.
Once you have your tickets, consider buying travel insurance if you want to get coverage for lost luggage, travel delays or medical emergencies. Choose one of the best travel insurance companies for a worry-free trip.
Tips for booking the cheapest flights
Finding affordable flights can be challenging, but with some strategic planning and a bit of flexibility, you can significantly increase your chances of securing a great deal.
Be flexible with departure days and arrival time
One of the most effective ways to find cheaper flights is to be flexible with your departure and arrival times. Flying on weekdays, mainly Tuesdays and Wednesdays, results in lower airfare than on weekends. Additionally, early-morning and late-night flights are often cheaper than peak-time flights. Be open to traveling on different days and at varying times to have a better chance of finding an affordable flight.
Having a long layover is not necessarily a bad option. In fact, it can provide an exciting opportunity to explore a new city during your travel. Also, opting for an airport hotel to get some sleep during an overnight layover may be more cost effective compared to shorter layovers or nonstop flights.
Some search engines allow you to select multiple travel days to compare prices if you have flexible dates. If you can travel on different dates, use this feature to find a better deal.
Use airline miles and points
If you travel frequently, using airline miles and loyalty points can save you money on flights. Most airlines offer loyalty programs where you earn miles or points for each flight you take, which you can redeem for discounted or even free flights. Accumulating rewards incentivizes you to book with the same airline, so choose the best airline rewards program for your needs.
The best airline credit cards provide travel benefits that help you accrue points quickly. Learn how to get the best travel reward deals to minimize your overall travel spending and catch some fantastic airline prices.
Use a flight price tracking tool
Use a flight price tracking tool to guarantee you're getting the best possible value on your journey. Some websites and apps let you set up deal alerts for specific routes and travel dates. By monitoring the market and staying informed about price fluctuations, you can book your flight at the most favorable time and secure a better fare.
Look into buy now, pay later services
Another option to consider when booking a flight is to use a buy now, pay later flight. These services, such as Affirm, Klarna and PayPal Credit, let you book your flight and pay for it in installments over a specified period of time. This can be helpful if you need to book a flight but don't have the funds available upfront.
Read the terms and conditions carefully and be aware of any interest or fees that apply. You can also consider using one of the best travel credit cards to defer your trip costs.
How far in advance can you book a flight?
The time frame for booking a flight vary among airlines, typically allowing reservations from 11 to 12 months in advance. However, just because you can book far ahead doesn't necessarily mean you should.
Booking too far in advance can result in higher prices, as airlines may not release their best deals until closer to your flight date. Striking the right balance is crucial, ensuring you book early enough to secure preferred travel dates while also keeping an eye out for the optimal deals.
Summary: The best days to book a flight
Getting a great price on your flights from one of the best airlines is the first step toward a more cost-effective and hassle-free travel experience.
Buying tickets at the right time can have a big impact on the overall budget for a trip. Saving $100 on a flight, for instance, could be enough to book an extra fun activity or enjoy a meal at a nice restaurant.
Since everyone's trip plans and preferences are different, be proactive and consider your personal wants and needs. Research and monitor airline pricing to get the greatest offers.
If you're planning a trip, check out our guide on the best places to travel.