CheapAir.com’s 5th Annual Airfare Study Reveals the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets

Airfare prices are volatile with a capital “V”. Did you know that the average economy fare changes a total of 61 times before a trip? So it stands to reason the number one question we get from customers is “When should I buy my airline ticket to get the best deal?”

when to buy airfare 2019

Luckily, we’ve got tons of data and a crack team of analysts to help you make that all-important travel decision – the best time to buy your airline ticket.

The CheapAir.com 2019 Annual Airfare Study is based on an analysis of 917 million airfares in more than 8,000 markets. Following the recommendations could save you hundreds of dollars on your travel this year.

This report will break down:

  • The average “best day” to buy your airline ticket
  • The airfare booking “zones” – what you can expect to pay for an airfare depending on when you buy
  • How to identify the Prime Booking Window™ – the range of dates you’ll be most likely to find a low price
  • The best and worst days of the week to fly based on price
  • How seasonality affects the price of your airline ticket

As you can see, this is a ton of information. But don’t worry. We’re going to break it down in digestible and easy-to-understand bites.

We’ve already done the research and we’re serving it up free. Before you know it, you’ll be buying those flights with understanding and confidence!

For 2018, the “best day to buy a flight” domestically (within the continental U.S.) was 76 days out from your travel date. That’s slightly higher than it was in last year’s report (70 days). Let’s take a bit of a deep dive into the different “booking zones” as airfares fall and rise. Each zone has benefits and risks.

The 6 Airfare Booking Zones

We came up with booking zones to easily chart what an airfare looks like from the approximate time it is published about 11 months out, all the way up to the very last minute you can buy your ticket. Over the years we refined these zones to reflect the subtle differences between each. And we think this system is solid for showing you what you pay (depending on when you buy). Let’s dig in.

airfare booking zones 2019

First Dibs
315 to 203 Days in Advance
(about 10 months to 6.5 months)
We like to recommend First Dibs for buyers with an agenda. You know who you are. You’re less motivated by price and more motivated by your flight preferences (such as a certain flight time or seat) and you want to lock in plans well in advance. Flights in the First Dibs zone do cost about $50 more per ticket than flights in the Prime Booking Window (the most affordable zone), on average. If you like to have many options, however, there’s no better time to buy.

Peace of Mind
202 to 116 Days in Advance
(about 6.5 to 4 months)
Peace of Mind is where you might want to land if you’ve got anxiety surrounding big airfare purchases coupled with FOMO for a good deal. When you’re in the Peace of Mind zone, you’ll likely pay just about $20 more than flights in the Prime Booking Window and you’re still buying early enough to have a decent amount of choice.

Prime Booking Window
115 to 21 Days in Advance
(about 4 months to 3 weeks)
This is where the magic happens, travelers. And while some of the other zones have shifted slightly from one year to the next, the Prime Booking Window stays pretty solid. What does this mean? Well, the data shows that the lowest airfares tend to pop up about 4 months to 3 weeks in advance of your travel dates. Fares in this zone are within 5% of their lowest point. Bargain shopping? Stay in the sweet spot – the Prime Booking Window.

Push Your Luck
20 to 14 Days in Advance
(3 – 2 weeks)
We’re heading into gambling territory once you get within 2-3 weeks of your travel dates. The odds of getting a “cheap ticket” start to decrease heading into the Push Your Luck zone, though if you do like to roll the dice you may still find cheap tickets. One important factor to consider – though there could be lower priced fares in Push Your Luck, the quantity and quality of seats is more limited the closer we get to the travel date. You may find yourself paying slightly more for a subpar seat.

Playing with Fire
13 to 7 Days in Advance
(2 – 1 weeks)
No matter how long we’re in the airfare prediction game, we find that some people just like to play with fire. Hence, we carved out the Playing with Fire zone. You’ll almost always pay more than Prime Booking Window buyers, but pay less (close to $135, on average) than people who wait until the very last minute to buy. In this zone, choice is even more limited.

Hail Mary
6 to 0 Days in Advance
(less than a week)
How did we get here? Usually, people who are buying in the Hail Mary zone are doing so because of an unexpected trip, not because waiting until less than a week from your travel date was a conscious choice. You’re going to have to cope with the least amount of choice in the Hail Mary zone, and you’re apt to pay almost $220 more than you would have if this ticket was purchased in the Prime Booking Window.

Hawaii as Outlier
Our 50th state is a bit of a standalone. We do not include Hawaii in our main airfare data for a couple of reasons. Hawaii’s distance from the mainland in conjunction with its unique characteristic as a leisure destination means that is has a different dynamic. Check out our separate post on Buying Flights to Hawaii for the best tips and strategies for snagging a low fare to the islands.

There are other factors to consider aside from when you buy that will affect your travel budget. Let’s look at days of the week, for example.

Do Days of the Week Have an Effect on Price?

We can start by dispelling one myth. What day of week you purchase a flight has a negligible effect on flight cost. The average low fare only varies by $1 based on the purchase day of week. Whether you buy that ticket on Tuesday or Sunday it’s going to cost about the same.

On the other hand, there are definitely less expensive days and more expensive days to fly. Tuesday is the cheapest day of the week to fly, nearly $85 cheaper on average than the most expensive day of the week to travel, Sunday. Wednesdays are also great days for air travel. Friday is the second most expensive day of the week to fly. A good rule of thumb – weekends are more expensive and midweek flights save travelers cash.

Don’t Underestimate Seasonality

What time of year you travel can also have an impact on your flight cost. We broke down the seasons and included the most popular time frames in each, to offer travelers an easy reference for finding the best fares. This simple chart tells the story:

seasonality and airfare price

When to Buy Winter Flights
If you can avoid Christmas week and ski destinations, most winter destinations offer good value for the money.

  • The average best time to buy is 94 days from travel (just over 3 months)
  • The prime booking window is 74 to 116 days (about 2.5 months to nearly 4 months)
  • The average domestic fare for winter travel is $433, by far the most expensive time of the year for air travel
  • The difference between the best and worst priced days is $168, which is quite a bit lower than in other seasons. There is much less volatility in airfare pricing all season.

When to Buy Spring Flights
Plan ahead for spring flights. There are no major travel holidays in the spring, but both families and college students enjoy spring break for much of March and April. Take advantage of lower mid-week prices to help keep costs down.

  • The average best time to buy is 84 days from travel, or nearly 3 months
  • The prime booking window is 47 to 119 days (about 1.5 months to just under 4 months)
  • The average domestic fare for spring travel is $354
  • The difference between the best and worst priced days is $285

When to Buy Summer Flights
Americans travel a ton in the summer, and the peak summer dates of June 15 – August 15 are when the bulk of travel happens. You can find the best deals the closer you get to the end of the season (late August and September will give you the best odds to score low airfare.

  • The average best time to buy is 99 days out from travel
  • The prime booking window is 21 to 150 days (about 3 weeks to 5 months)
  • The average domestic fare for peak summer travel is $365
  • The difference between the best and worst priced days is $260
  • Late summer and early fall is shoulder season, and as such, offers great deals (Labor Day weekend notwithstanding). Flying the second half of August on into September is the sweet spot for these deals.

When to Buy Fall Flights
Overall, fall offers great value for budget travelers. Fall is shoulder season for a lot of destinations, and people simply do not travel as much. Of course, the one exception to this rule is Thanksgiving week. Traveling during Thanksgiving? Better buy on the early side.

  • The average best time to buy is 69 days from travel
  • The prime booking window is 20 to 109 days (about 3 weeks to 3.5 months)
  • The average domestic fare for fall travel is $342, which makes it the best season to find travel bargains
  • The difference between the best and worst priced days is $280

Takeaways

Airfares change all the time. Don’t get bogged down in watching the tiny, incremental fluctuations. We recommend buying an airline ticket when you see a good fare and not hesitating or waffling. Since fares change a lot, when shoppers go away to think about it “for a while,” they’re often disappointed when they come back to find that the good fare has disappeared. Be prepared to buy.

Bookmark this page or commit the Prime Booking Window to memory. It’s where you should focus the bulk of your shopping efforts. Keep in mind that there is still volatility within the prime booking window. Though you can expect peaks and valleys in price, the best fares on average will be found here.

Also, keep in mind that CheapAir.com will “protect” your purchase with Price Drop Payback. Should your fare drop after you buy, we’ll reimburse you up to $100 per ticket.

Need advice for your next vacation abroad? Check back soon for our International When to Buy study results.

Happy Travels!

82 Comments

  1. Want LAX to Saigon about October 15th for 90 or so days. No long layovers & a seat with leg room; I’m 6′ 3″.

    1. Hi C. You’re in a bit of a conundrum for the cheapest fares. Right now fares are about $600 round trip for your general dates. It’s likely that fares will go down a bit if you wait a couple of months to start a serious search (would not be surprised to find fares in the $400-450 range from LAX). However, because of your height and the fact that you’re avoiding the long layovers I might suggest that you take one of the $600 fares. The best seats (with the most leg room) and the flights with the best itineraries are not likely to be the $400 RT fares (the airlines know what they’re doing and those most attractive seats / flights tend to stay priced at a premium). In your case, I’d buy on the early side and pay a slight premium for the comfort and itinerary choice.

    1. Hi Arlene, Look for our International Airfare Study. It comes out in a couple of weeks, and will have tips for flights to the Caribbean.

  2. What a great article! As a former travel agent it gave me more up to date information. I was very helpful for helping friends and family book flights.

    Yorba

    1. We’re always so happy to hear from people “in the biz” who find our site useful. Thanks for the shoutout!

  3. I FIND BETTER TO BUY FLIGHTS WITH STOPS THAT DOESNT INVOLVE HOTEL RESERVATIONS THAT IS MOST OFTEN DURING MEDWEEKS TUESDAYS THRU THURSDAYS BUT DO NOT LAYOVER MORE THAN 8 HOURS TO AVOID HOTEL CHARGES

  4. Ive yet to see chesp air fair going to little rock Ar. Why is that. I want to fly out of Watertown NY. Price are high or lay over are long. Like 8 hours to 36 hours. I could drive there faster than that.

    1. Hi Elizabeth, Yes, this can be a problem for travelers departing out of smaller, regional airports. Though Watertown is an international airport, I suspect this is because of flights to Canada. We usually suggest driving to larger airports when that’s feasible – for you that would be Syracuse. Fares out of Syracuse are regularly $280 or so round trip – about $75 less than flights out of Watertown. The cost savings is not enormous but you do cut down on those long travel times. Most of the flights our of Syracuse are in the 4.5 to 5.5 total travel time ballpark. You can’t really avoid a long travel day from your two cities, unfortunately.

  5. Quiero boletos ida y regreso a Miami, Fla. Estadía 90 días (+o-) al precio más bajo posible no importa las fechas, tengo tiempo libre. Talvez me pueden ayudar con esas tarifas y fechas que puedo viajar a un precio bajo. Muchas gracias de antemano

    1. Hi Cece, Can you share the dates you’re planning to travel? If you’re completely flexible all month, we can also provide you the best fares available.

    1. Hi Ralph, That is a great question. Hawaii is an outlier as a destination (for the reasons outlined in this post). The cost to fly to the mainland from Hawaii can also be an expensive proposition, but more for the reason that its distance from us makes gas prices more. Now, if you’re flying from Hawaii to Los Angeles (a popular summer destination) in July you probably will see prices at a premium. Flying to Los Angeles in spring, fall and winter (setting aside Christmas week) will save money.

    1. American, UNited and Delta all have nonstop flights for right around $150 for your dates! That’s about as good as fares will get. Book soon!

  6. Looking for some info on American Airlines travel voucher.$700.00 , expires in Nov. 2019. Not sure how to use and if it can be used on international air travel. Please advise.Thank-you!

    1. Hi Ionie, Can you share where you are hoping to travel and from which airport? We can help you with your plans if you provide us with a bit more information.

    1. Hi Mark, That’s a great question. Unfortunately, our data is for outbound North American travel (from both Canada and the U.S.) Most of our customer base is from North America so for now, we’re keeping the study focused on that market. Having said that, we have been getting more and more inquiries like yours. If we decide to branch out a bit, we’ll almost certainly include Europe so we’ll keep you posted!

  7. Wow great to kno,thank you ive bought tickets for me ,later my mom,and planing a getaway trip soon this info.great to know,wish some day I can win a trip🤗🤗🤗🤗

  8. This information has been very informative. I will in future take all of this in consideration.
    Thanks and I will share this with others.

    1. Hi Michael, Great timing! We are about to publish our international report next week. I’ll make sure to link to your comment just as soon as the report is published.

  9. Buenas Tardes

    Estoy planeando un viaje de Colombia a Argentina para Octubre o Noviembre y quería saber para cual de los dos meses se consiguen boletos más económicos y comprándolos con cuanto tiempo previo?

    Gracias!

    1. Buenas tardes. Octubre es más barato volar a Argentina. Noviembre es más popular para los turistas, por lo que la tarifa aérea es más.
      Compra tus entradas más temprano que tarde para los mejores precios.

  10. We’re looking to buy round trip airfare to Helsinki from Minneapolis in mid September for three weeks. Would love to travel Delta, when would be the best time to buy? Price doesn’t seem to change. Do you think it will? Thank you.

    1. Hi Tari, it’s a bit too far out yet to say definitively whether or not the fares will change, but it’s likely. When travelers are willing to be flexible with itinerary and airline, we often recommend waiting (sometimes even as close to the travel dates as 3 weeks can turn up good deals), but when you’re looking to travel on specific airlines and routes it’s usually best to buy early. I see fares for under $1000 in September, but on a codeshare United/Turkish Air ticket. Delta’s codeshares are with AirFrance and KLM for the most part) and are about $400 more.

  11. Do you have Apple app ? When is the best time to book Flight from PDX to FCO on this November and fly back from DXB (to PDX on November )? Thank you !

    1. Hi Midca, We’ve been working on improvements to our app, but it’s not available at the moment. Your timing couldn’t be better asking about the international fares. We’re about to publish our International Airfare Study the second week in April so we should be able to offer you a better idea of when to buy when that study is released. I’ll send you a message when it’s live.

    1. Hi Lisa, Not sure what you’d consider “reasonable” but the best fares for your months from Little Rock are all in the $1,500-1,600 range. If you’re willing to fly to London instead and get to Manchester by train, it’s not much of a savings (if any). If you’re willing to fly from Little Rock to New York on one ticket, pick up your bags and recheck through to Manchester you can save quite a bit. Little Rock to JFK (New York) tickets for your dates are around $400, and the New York to Manchester portion are around $550-650.

    1. Hi Liz, Right now out of Charleston for your dates it looks like Jet Blue and Royal Air Maroc Airlines have an itinerary for around $1,039 routed through Boston with decent flight times (no matter how you cut it you end up with two stops). In July and August, the fares are easily $200-300 more. Going in shoulder season will definitely save you money, but you’re close enough to summer that I would probably keep a close eye on fares and plan to buy quite soon. Our international When to Buy study is coming out next week. We’ll make sure to send it to you via these comments when it’s published. That will give you a better idea of optimal times to buy.

  12. I enjoyed your article, however, as I was just looking at airline prices from DTW to Albuquerque leaving June 28, returning July 2nd, I found that your fair was higher than any other sites I had checked. Why is that?

    1. Hi Linda, Can you share the airline and a bit more detail about your plans? If I know we’re looking at the same itineraries and flight times, I can look into the price discrepancy. We don’t always have the cheapest fare, but we very often do.

  13. I really appreciate the information in this post. Very user friendly way to present tons of data. We are planning a trip to Beirut this fall and want to know the best times to buy our tickets. I’ll try to remember to check for your International Airfare study.
    Btw it’s great that you answer comments!!! Makes me feel your company is still small enough to be really engaged. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Maureen. When the study is published, I’ll make sure we give you a shout. It should be out next week. And thank you for the kind words – we really do our best to provide helpful feedback. We’re always happy to hear that it’s working for our customers and readers.

  14. Your report is a public service indeed! Eagerly awaiting the int’l travel report. Meantime, since others are asking, I’m looking to travel from Michigan to Norway in mid-July until the end of the month. I could route through NY, Detroit, Chicago, take a flight out of Canada…. Any tips/suggestions on that?

    1. Hi ML. I think the main thing is that I’d buy soon. Since WOW airlines shuttered last week, it could cause a ripple effect in fares across Europe though WOW did not fly into Oslo. You’re going in July which is busy season (and most expensive) for Europe from the states. Our advice is usually to look at fares from home booked all the way through to your final destination (for convenience on baggage checking), but also search from New York (they almost always have the best fares) and then back out the domestic portion to see if that saves money. Just doing a general search mid-July to end of July looks like Lufthansa has a flight for around $530 out of JFK with decent departure and travel times. When I search out of DTW, the flight prices jump to almost $1100 round trip. You can find flights into JFK from DTW for regularly under $200 so that seems like a pretty hefty savings. Just remember if you go that route, you’ll have to pick up your bags in New York and then recheck through to Oslo. Is it worth saving the $300 but having the inconvenience of dealing with your bags in NYC (both directions – so $150 each way). When you break it down like that, it sometimes starts to sound like not that big of a savings. We are penny pinchers over here, so usually don’t mind the extra work, but on the return home it can be grueling. Happy travels!

  15. looking to fly out of NY to Edinburgh UK on 9/9 thru 9/21. Norwegian has low-cost flights out of Stewart (SWF) but NO return trips available in Sept/Oct? What’s with their website?

    Also will fare fluctuate much? Right now hovering around $690 R/T from NY-EDI

    Thanks

    1. Hi Jackie, To be honest that’s a pretty good fare to Edinburgh. The best fare I see is from JFK on Norwegian and it’s even less ($534) for your dates. However, I don’t see anything out of Newburgh for less than 3.5k. I would have been surprised to find a great fare out of Newburgh, frankly, so if you’re seeing one I would snap it up.

  16. Looking to book 4 adults from Philadelphia to Punta Cana 12/14 to 12/20. Should we book now or wait a while the price for American is 3075. Thank you

    1. Hi Mandy, the prices from Philly to Punta Cana take a big jump (because of Christmas STARTING on the 20th). Christmas week prices are close to $1k but I see fares in the $600-800 range for your group. Here’s the thing. On the low end, those flights with the best prices are connecting flights, not nonstop. The nonstop flights are definitely higher. I’m not seeing that high price you’re seeing for American (are you looking at Business Class)? I would book soon if you guys want those nonstops on American and you want to sit together. Those prices will not go down.

  17. I am planning to travel with my kids to the US in Jul-Aug, I am from the Caribbean, when can I get the best airfares deals. Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi there, it’s not too early to start shopping now if you’re planning to travel to popular vacation cities. If you’re planning to travel to a spot that is not necessarily popular with summer tourists, you can probably wait a bit. Where are you headed specifically?

  18. I am considering going to Frankfurt Germany. I live near Orlando airport Florida. Do international flights take off from there.

    1. Hi Erika, Orlando is an international airport. Most flights out of Orlando will connect somewhere else (have a stop) but there are some nonstop flights on Lufthansa from Orlando to Frankfurt. Those airline tickets (the nonstops) are almost always priced at a premium because people prefer to fly nonstop. To give you an idea of the price difference – in June there are connecting flights into Frankfurt available for just under $1000. The nonstop flights are $1500+.

    1. Hi Erika, It really depends on the dates you’re planning to travel. I’ve seen fares under $300 round trip and as high as $600, depending on the travel dates.

  19. I’m wanting to go to Easter Island from Santiago near the end of November. I was looking at airline prices about a month ago (March) and looked again today and the price has almost doubled. Are fluctuations like this normal or should I be booking now? When I look at the expected price range to Easter Island the current price is well outside of the estimated maximum. I’m just curious.

    1. Hi Kim, It’s honestly hard to say. That does seem like quite a jump – one thing I always suggest – is to make sure you’ve done an apples to apples comparison. It’s hard for me to say at this point – it’s not unheard of for an expensive flight to go up quite a bit, even in just a month. If your flight starting selling the least expensive seats, it could be that the most expensive seats are what is left at this point. If you share your travel dates with me, perhaps I can be a bit more specific in my feedback.

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