For 2024 we analyzed more than 917 million airfares in more than 8,000 markets across the United States so you know when to buy cheap flights. Here are the main takeaways to keep the Domestic airfare shopping experience transparent and simple.
Key Takeaways from the CheapAir.com Annual Airfare Study
- The best day to buy a flight (on average)
- The “Prime Booking Window,” which is the range of dates you’re most likely to find the lowest priced flight
- The various Flight Booking “Zones” and the benefits of booking flights in each
- Which days of the week and which months are the best to buy flights and travel
- The effects of seasonality on airfare prices
Every year CheapAir analyzes close to 1 billion airfares to uncover the best time for you to buy airline tickets. We believe shopping for flights should be easy and straightforward. You shouldn’t stress about the purchase of airline tickets. Our analysis for 2024 uncovers how you can find cheap flights in a highly competitive travel landscape with projected record-breaking travel numbers.
When is the best day to buy an airline ticket for domestic US flights?
This year the “best day” to buy an airline ticket is 42 days before your travel date, on average. In 2024 travelers can wait about a month more to get a cheap flight compared to years prior. That’s a lot closer to your travel date than we usually see. So in 2024, you can usually afford to wait a little longer to buy and still wind up with a good value fare.
This data also doesn’t mean you should always purchase your airline ticket exactly 42 days out from when you plan to depart. Other considerations impact this data – which will vary based on your travel destination and dates. 42 days is an average – and also a great guide to getting your best fare.
You should also keep in mind an important factor that can impact price. That’s the volatility of any one airfare. A flight’s price will change multiple times over the course of it’s lifetime. In fact, from the time a trip first goes on sale, fares change 49 times on average and change by an average of $98 each time.
What criteria should I use when shopping for flights?
It depends. Many people shop for flights on price alone. A recent CheapAir survey asked travelers to rank what was most important to them when shopping for flights – cost, convenience, or comfort. Cost came in at #1. Our analysis will show you the range of dates you’re most likely to buy the lowest-priced flight for any one itinerary. If you shop on price, we’ll give you the best window to get the cheapest price.
On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who likes to have options on your flight – where your seat is located on the plane, the size of the seat, etc., you might want to focus your search earlier when more options are available.
Whatever your preferences, you’ll find the answers in the following Airfare Booking Zones.
What’s an Airfare Booking Zone? How do these booking zones impact your airfare shopping experience?
The Flight Booking Zone system, was developed by CheapAir.com out of the realization there’s no perfect airline ticket. This framework reveals airline ticket pricing patterns, identifies the best times to buy flights, and highlights the tradeoffs of buying flights within each zone. Most U.S. airlines publish airfares about 330 days in advance. (That’s about 11 months from today’s date.) Some low cost carriers like JetBlue and Southwest publish fares 7 to 8 months in advance. Learn why airlines publish fares when they do and when airlines in the U.S. open their booking windows.
There are some advantages and disadvantages of booking flights earlier than waiting till later which can greatly vary from traveler to traveler. Generally, if you book too early it can cost you. On the other hand, you don’t want to wait till the last minute either. So when should you book to get the cheapest flights? Here are the flight booking zones…
First Dibs: Buying Flights Too Far in Advance Can Cost You
- 315 to 206 days in advance
- Approximately 10 to 7.5 months
In “First Dibs,” flight choice is the upside. Booking this early is the best way to guarantee a wide range of options available to you. The First Dibs zone gives you the most choice in seats, specific flight times, and classes of service. If you choose to buy this early, you’ll spend 36% more on average than if you wait to buy in the Prime Booking Window.
Peace of Mind: Flexibility in Finding Flights & Low Fares
- 205 to 75 days in advance
- Approximately 7.5 to 2.5 months
The Peace of Mind zone offers travelers the best of both worlds. Think of it as being positioned nicely between low price and available choice. The Peace of Mind zone will cost you 14% more on average than buying in the Prime Booking Window.
Prime Booking Window: The Best Time to Buy Cheap Flights
- 74 to 21 days in advance
- Approximately 2.5 months to 3 weeks
This year’s Prime Booking Window extends all the way up to about 3 weeks from your travel date. In 2024, you can wait a little longer to buy, and the window where you will find the lowest fares extends to about 2.5 months out. Every year, this zone reliably offers the lowest flight prices for travelers. This is where to focus your search to grab the best deals. The best time to buy cheap flights is in the Prime Booking Window.
Push Your Luck: Beware of Advance Purchase Fare Rules
- 20 to 14 days in advance
- Approximately 3 – 2 weeks
The airlines make more aggressive (and reliable) price increases the closer you get to departure day. This year, the fare spikes start right around 21 days from your travel date. If you choose to roll the dice, you’ll spend 8% more than buying flights in the Prime Booking Window.
Playing with Fire: Airfare Rises and Seating Availability Declines
- 13 to 7 days in advance
- Approximately 2 – 1 week
You can occasionally find a deal this close to your travel date, but you’re definitely flying a bit too close to the sun. Purchasing in this zone will very likely cost you more money than buying in the Prime Booking Window, about 26% more on average.
Hail Mary: Last-Minute Flights
- 6 to 0 days in advance
- Less than a week
Ouch! If you have to purchase a flight in this zone, you’ll likely pay about 59% more than you would if you shopped in the Prime Booking Window. If you do find yourself here, you still have options. CheapAir.com offers a “Fly Now, Pay Later” monthly payment option which can help take the sting out of an unexpected trip’s price.
Is there a best day of the week to buy flights?
Turns out this is one of the travel industry’s biggest myths. Data clearly shows that the average low fare varies by less than $1, no matter what day of the week you buy an airline ticket. What matters is the day of week you travel.
What’s the cheapest day of the week to fly?
The day of the week you choose to travel on does make a difference in price. For the second year in a row, the cheapest day of the week to fly is Wednesday. Flying on Wednesday will save you $102 on average versus Sunday – the most expensive day to fly. Tuesday is the second cheapest day to fly, with savings of $99 on average versus Sunday.
If you want one true insider’s tip from this report, let it be this. Mid-week flights (Tuesday and Wednesday) almost always offer the best value. Traveling mid-week should always be a consideration for the budget shopper.
Is there a cheapest month to fly?
If you’re looking for a bargain month to travel, January is best. Flights in February are a close second for being most affordable. At the other end of the spectrum, November and July are the first and second most expensive months to travel, on average. Flying in January will save you $125 on average compared to taking a trip in November. When to buy cheap flights can definitely be affected by the month you travel.
How do the seasons affect airfare prices?
Seasonality can affect the best time to buy your airline ticket. Winter is considered low season which makes it the bargain season to travel, and you can wait longer to purchase your airline tickets in the not-as-busy fall shoulder season. The peak season – summer – is usually most expensive, since the kids being out of school and warmer weather make people vacation more. However, this year summer and fall are about the same price for ticket price.
The average lowest airfare prices by season from least to most expensive:
When to buy cheap flights can be subject to seasonality. The best time to buy flights in each season:
Final thoughts on when to buy flights
1. If price is the main consideration…
The best prices overall fall in the Prime Booking Window – where you get the lowest-priced airline tickets with some choice still available.
2. When you want more options…
Comfort or convenience rank high on travelers mind, booking early will give you the most choice but come at a cost.
3. Traveling Internationally?
We’ve also analyzed international airfare trends for travel from the U.S. to different regions worldwide and found which days are best to score the cheapest airfare. You can find our International Airfare Study here and discover exactly when is the best time to buy international flights.
We hope you find this information helpful when planning your next vacation. We also recommend you check out our helpful When to Buy Flights tool for advice on specific routes and destinations you may be interested in.
Finally, We do have you covered in the scenario that a fare does go down after you buy. It’s a nifty little free feature called “Price Drop Payback” and it protects your ticket for changes up to $100. So if a fare goes down after you buy, you can get up to $100 towards your next ticket.
If we missed anything or can answer individual questions, please use the comments section below to reach out.