5 Rules for When to Buy Airline Tickets
Let’s start off with the best and most basic advice for any airfare shopper: 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:
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 time. Here’s why:
Airlines typically kick off airfare sales late Monday or early Tuesday. And then:
- Other airlines lower prices to stay competitive
- Price matching is usually complete by early Tuesday afternoon
- Newly discounted airfares hit reservation systems by 3 p.m. eastern
However, deals can and do pop up at other times! This is especially true for deals for international travelers, which bring us to our second tip.
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.
It’s also a good way to find special deals and other unexpected prices that airlines do not advertise.
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.
NOTE: In the past year, we’ve seen excellent deals for travel to Europe from ultra-discount carriers such as Norwegian, Wow Air and more (you’ll see them on FareCompare as you search) and some of the deals were available just weeks before take-off. Another reason to set airfare alerts so you’ll hear about them immediately.
When it comes to most U.S. legacy carriers (American, Delta, United), airfare prices can rise dramatically inside the 14-days-before-departure window; with discount or low cost airlines, that window is usually 7 to 10 days before departure. Business travelers typically shop within these windows (and don’t mind the expense since their employers are usually paying). No reason for vacation travelers to pay these prices, though.
- U.S. domestic flights: Purchase tickets a month before departure.
- International travel: Purchase tickets a month and a half before departure.
Most people want to squeeze as much time out of a vacation as possible which is why flights on Fridays and Sunday are such popular days to fly. However, the airlines know this and usually charge more for such flights.
- Cheapest days to fly U.S. domestic: Usually Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday.
- Cheapest days to fly international: Mid-week dates are often cheaper than weekends.
Now that you’ve found cheaper airfare, what will you spend that extra vacation money on?