The Cheapest Flights are Found 54 Days Out (with One Big Caveat)

You may have noticed that airfares change all the time. Exhausting. To alleviate the pain, we conducted a huge airfare study, and have boiled down the insights for you – to help you get a cheaper airfare!

In CheapAir.com’s 2017 Annual Airfare Study, we crunched 921 million air fares, and found that the lowest fare for a given trip changed on average 71 times. That’s about once every 4½ days! And with each change the lowest price went up or down by an average of $33. So, clearly, it matters a huge deal when you choose to pull the trigger on your flight purchase.

cheapair when to buy 2017

For the second straight year, our study concluded that for flights within the continental U.S., 54 days in advance was the best time to buy, on average. Flights to Canada were similar, but for Hawaii, the Caribbean, and international destinations the optimal lead times were generally higher (99 days in advance to Europe, for instance).

Like always, though, we caution that these are just average numbers. We looked at 2,934,098 individual trips, meaning flights from a Point A to a Point B departing on a specific set of dates. Across all 2.9 million trips, the actual best time to book varied wildly depending on the market, travel dates, and the specific travel preferences/must-haves of the traveler in question. As a result, we don’t recommend you get too caught up in trying to book on any one specific day. Rather, we like to focus on a range of days, which we call the “prime booking window” where for most trips the best time to buy usually falls. For domestic fares, the prime booking window is between 21 and 105 days in advance.

The 5 Booking Zones

Expanding on that concept, we’ve divided the entire window of time when a flight can be booked into 5 booking zones:

cheapair 2017 when to buy booking zones

First Dibs
178-321 Days in Advance
(approximately 6 – 11 months)

When you plan to book as early as possible, in what we call the “First Dibs” zone (178-321 days from travel), you can expect to pay a premium for airfare (about $50 more on average) and will most likely see that airfare price decrease at some point in the future. The airlines set their published fares at around 11 months from travel dates and build in the flexibility to lower the fares as they get a better idea of demand. The benefit to you for buying this early is a full choice of flight options. You can pretty much tailor your itinerary to your specifications. Nonstop needed? No problem. Seat selection is plentiful and you also have your pick of available flight times. For a price, of course.

Peace of Mind
106-177 Days in Advance
(approximately 3½ – 6 months)

Maybe you’re looking for a bit of stress relief and a lower premium. In that case, you should try the “Peace of Mind” zone (106-177 days from travel). The “Peace of Mind” zone is perfect for a traveler willing to spend a small premium (around $20 more on average) to lock down the best fare for specific dates. At 3.5 to 6 months out, you’ll still have options to choose from that decrease closer to travel dates.

Prime Booking Window
21-105 Days in Advance
(approximately 3 weeks – 3½ months)

Now, we’re to our fave booking zone, the aforementioned “Prime Booking Window”, occurring 3 weeks to 3.5 months in advance. This zone is where the cheap airfare hunter wants to concentrate his or her best bargain-shopping efforts. Keep in mind that fares will still fluctuate within this rather large window, but in general, the sweet spot is in this zone – where the best fare tends to pop up and fares tend to be within 5% of their lowest.

Push Your Luck
14-20 Days in Advance (2 – 3 weeks)
If you miss the “Prime Booking Window,” your next available option is the “Push Your Luck” zone (2 to 3 weeks from travel dates), a relatively small window of time where gamblers will feel at home. Most of the time, fares will continue to rise and flights can be full. But here and there you might catch a lucky break and find there are actually some comparatively low fares from months ago that have stuck around. If you’re thinking of rolling the dice, be smart about it. Popular destinations in high season are not a great gamble for last minute deals. But if you’re going to a less popular gateway or traveling low season in a popular town, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Hail Mary
0-13 Days in Advance (less than 2 weeks)
Last-minute fares (anything inside two weeks) we consider the “Hail Mary” zone. If it isn’t already obvious, the Hail Mary zone is so-named because the overwhelming majority of last minute airfare searches end in a major outlay of cash (on average $150 more than buying during the “Prime Booking” window). And again, this close to travel your choices are limited. The best itineraries are often sold out or only have a limited number of seats – the most expensive ones – still available. Not ideal. Finally, everyone should know the absolute worst day to buy a flight is the day before you need to travel. If you wait until then, you can expect to spend $249 more on average with the least number of options. Ouch!

In many cases, the best time to buy will vary depending on the time of year you are traveling, so we also looked at the best time to buy specifically for the spring, summer, fall and winter seasons.

The “Seasonality Effect” – Adjust When You Buy Depending on the Time of Year

cheapair-seasons_when_to_buy-2017

When to Buy Summer Flights

Many Americans take their one “big trip” of the year during the summer months. Because demand is higher, you’ll want to approach summer travel research and airline ticket purchase a bit more aggressively (hint, hint: don’t wait too long). Here are a few tips to help you score a sweet price on a summer airline ticket (or 3!)

  • Buy a little earlier. The average best time to buy is 76 days, or about 2.5 months in advance.
  • Prime Booking Window is 21 – 140 days from travel. In this pricey season, one positive is that the Prime Booking Window starts earlier than in other seasons and you can still get good fares later in the season if you are willing to be flexible with airlines, flight times and number of connections.
  • The difference between the best and worst priced days is a whopping $250!
  • Our summer airfare calendar can help make the shopping process simple and easy – showing you the cheapest and most expensive dates to fly.

When to Buy Flights in the Fall

You have a little extra time to consider your flight plans if you’re traveling in the fall. In addition, fall is an overall good value for leisure travel. The one exception is Thanksgiving week travel, when airfares are at a premium and tend to sell out quickly. Purchase Thanksgiving airfare on the early side for the best prices.

  • If you’re traveling in the fall, you can probably wait a bit longer to book air tickets. The best time to buy is 47 days out, about 7 weeks in advance.
  • Prime Booking Window is 21 – 91 days from travel.
  • No surprises here – the worst time to buy your airline ticket in the fall is the week before you’re traveling. If you wait until the day before your trip, you can expect to fork over a painful $270 more than the best priced day.

When to Buy Winter Flights

Other than the peak holiday travel dates around Christmas and New Years, winter can be a great time to get a good deal. (We will cover the holidays in another post.) For general winter travel:

  • 54 days from your expected travel date is the best time to buy an affordable airline ticket in the winter months.
  • Prime Booking Window is 21 – 86 days from travel.
  • The difference between the best and worst priced day is $275

When to Buy Spring Flights

Springtime is a bit tricky. On the one hand, there are no major travel holidays to drive up prices on specific dates. On the other hand, “spring break” dates cover March through April and inspire travel from college students and families with kids alike. So, in general, planning ahead is key for snagging better prices.

  • 2.5 months (75 days) from your travel date is the optimal time to buy airfare for spring air travel.
  • Prime Booking Window is 21 – 105 days from travel. Because you have a larger window to get the best fares, buying early is not a gamble.
  • The difference between the best and worst priced day is a (relatively moderate) $224. If you tend to procrastinate, you’ll come out better financially in the spring months.

Additional Consideration: The Cheapest Days

One more factor to consider before you buy – the day of the week. Here we need to distinguish between two different, but sometimes confused, topics. The day of week you buy a flight, and the day of week you fly. These are different topics with different statistics and conclusions.

The Cheapest Day of Week to Buy an Airline Ticket

An age-old question (well, Internet age-old, anyway): Will I get a better fare if I buy my ticket on Tuesday, Wednesday or any other day of the week? Our data shows that, on average, the answer is no. Will you sometimes find a deal on a Tuesday? Yes. But you are just as likely to find a deal any other day of the week. To cite some numbers here, the average lowest fares by purchase day of week are all within $2. That’s less than a 0.6% difference.

The Cheapest Day of Week to Fly

Now, if you ask us whether it is best to travel on one day of the week or another to get the best airfare, that is another story. Tuesday and Wednesday are the cheapest days to fly. Sunday is the most expensive. Flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday will save you an average of $73/per ticket.

A Few Takeaways

Whew! That’s a lot of information, CheapAir.com. We hear you. It’s a complicated air travel world out there, but here’s the thing. If you take away any helpful little nuggets of information from this study, we ask that you remember these two:

First, fares change frequently. Like, a lot. Even though the law of averages can give us a tidy little number like “54 days from travel is the best day to buy,” the day-to-day fares are much more volatile. When you get serious about an itinerary, be ready to buy quickly when you see a good fare. This tactic will assure you a good shot at capturing a very good fare, if not the best airfare for a particular flight.

Second, and most importantly, when you buy is key. Purchasing during the “Prime Booking Window” can give you a clear edge and maximize your chances of scoring one of those elusive “best airfares” everyone is eager to scoop up. If we’ve piqued your interest, you can check out our newfangled, first-of-its-kind Best Time to Buy Flights tool to search on your specific destination and get custom advice from our airfare intelligence data.

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79 Comments

  1. I am kooking for a flight from San Dieg Ca
    To Koh Samui Thailand
    Leavin april 23 returning june 12 2017
    1 person (senior)
    I am flexible one or two days
    Economy class
    Lydia Beanes

    1. Hi Lydia, You can get fares on Cathay Pacific for around $1,200, but the connections are long and the total flight time is around 30 hours for that ticket. For $300 more, you can get there for right around 24 hours total.

  2. It is easier said than done, no matter how many times I your scheme in the past it never worked trying on my own without calling your office and then i still do not get the absolute lowest fare possible.!

  3. I booked airline tickets to Cininatti, OH and have not heard from them? please let me know if we have resvervation

  4. Thank you so much for the information about the best times to book airline tickets. I’m about to book airline tickets for two different places this summer . I will follow your info. Again thank you so much.

      1. Require tow tickets for two seniors . preferably Qatar airways from JFK to GOI India on about first week in November 2017 and return on first week of April 2018.

        Require wheel chair facilities

        1. Thanks for reaching out. The airfare prices for April 2018 have not yet been released, but should be by next month.

  5. I learned a lot of things I was not aware of. I feel this will be very helpful for my future travel plans .

  6. I have booked with Cheapair and they were great! Gave me a good price, as I used the window of opportunity they talked about above and I flew on a Tuesday. They kept me informed of the flight and reminded me that the flight was coming up soon. Great service!

    1. The best credit card to earn mileage is probably (for most people), their favorite airline’s card. Those cards tie back to specific airlines, but are often the best way to cash in on mileage and perks. The Chase Sapphire Visa is a great option if you prefer to not be tied to a particular air carrier. It offers generous benefits.

  7. Thank you for all of your wonderful information… Some of it I knew, and some of it I didn’t . It is so nice to have a commercial company out there actually looking out for the little guy . Thank you again …

    Kathleen

  8. gm, thank you for in lighting me on your article for best time to buy cheap airline tickets. The article was interesting and help for to me. thanks again, good job.

  9. Thank YOU! That was very informative- I am the one everyone comes to when it’s time to book travel. I am good at digging the deals. This will help me a lot. Good job. And I have used cheap air for years, like it very much.

  10. So, for a three (3) week International Flight, how do you factor in the return date? In addition we want to purchace least amount of Stops, Shortest Layover Time and Type Aircraft, which causes Ticket Price to vary.
    Thanks

    1. Hi Carl, We will be posting our international study in the next few weeks as well. We’ll let you know when it is live!

  11. Thank you for the info. Airfare tends to be the most confusing, frustrating, and worst part of any trip. Such a shame, flying used to be a very pleasant part of any trip. But your insight is appreciated and helpful.

  12. Good to know! Thanks for the information!
    I’ll be watching Cheap Air for a tip on when
    is the best time to buy an international ticket.

  13. All of this information is great, but I’m not sure it’s all that helpful. The reason I say this is that as soon as you start shopping for a flight, even if you’re in the right time frames that you mentioned. Once you’ve made an inquiry and then leave it to shop around. The next time you go to it the price has gone up even if it’s the same day, or the next. The fact that there are cookies, and they track your interest, they start raising the prices because they know you’re interested. This is maddening, not to mention unfair. I’d love for you to write something on how to get around this aspect!

    1. Hi Mary, We have! https://www.cheapair.com/blog/travel-tips/is-clearing-your-cookies-a-foolproof-strategy-for-buying-cheaper-airfare/ If you read this post, you’ll see that we’re not fans of this whole “clearing your cookies” as a strategy for getting lower fares. We’ve heard about it – but always as a bit of an urban legend. If you come across this and can recreate it, please let us know. We’d love to publicize proof. It is true, however, that fares are very volatile and tend to change many times before travel dates. You have to be prepared to buy flights when you see those good fares. Other people are also tracking for your itinerary – demand is highly monitored by the airlines and they make changes accordingly.

  14. Your research and results were great. Thanks for the hard work! It was really informative! But I live outside the U.S. How would the information you found apply to international flights (to Mexico, Central America and South America)? That would certainly be helpful information. Thank you.

    1. Hi Chuck, Great question.We’ve got an international study coming out in the next couple of weeks. I’ll let you know when it is live!

  15. Thanks for the research and valuable information. In this day and time of fare war—any help and info is appreciated.

  16. I’m wondering like how much difference in price on average will you see from 250 days out vs 54 days. Especially if it’s for Christmas holidays. Wondering cuz we are also debating whether we should fly or take the train and train bookings are cheaper the earlier you book it. And I know what the prices look like flying if I would book now but wondering how much it could drop yet before 54 days.

    1. Hi Kari, If you need to fly for the holidays, it is going to be better for you to book on the early side. We do not yet have the 2017 data on our blog, but you can see how expensive Christmas week (and the first week of January) can be compared to the rest of the year if you look at our 2016 page. This page will give you a general idea of what dates look like around Christmas: https://www.cheapair.com/blog/holiday-flights/.

  17. Hi!

    Looking for a flight from Toronto to San Juan in Feb 2018. Is SJ considered part of the US or the Caribbean? Anything special I should know?

    1. Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S. Fares were just published for 2018, so it might be a bit early to book just yet. We are coming out with our international airfare study that should give you an idea of when to buy in a few weeks. We’ll keep you posted.

    1. Hi Abdul, Can you share the dates and destinations you are considering? It’s probably not too early to start looking now, but it would help me to know the details so we can give you a more personalized response.

  18. I’m wondering if there is a different “best window” to buy round trip tix to Las Vegas from Sacramento, CA? In checking multiple sites that claim low or lowest fares, it seems that because I want to go to Vegas, fares are at a rather hefty premium and with most, I end up with a 3-4 hour layover in Los Angeles. It would take me 10 or 11 hours to just drive there, but most flights seem to tie me up for 6 hours!

    1. Hi Blake, You;re kind of an outlier for our study because the only airline (that we know of) who does nonstops from Sacramento to vegas is Southwest and they do not show up on any third party sites. Go straight to the Southwest site. They’ll hook you up.

  19. What the best time to fly to Toronto Canada , summer or Fall? I am planning to go on september, can it be the best month?

    1. Hi Jorge, Flights to Canada are going to be more affordable in September. If you return in the beginning of December, the fares will also be affordable. If you plan to fly home during the last week in December, prepare to pay more.

  20. I am planning to travel to Manila, Philippines sometime on December 22 and return date of January 3 or 4 or 5 2017. When is the best time to buy the ticket? Can you please give me a quote?

  21. I want to go to Gatwick from Aurangabad
    flexi from 30 May to June 7 Must arrive
    Gatwick from 6Am to 12 Noon

    1. Hi Beverly, Do you need a one way ticket or a return? And if you need a return, how long do you want to stay in London? This will help me find the right ticket for you.

  22. I have 49 days til departure date for Jamaica…..the airline prices are over $900 and have been over the past two months……WHY I can fly to Europe for less than that from Atlanta! It’s only a 2 hour flight….since I’m in the Prime Window will they drop? They have been from 731-931.00 they are usually 484-500!!!! Please Give some Insight why the EXTREME PRICES!

    1. Hi CJ, So many things can affect airline ticket prices. Your dates of travel, the particular itinerary you need (everyone wants nonstop flights so airlines tend to price those higher), the better itineraries (same thing – demand drives pricing). When I take a quick look at your outbound date, it is trending higher than the rest of the days in the month. Perhaps you have a little flexibility?

  23. Looking for flight for 5. Dec22 (later) or 23 (early)?to dec 30 th from either philadelphia harrisburg or baltimoe. To mco orlando fl. Man they are so expensive $483 and up. Need help to find cheaper flights Thanks in advance for help

    1. Hi Cathy, The problem you’re going to find is that Christmas week and on into the new year tend to have the most expensive flights overall. So, when the airlines publish fares, this week they start at 20-50% higher than the flights at pretty much any other time of the year. Orlando is a popular destination for families for Christmas too. I would start looking now and plan to buy sooner rather than later if your dates are set in stone. Otherwise, if you have the flexibility, you might consider another set of dates where you can get to Orlando for less than half of what you’d pay during Christmas week.

  24. I’m planning to go to Singapore in October or any month with the cheapest fare return flight for two persons for 8-10 days. I’m very flexible with dates and time and can take off at any time. Could you give me a quote air fare rates flying out of Orlando or Daytona airport (first preference) prefer 26-28 hours total duration flight time each way with no more than 3-4 hours layover. No airline preference. Thank you.

    1. Hi Pansy, The best fares I can find with your parameters would be a Wednesday, October 18 to Thursday October 26 trip. Delta has flights available in the 26-28 hour range with two layovers each on the outbound and return. The layovers are 2.5 hours and under. This available ticket can be purchased for under $1,000 round trip.

  25. Just making sure…..so we are leaving December 1st from Michigan to San Diego, returning to Michigan on December 20th, right now we are seeing around $430.00 per ticket, if we wait until August/September, should they be cheaper? Just asking your opinion….
    Thanks for being here for us…..
    JC

    1. Hi JC, It’s very hard to say. The holidays are a big exception to the “54 day rule,” but you are also traveling at the outer edge of the Christmas flight season. I’d assume that the fares will probably not go down in any meaningful way by the end of the summer (they may go up and down a bit), but it’s a very good idea to watch the fares closely in case they do dip significantly.

  26. This is great information thanks so much for posting!

    What time of the year can I purchase the most reasonable ticket price to Hawaii?

    Leaving: SFO or SJC
    Traveling: October 2017

    Also, is this across all airfare classes? What if I want to book business or first? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Amanda, As you probably know Hawaii’s high season is during the winter months. October is somewhat shoulder season so you can probably afford to wait a bit longer to buy. In addition (and this is a bit of a gamble) but SFO does sometimes offer sale fares to Hawaii. Your best bet is probably to watch and wait – maybe sign up for a few airlines “deals” emails (if they service Hawaii) and see if the fares come down at all or see if any good sales pop up.

      Our data from the When to Buy study is for Economy fares only.

  27. Hi, informative and helpful site.
    Looking to book a (cheap) convenient, easy flight as traveling w 83 yo grandmother, so direct non-stop YUL-DTW 08/04-06.
    Very few options, the Delta non-stop is nearly $700 CAD.
    Should I book now, or wait a bit until it’s closer to the “54”?
    Appreciate your advice.
    Thanks

  28. I was looking at flights for Tampa, FL from Harrisburg, PA. I prefer a flight with Delta if it’s all possible. Tentative dates I am looking at is Oct 20th (likely at night or afternoon) and return on Oct 23rd. Should I consider bookig a flight within the next month, or should I wait a bit since it’s NOT on the prime booking window as of June 11th?

  29. I want to purchase a ticket for lax to Guatemala city for July 30 to August 26…but the tickets are 500+ right now. I feel that’s too much. What do you suggest?

    1. Hi Sheena, we hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we are close enough to travel for you to see the best prices available: https://www.cheapair.com/blog/travel-tips/when-should-you-book-an-international-flight/. The likelihood that the fares are going to go down is not great. Nonstops from LAX on your dates are going for even more and it would seem that they are selling well. I would probably buy at this fare. It doesn’t seem like a great gamble to wait.

    1. Hi Diane, There aren’t too many “discounts” for seniors on flights. There are still a few domestic air carriers offering fares for select domestic flights. British Airways was offering a discount to AARP members a few years back, but I’m not sure if that is an ongoing program. In addition, Air France offers discount senior fares but only for flights within flights. Around the world flights are also becoming more and more of a unicorn, since you can now buy one way fares for “fair” rates. It used to be that round trip tickets were a better value.

  30. What are the “airline” season dates? The “official” season dates are:

    Spring – March 20 to June 20
    Summer – June 21 to September 21
    Fall – September 22 to December 21
    Winter – December 22 to March 19

    But I’d bet a flight on, say, December 8 would be a “winter” flight according to the airlines. Any info? Thanks.

    1. Hi Peter, The airlines work from the same “seasons,”with a couple of caveats. Obviously, the countries in the southern hemisphere do not correlate to the seasonality of the northern hemisphere destinations. Early December is actually usually a good time to get decent airfares as it lies just outside the busy “holiday” season that land on the last week of the year and into the first few days of the next. You can read more about the holiday season here: https://www.cheapair.com/blog/holiday-flights/.

  31. I am looking to buy tickets from Providence RI to Orlando for the first week in March 2018. I usually like to be in more of the “peace of mind” zone but they seem a little high right now. Do you usually see a dip in prices once summer ends into Sept and Oct? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Katie, The problem is likely with your dates. Once we get into March, Orlando is seeing visitors for spring break (both families and college students)so the airlines tend to price these dates at a premium straight out of the gate. I don’t think waiting until September or October will be a bad idea (it’s certainly possible that some fares could go down), but it’s not likely based on the dates involved. And once school gets back in session, some people will start looking to buy their spring break flights (which will likely cause the lowest priced fares to sell out). Cautiously watch and wait might be my best advice at the moment. Plan to buy soon.

  32. I’m looking for a cheap flight from Minneapolis to Dallas on Nov. 22 – 26 or 27, when is the best time to look and buy

    1. Honestly, the time to buy for Thanksgiving week is NOW! Don’t delay. For your itinerary, the cheapest flights are returning on Monday, the 27th (Sunday, the 26th is one of the busiest travel days of the year). You can still get a round trip ticket from Spirit for under $200 (keep in mind that’s bare bones without any baggage allowance), but American has nonstop flights for just a bit more ($235). You might also find this blog post useful: https://www.cheapair.com/blog/holiday-flights/the-cheapest-days-for-flights-this-thanksgiving/. Good luck to you!

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