Cheapest Days to Fly and Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets

Editor’s note: We updated this popular post in January 2016. Check out the new tips to help you save money every time you shop for airfare.

LISTEN: Travel expert Rick Seaney has more useful advice.

How to Find Cheap Flights

Let’s start with the two most important things every airfare shopper should do.

  • Rule #1 – Always Compare Airfares

It’s real simple: Always compare airfares.

The reason is just as simple: No airline always has the best prices. Not Spirit, not Southwest, not every single time and I’ve proven this. If you don’t compare airfare prices – and it only takes a second – you could pay too much.

  • Rule #2 – Set Airfare Alerts

If you know where you want to go, set an airfare alert. This too takes just a second but is so easy because the deals come to you. When you find a good deal, act fast; others have set alerts too and cheap seats are always limited.

What are the Cheapest Days to Fly

These are general guidelines for the cheapest days to fly on U.S. domestic routes but there are exceptions so there’s another good reason to not only compare fares, but compare fares for flights on different days and times.

  • Cheapest days: The cheapest days to fly are unpopular travel days; Tuesdays, Wednesday and Saturdays.
  • Expensive days: The most expensive days to fly are the most popular days; Fridays and Sundays.
  • Cheapest times: Fly when most people don’t want to including flights at dawn, red-eyes (overnight flights) and flights around the dinner hour.

Can’t fly the cheapest days or times both directions? Do it on one leg of your trip and you’ll still reap half the savings.

The Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets

When to begin shopping and when to wrap up your purchase.

  • Best day to shop: FareCompare’s data shows that best time to book a flight in the U.S. is Tuesday at 3 p.m. eastern time. This is when airlines release the most sales and the competition matches the lower prices so you have more deals to choose from.
  • When to start and finish shopping: Shop too late and you may be hit with the steep prices last-minute business travelers pay but shopping too early can also cost more. These shopping windows yield the best-priced fares.
    • Domestic tickets: The best time to buy airline tickets for U.S. travel is between three months and 30 days before departure.
    • International fares: The best time to buy international airline tickets is between 5 ½ months and 1 ½ months before departure. During peak seasons such as June, July and August or December holidays, purchase tickets two months in advance.

A Little Inconvenience Can Save a Lot

If you can be flexible with your travel plans, a little inconvenience can save you a lot of money.

  • Connecting flights: Sure, non-stops are more convenient but you can often find better deals on connecting flights. Adding a stop (or two) can sometimes save as much as 50%.
  • Bigger airports: Bigger airports (particularly hubs) often have cheaper airfares. Compare prices from your hometown airport as well a larger airport and you may find a longer drive is worth it.

Finding Cheap Flights for Two or More

When you’re not shopping just for yourself.

  • Shop one ticket at a time: When booking travel for two or more people, book just one ticket to start. That’s because of a quirk in airline reservation systems that requires multiple tickets sold in a single transaction be the same price. Shopping one ticket at a time can save money.

Example: An airline has one ticket left for $100; all the others on that flight cost $200. If you shop for two tickets at a time, you’ll pay $200 for both (because of that quirk). Shop for tickets one-at-a-time in separate transactions and you’ll get that last $100 ticket.

Yes, We Have More Tips to Find Cheap Flights

For more great tips like the cheapest dates of the year to fly, check out FareCompare’s Advice Blog but don’t stop there.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and dthe Deals Blog is loaded with sales. More good stuff in my weekly video podcasts.

Have a question for me, Rick Seaney? Please sent it to customer.relations@farecompare.com. I’ll do my best to answer it.

Happy travels!

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Updated: January 18, 2016