The number one question we get from airline ticket customers is “when should I buy my airline ticket?” We spend a ton of time every year analyzing the data to show you the best time to buy both domestic and international airline tickets.

last minute flights

Once people read what we’ve got to say on this subject, the follow-up question is invariably, “Ok. I read what you guys said and I’ve done my research. I found a good fare. But should I wait to buy?” Our advice is always to buy when you think you’ve got a good fare. Not the BEST fare. Buying an airline ticket can be confusing and stressful in and of itself. No one wants to feel like they’re buying too early or missing out on a deal that is going to be coming around the corner if they just wait a little bit longer. Here’s the nitty gritty, to help you navigate these treacherous airfare waters:

  1. The numbers of fares that are lowest just before the travel date are tiny. Like, a fraction of a fraction kind of tiny. We analyzed close to 3 million travel itineraries last year and found that 54 days out was about the best time to buy for domestic tickets. But 53, 52, 45 and 60 days also were pretty good times to get deals. There were quite a few itineraries that were never better priced than the very first day they went on sale (11 months out) from travel. So the absolutely best time to buy is a real mixed bag. The one constant is that waiting too long will almost always mean you pay more. The data doesn’t lie.
  2. Ok. So, maybe I’ll pay a little more you might be saying. But how much more? Our data shows on average customers who book their ticket 0-7 days from their travel date pay $200 more than if you booked during the best time to buy – what we call the “prime booking window.” Ouch! The prime booking window is approximately 3 weeks to 3.5 months from your travel dates and why wouldn’t you take advantage of saving $200 bucks?
  3. There is a value in choice which gets more limited when you wait until the last minute to purchase. Not only does waiting mean you pay an average of $200 more per ticket, but you’re also virtually guaranteed to be stuck with less attractive flight times and less convenient schedules (long connections) at those prices. The better flights (if they are still available) can be expected to have much higher price tags, often hundreds of dollars more than the “ugly” flights. Ugh.
  4. Are you waiting for a last minute sale to save you some cash? Don’t bet on it. What you think of as a sale airfare and what the airlines do is a very different thing. Algorithms generally set airline pricing these days and this science is very specific. Sadly for us, it doesn’t include flash sales and bargain basement prices for waiting. You see, plenty of people will pony up for a last minute fare (usually business travelers less constrained by budgets), so those last minute fire sales are largely a fiction. A hopeful story we like to tell ourselves, but not based in reality. Usually, sale airfares are restricted to specific dates (and almost always including black out dates for major holiday travel seasons).
  5. Still not convinced? The best airfares are only available until they are sold out. So if you have a plane that is half empty a week before departure, there could conceivably be a sale. But you have to use common sense when shopping. If you’re going to North Dakota in January, you might see some good fares close to your travel dates. If you’re flying to Miami in the height of cruise season, London in July or to southern California in the summertime you’re going to want to buy early. Those popular times and destinations mean that demand will be high and prices will not be low the later you wait.

So, what’s the takeaway here? Last minute airfares are simply not a good gamble. We always recommend searching early and often and booking (so you get a sense of price fluctuations) and then booking as soon as you see a good fare. Aiming for the BEST fare is just going to be frustrating and frankly, it’s impossible. In the airfare shopping game aim for peace of mind – knowing that you got a fare that is attractive, will afford you a good itinerary with comfortable connection and flight times. If you wait, know that someone else is going to scoot in and nab that fare you passed over. And it might never reappear. We like to suggest the conservative/early bird approach when airline ticket shopping for maximum satisfaction and savings. Good luck and happy travels!




  1. Hey. I am flying from Canada to Houston in mid Feb. I don’t mind taking a risk as I can fly out of three different airports in Canada and be flexible in my travel dates. I am thinking of waiting until close to 3 weeks out to book since I figure traveling to Houston in Feb likely isn’t overly popular. What time frame do you suggest? Just your best guess of course. Thanks 🙂

    • Hi Andrew. Anything inside of two weeks will definitely cost you more, and even three weeks out runs risks. You will have less seats to choose from (and probably the lowest priced seats will be gone at that time). How close you are to Valentines Day might also cause fares to be higher.

  2. Hi! Thanks for the information on this website, it has been very helpful! We are traveling from CLT to NYC in early may (Thurs-Mon). I am currently waiting to buy tickets bc the range is 175+ economy and 225+ main. Is this what you think also? Not traveling for an event, just taking my mom mother’s day weekend to see the city. So far no seats have been sold on my two favorite Delta flights.

    • Hi Whitney, based on the fact you’ve mentioned no seats have neem sold on your favorite flights, you’re probably safe to wait a bit. However, since you did mention favorite flights you should keep a close watch on those flights. If they are your favorites, they are probably other people’s favorites too. And once the seats on a particular flight are sold out, they are gone. The range of fares you’ve shared with us are good prices for that itinerary. Our conservative advice would be to buy soon.

  3. I’m going to Austin from LGB on March 6, 2020 and I found a “good” fare at $144 (don’t need to check a bag). I hesitated to buy because the flight’s empty. Should I wait and if so till when?
    I already booked the return flight. thanks!

  4. Hello I’m supposed to be flying from Atlanta Georgia to London Heathrow next year. I’m leaving June 30 2019 and coming back July 16 2019. I have found a flight for $1,016 that is Nonstop should I go ahead and book this flight when it’s this early or should I wait until it’s closer for me to leave. Last year I waited and I ended up paying around $1,300 for my flight. Thank you.

    • Hi Aryonna, Ouch! We feel your pain (when you buy a ticket and the fare goes down it can be a big bummer. If you want nonstop flights, we highly recommend buying soon. Everyone wants a nonstop flight which means those flights will sell out at the prices the airlines like. You might want to check out our 2019 International “When to Buy” page as well as our Europe Summer Flights page

      July is always the most expensive month of the summer to travel to Europe and next year won’t likely be different. We do offer “price drop payback,” so if you buy your ticket from us and the price dips after you do, we’ll reimburse you up to $100 a ticket. But in your case, we recommend buying early for sure.

  5. Hi there!

    I’ve heard that prices drop around Monday or Tuesday every week but I’m looking to book a flight from Finland to Canada for mid-August (which is approaching soon). If there’s only about a month left until the departure date, will prices still be dropping a the beginning of the week?


    • Hi Maggie,

      Based on your routing and dates, we’d recommend buying sooner than later. The prices are likely to only rise as we get closer to your departure date. Keep in mind, when you purchase flights with CheapAir if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

Post a Comment