Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
Flights during spring break, the peak of summer and, of course, the holidays are often much more expensive.
We’re all looking to find the best deals we can. That’s where some of our next tips come in.
Have you ever heard that booking a flight on a certain day of the week will yield the cheapest results? Perhaps you’re thinking of a cousin who claims he found a great deal when he checked on airfare prices at 12:01 a.m. on a Wednesday or a friend who swears by setting a reminder on their phone for 1 p.m. on a Thursday when they’re shopping for flights.
While there is no shortage of rumors (and “studies”) out there, here’s what airfare experts say about how timing influences airfare prices so you can maximize airfare savings.
Is there a day that’s cheaper than others to book a flight?
It’s a question we get asked all the time: “What is the cheapest day to book a flight?” There’s a common misperception that certain days are better for finding flight deals. However, research shows that this is a myth.
There is no magic day to book, but there are some sweet booking windows when airlines lower prices, Lindsay Schwimer, a consumer travel expert at the booking app Hopper, said.
Hopper relies on 10 years of data and 80 trillion flight prices to recommend the best time to book specific routes and dates.
“Typically, we tell travelers for domestic trips to start monitoring prices three to four months in advance of a trip,” Schwimer said. “Expect to book one to two months in advance,” she continued. Schwimer said you could monitor flight prices at Hopper, which has a price tracking tool.
I like setting up Google Flights alerts, but I’m going to be taking a closer look at Hopper in the next few months.
“There’s no one day or golden rule when to book,” Schwimer said.
Indeed, in another interview, Hopper’s lead economist, Hayley Berg, told TPG, “There’s a common myth that ‘booking on a Tuesday’ will guarantee a traveler the best price. The reality is prices change so often and depend on the route, the travel dates, etc., that there isn’t one day that guarantees you the best price.”
For international trips, the window is a bit larger. You should start monitoring six to seven months prior to the trip and look to book it three to five months in advance.
That’s the recommendation from Hopper and from TPG.
“When you’re traveling internationally, planning ahead is key to getting the cheapest airfare,” Berg said. “Travelers often book international flights too far in advance or too last minute, overpaying significantly for their tickets.”
Remember that the strategy changes pretty dramatically if you book with points and miles. Airlines often open award space for coveted business- and first-class seats when the schedules open or at the last minute.
What’s the best day to travel?
Although airfare prices fluctuate based on when you book, midweek travel is generally cheaper than flying on weekends, though Sundays can also be a sweet spot.
“Flying midweek can save you nearly $100 off your ticket,” Schwimer said. “So when you’re thinking about when you want to travel, try shifting your dates midweek versus flying over the weekend. If you can be flexible and book either a Tuesday or Wednesday versus a Friday or Saturday, you’re gonna save significantly off your trip.”
That’s similar to what Berg told us earlier. “Travelers who fly midweek, usually Wednesday, can save an average of $56 per ticket on domestic airfare throughout the year,” Berg said. “Midweek savings spike over $60 per ticket during busy spring break and summer vacation months while flying midweek over the holidays can save you $100 or more.”
Schwimer also had some good advice to price the first flight of the day. Oftentimes, you’ll find those early departures can save you some big bucks. It’s not easy to set the alarm for 4 a.m., but it’s easier to wake up when you know you’re saving money.
“We always recommend booking the first flight of the day,” Schwimer said, “not only to avoid delays and cancellations but also in terms of price.” She said the first flights of the day are the least likely to be delayed or canceled, “so our recommendation is always to try to get out first thing.”
Additionally, according to Bob Harrell, an airfare consultant at Harrell Associates who analyzes airline pricing, you might also find airfare prices fluctuate Monday through Friday.
Airlines look at customer demand and monitor booking trends to decide whether to open or close certain types of fares and whether to raise or lower existing fares, per Harrell.
So, how can you use this information to your advantage when buying airline tickets?
Try using a price monitoring tool to get real-time updates. Hopper recommends travelers use its Flight Watch tool to start tracking the price of their desired route before booking; it will then notify you when prices are at the lowest for your trip.
Whether or not you use a tool, remember to start monitoring flight prices three to four months in advance and expect to book one to two months in advance.
“For most domestic trips, airfare will fall between one and three months before your departure before rising rapidly in the last three to four weeks before takeoff,” Berg said. “This means there is a sweet spot (three to four months before departure) where airlines will be offering lower prices on average and are more likely to offer promotional discounts and ultra-low fares.”
The same logic applies to international travel — a weeklong, long-haul trip originating midweek averages $70 less than the same trip originating on a weekend, according to Hopper.
When to book holiday travel
Best time to book for spring break
The best time to book your spring break is very soon. You should already be monitoring prices for where you want to go, and you should be ready to pull the trigger in about a month, depending on when your (and your family’s) time off falls.
For example, if your spring break falls in March, you should be booking by early February.
That said, if you see a deal, jump on it. We’ve been seeing a lot of deals pop up around spring break, and if you can score a deal, all the better. Flexibility will also help here.
Remember that demand surges during the spring break period after the doldrums of winter. Many people wait too long to book those trips and end up paying more than they need to.
Hopper says prices for airfare will fall between one and three months before departure, and prices will rise rapidly in the last three to four weeks before spring break.
Best time to book flights for Thanksgiving and Christmas
The cheapest holiday airfare deals are generally available in September and October.
“We tell people to start monitoring in August,” Schwimer said, “but our typical book-by date is mid-October, so usually around the 14th of October.” She added that “no later than Halloween is usually our book-by date for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Remember that prices will only rise as you get closer to the holidays.
Similarly, a Google Flights booking trends report suggested that average flight prices around Christmas were lowest 71 days before departure.
If you need to book a last-minute holiday flight, consider using Google Flights. It allows travelers to see when prices have typically been the lowest so they can book their desired dates and destinations without paying more than necessary.
Best time to book flights for New Year’s Eve
Like Christmas flights, Hopper says you should try to lock in bookings for New Year’s by no later than Halloween. That is true for “really any of the major winter holidays. We recommend booking further in advance. I would book that New Year’s Eve trip as well before Halloween.”
What about hotels?
Hotels are a special category where you can often wait until much later to score good deals.
“We often see good deals last minute for hotels in big cities. Something to keep in mind … especially for those holiday weekends,” Schwimer told TPG. “And you know that [during] the Christmas holiday period you can often find some really great last-minute deals in big cities if you wait.”
“Obviously, that’s not always ideal in terms of planning,” she said, “but we have seen some really great deals in that last-minute window in big metro cities.”
While there is no magical time or day to book airfare for the best prices, your best bet is to fly midweek, specifically on Wednesdays, for both domestic and international travel. Flying over the weekend can come at a significant price premium, though Sundays have occasional deals.
Also, try booking domestic flights one to two months ahead of time.
You should book international flights three to five months ahead of the trip.
And remember, if you are using airline miles, it’s never too soon to start checking and booking.