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International > When is the best time to book a cheap flight?

When is the best time to book a cheap flight?   

Airfares change continuously. When you are looking for the cheapest deals, it may help you to know the best time to book a flight. The question produced many answers. However, some of them give tips you should probably never follow. Excluding them firstly may make things clearer. 

1. Some bad advice not to be followed. 

Here are some of the most common myths.

-- Some experts advise you to book flights in the afternoon. Others suggest you should do so early in the morning while some others still argue that air tickets are cheaper at night. None of those contradictory hypotheses proved to be true.  

 -- Some people believe that booking may be cheaper in midweek. They are wrong. They confuse booking day with travel day. Traveling in midweek is indeed usually cheaper than traveling on weekend.  

There is no particular time of the day or a specific day of the week when booking conditions are the best. Airlines update airfares and seat availability in real-time.

-- Some ten years ago, getting very cheap last-minute flights was a rather common practice. This has changed completely. Currently, airlines manage their business much more efficiently and sell most plane tickets in due time. At the last minute, air tickets are mostly very expensive.  

-- Early 2014, a market test was released. It shows that the best time for booking a flight in 2013 was 57 days before departure. Some people who did not read the full study make a lot of fuss over this information. In fact, 57 days before departure is a tip that concerns the domestic flights in the USA only. As for international flights, the test shows quite different results which vary dramatically upon the destination.

Anyway, you shouldn't take such tips as fixed rules. Tests show only average figures. Whether you travel in peak or low season, whether you travel on a competitive or a less competitive route, whether you look for nonstop flight only or connecting flights, and many other factors may change completely the best time for booking the cheapest air tickets. Furthermore, the market continuously changes. What was true yesterday may not be true tomorrow. Any new test shows new figures.

2.  Why are airfares not steady?

Airfares vary continuously in response of changes in supply and demand.  

Supply is largely determined by yield management policies of the airlines. In order to optimize their earnings in a very competitive market, airlines canceled he commissions they paid to travel agencies, dramatically cut their overhead, changed flight schedules, more actively matched aircraft size to demand, and closed or shared some flights.

Furthermore, when selling air tickets, they follow a price policy aiming to fill up the planes as fast as possible at the best prices.   

That is why airfares vary all the times. However, in most cases, they follow a pattern divided into the following three periods of time.

3. Airfares trends. 

a) First, airfares may often be a bit inflated. 

Flight schedules of the main international airlines become available eleven or twelve months before takeoff while those of some other airlines are released only six to ten months before the flight.

Thence, eight to twelve months before you go on trip, the details of some airlines may be still unavailable, the market is not fully competitive and airfares that have already been released may be a bit inflated.  

b) Then, airfares go down gradually and then reach bottom. 

As supply increases, competition improves and prices go down. Airlines manage to have flights sold out as soon as possible.

Then, fares of international flights are mostly at the bottom 6 to 4 months before departure. This is the best time for you to buy your air ticket if you are planning a trip to a foreign country. 
If you are looking for US domestic flights, you may still find cheap deals about 2 to 3 months before takeoff. 

If you book your flight earlier than above deadlines, you may lose money if you have to cancel or change your trip later for any reason.The cheapest air tickets indeed are often non-refundable. If you book it later than those deadlines, you will mostly face higher prices.

According to one of the many case studies on this topic, the best time to book a plane ticket is 57 days before departure. This is actually a marketing motto that you should definitely not take too literally. As stated above, it concerns only the domestic flights in the USA. Furthermore, it ignores completely seasonal trends. Long haul flights as well as trips in peak seasons should be booked much earlier than 57 days before takeoff.

c) Finally, airfares are going up quickly. 

As the date of the flight approaches and seat availability goes down, supply decreases and prices go up. You should buy before prices soar.   

During the last two weeks before takeoff, airfares usually skyrocket even if some seats remain free. Airlines have indeed sold the bulk of the seats, recovered their costs and consider other travelers have no choice but pay for expensive air tickets.

Within these three typical periods, prices may vary from one day to the next or, if any, from one hour to the next. These changes follow the general trends, as explained above. They are mostly rather limited. However, in the last few weeks before departure, daily changes may be quite dramatic.


4. Seasonal trends. 

Above recommendations are basic tips which must be tailored to the specific conditions of your trip. When and where you go are crucial factors influencing the best booking timing.

If you are planning a trip in peak seasons, you should actually book your trip as soon as possible. 
If you travel in a low season and your travel dates are very flexible, you may then book rather late. 

Peak seasons may be worldwide (like northern hemisphere summer and end of year), regional (like Lunar New year in Asia or Thanksgiving Day in Northern America), or specific to your destination (local tourism season).  Read more here.

5. Other factors.

-- If the route you are looking for has many paths and you are ready to have connecting flights, you may get still cheap air tickets later than if you want to book nonstop flights only.

-- One-way tickets for long haul flights would be preferably bought rather early, especially when competition on your route is weak.

-- If you are unfamiliar with the airlines operating on the route you are looking for, you should consider not to book too many months before takeoff since the airline may go bankrupt in the meantime. The amount of defunct airlines, including low cost airlines, in the last decade is quite astounding.

See also: Top ten tips to get the cheapest air tickets.
               One-way air tickets. Why are they so expensive? How to get them at a cheap price?
               When are the cheapest times to travel? High and low seasons in air travel.

April 2014  © WillGoTo


Ten tips to get the cheapest air tickets
With about 3 billion passengers enplaned yearly in the world and about 100,000 daily commercial flights, the air ticket market is a huge business. It is worth knowing how to get the cheapest air tickets.
When is the cheapest time to travel? High and low seasons in air travel
Airfares depend heavily on the time when the flight takes place. The most dramatic changes arise from the surge of demand in particular periods.
How to get one-way air tickets at a cheap price?
You can find and book easily cheap one-way flights provided that you follow the right way.
Open-jaw and multi-destination air tickets, Air pass, Open-ended air tickets
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International and regional airports may be located far away from the city they are named after. Find here a guide to remote airports.
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Airfares change continuously. When you are looking for the cheapest deals, it may help you to know the best time to book a flight.