When to Buy Airline Tickets and More Travel Advice

Want to find cheapest available flights every time you shop? FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney shares his favorite money-saving tips.

LISTEN:  Rick Seaney’s podcast of best tips.

5 Ways to Save on Airfare

Let’s start off  with basic advice for all travelers: Always  compare airfare prices. No single airline always has the best deal. If you don’t compare, you could pay too much. More good tips:

#1: Shop for domestic deals on Tuesdays

According to FareCompare’s database of current and historical airfares (one of the world’s largest), airfare pricing trends show the best day to shop for U.S. domestic tickets is Tuesday and the best time on Tuesday is about 3 p.m. eastern. Here’s why:

Airlines typically kick off airfare sales late Monday or early Tuesday.

  • Other airlines lower prices to stay competitive
  • Price matching is usually complete by early Tuesday afternoon
  • Newly discounted airfares hit reservation systems by 3pm eastern

However, deals can and do pop up at other times – and this is especially true for deals sought by international travelers – which bring us to our second tip.

#2: Sign up for real-time airfare alerts

Sign up for airfare alerts and you’ll receive notifications of airfare price drops in real-time. This is important because sale seats are limited and the quicker you learn of a deal, the better your chance of getting it.

#3: Don’t buy airline tickets too early

Airlines don’t begin actively “managing” U.S. domestic fares until about three and a half months before departure; if you buy earlier, you will likely pay a mid-range price which won’t be the best deal. For international flights, there is a longer window. Our guidelines:

  • U.S. flights: Start shopping no earlier than about 3 and a half months before departure.
  • International: Start shopping no earlier than about five months before departure.

#4: Don’t buy airline tickets too late

When it comes to most U.S. legacy carriers (American, Delta, United),  airfare prices can rise dramatically inside 14-days before departure; with discount or low cost airlines, that window is usually 7 to 10 days before departure. This is when last-minute business travelers typically shop and as a result, they pay more. No reason for vacation travelers to do likewise.

  • U.S. domestic flights: Purchase tickets a month before departure.
  • International travel: Purchase tickets a month and a half before departure.

#5: Fly the cheapest days

Most people want to squeeze as much time out of a vacation as possible which is why flights on Fridays and Sunday are so popular. However, the airlines know this and they usually charge more for such flights.

  • Cheapest days to fly, U.S. domestic flights: Usually Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday.
  • Cheapest days to fly, international flights: Midweek dates are often cheaper than weekends.

Now that you’ve found cheaper airfare, what will you spend that extra vacation money on?


Updated: March 31, 2015