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.