A new airfare study sheds light on not only when is the best time to buy airline tickets, but also identifies five booking zones to help travelers plan trips and save money.
After analyzing 1.3 billion airfares from 2015, CheapAir.com found that, on average, the best time to buy a domestic flight is 54 days in advance. The study included 1,336,030,117 airfares for roughly 3 million different trips across every day of the year. A “trip” is considered an itinerary going from Point A to Point B on a specific date with a specific return date. For each trip, the booking site identified the lowest fare offered every day from 320 days in advance until 1 day in advance.
“54 days is a good number to start with,” says CEO Jeff Klee, “That’s why we have what we call the ‘Prime Booking Window,’ which is between 21 and 112 days before departure. For most domestic trips, the best time to buy will be somewhere in that range. But because different markets have different dynamics, we now also know the Prime Booking Windows for the specific city to be visited.”
“Generally,” Klee adds, “a trip price starts off high, slowly drops and then starts to climb a few weeks before the flight. People ask all the time if it’s true that at the last minute the airlines have unsold seats that they practically ‘give away’, but that’s rarely the case. Fares usually go up dramatically within 14 days of the flight.”
Given an 11-month booking window and five identified target “zones,” here’s what travelers should know about best buying times for airline tickets:
First Dibs (197 – 335 days out): Most airlines begin selling tickets 335 days before the flight. First Dibbers get their pick of flight times, nonstop options and seats. However, they pay an average of $50 more than they would during the “Prime Booking Window.”
Peace of Mind (113 – 196 days out): The Peace of Mind zone offers a balance between flight options and price. Travelers pay an average of $20 more per ticket than they would in the Prime Booking Window, but also have more flight options to choose from.
Prime Booking Window (21 – 112 day out): This is the zone for bargain hunters. During these 90 days, fares fluctuate a lot, sometimes day to day. Travelers are urged to check for cheap airline tickets frequently during this period and to buy when a bargain pops up.
Push Your Luck (14 – 20 days out): In the period between two and three weeks out, fares can vary dramatically. Depending on how full flights are, travelers may get a fantastic deal, or they may pay significantly more. Popular flights during peak seasons are less likely to have low fares in this zone.
Hail Mary (0 – 13 days out): On rare occasions, the Hail Mary zone offers the best rate. However, 7-13 days out, travelers pay an average of $75 over the Prime Booking Window. 1-6 days in advance, that premium shoots up to $200.