The Best Time to Book Cheap Flights: 2023 Domestic Airfare Study
For 2023 we analyzed more than 917 million airfares in more than 8,000 markets across the United States so you’ll know when to book cheap flights. Here are the main learnings to help keep your airfare shopping experience clear and simple.
What will you find in the CheapAir.com Annual Airfare Study? Key Takeaways
- The best day to book cheap flights (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
Our Annual Airfare Study is a travel industry tradition. Every year we analyze close to 1 billion airfares to determine the best time for travelers (like you!) to buy airline tickets. Our philosophy is that shopping for flights should be easy and straightforward. The analysis for 2023 will show you how to find cheap airline tickets in a competitive travel landscape. Let’s uncover the best time to buy flights.
When is the best day to book flights for domestic US airline tickets?
The “best day” to book cheap flights is 70 days before your travel date, on average. Does this mean you should always purchase your airline ticket exactly 70 days out from when you plan to depart? No. It will vary based on your travel destination and dates (more on that at the end). It’s an average – and a great guide to getting your best fare.
Another factor that can impact price is the volatility of any one airfare. You can expect a flight’s price to change multiple times over the course of its lifetime. In fact, from the time a trip first goes on sale, fares change 49 times on average and change by an average of $43 each time.
What criteria should I use when shopping for flights?
A lot of people shop for airline tickets on price alone and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Our analysis will show you the range of dates you’re most likely to buy the lowest-priced flight for any one itinerary.
However, if you like to have some options for your flight – where you might be sitting on the airplane, the size of the seat, etc., you might want to focus your search earlier – when there’s more options available.
Whatever you’re looking for – the answers can be found in the booking zones we’ve created. Let’s get into it.
What’s an Airfare Booking Zone? How do these zones impact your airfare shopping experience?
The Flight Booking Zone system, invented by CheapAir.com, came out of the realization that there’s not a one-size-fits-all ideal for airline tickets. This framework reveals airline ticket pricing patterns, identifies the best times to buy flights, and highlights the tradeoffs of buying flights within each zone.
Here are the flight booking zones…
First Dibs: Buying Flights Too Far in Advance Can Cost You
310 to 212 days in advance
Approximately 10 to 7 months
In “First Dibs,” the flight choice world is your oyster. The biggest plus to booking early is the 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 more on average than if you wait to buy in the “Prime Booking Window.”
Peace of Mind: Flexibility in Finding Flights & Low Fares
211 to 165 days in advance
Approximately 7 to 5.5 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 is very slightly less expensive than First Dibs this year.
Prime Booking Window: The Best Time to Buy Cheap Flights
164 to 46 days in advance
Approximately 5.5 months to 1.5 months
This year’s Prime Booking Window ends about 1.5 months from your travel date. This is slightly earlier than in recent years, when you could wait up to 3 weeks before flying and still expect to see good deals. In 2023, you’ll want to buy a bit earlier, but the window where you will find the lowest fares widens to about 5.5 months. Every year, this zone reliably offers the lowest flight prices for travelers.
Push Your Luck: Beware of Advance Purchase Fare Rules
45 to 14 days in advance
Approximately 1.5 months to 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 45 days from your travel date. If you choose to roll the dice, you’re likely to spend more than buying flights in the flight 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, but you’ll still save about $60 (on average) than by waiting until the very last minute.
Hail Mary: Last-Minute Flights
6 to 0 days in advance
Less than a week
If you have to purchase a flight in this zone, you’ll likely pay about $124 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 book flights?
We’ll let you in on a secret. Even though there’s a lot of discussion from dubious sources that say otherwise, the data 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 (more on that below).
What’s the cheapest day of the week to fly?
Now, the day of the week you choose to travel does make a difference in the best time to buy flights. In 2023, the cheapest day of the week to fly is Wednesday. Flying on Wednesday will save you almost $100 versus Sunday – the most expensive day to fly. Tuesday is the second cheapest day to fly, with savings of $94 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, February is your best bet. Flights in January closely follow February for being most affordable. At the other end of the spectrum, December and July are the first and second most expensive months to travel, on average. Flying in February will save you $114 on average compared to taking a trip in December.
How do the seasons affect airfare prices?
The season can also affect the best time to buy flights. The busy summer travel season requires travelers to shop and purchase on the earliest timeline (6 months from departure) to take advantage of the lowest flight prices. Winter is the bargain season to travel, and you can also wait longer to purchase your airline tickets than in any other season. If you like, in the winter months you can wait up to 26 days before departure to get a good flight deal.
The average lowest airfare prices by season from least to most expensive:
The spring and fall shoulder seasons offer the next lowest prices for travelers. The data suggests you can wait about 3 months from your travel date to get a lower price in spring, and can wait under 2 months to purchase fall flights for a lower price.
The best time to buy flights in each season:
A few final words on the best time 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 need more options…
Buy earlier. This will give you the most choice but cost more. Once you’ve bought a flight, you can relax. Know that you can take advantage of Price Drop Payback to protect the price you paid. If your ticket price goes down after you’ve bought, we’ll reimburse you for the difference!
3. Traveling Internationally?
Dig into our Annual Flight Report – The Best Time to Buy International Flights.
You can also supplement this data with some tips for scoring the best flight deal. We also recommend you check out a helpful when to buy flights tool for specific destination advice. We hope you find this information helpful when planning your next vacation and finding out the best time to buy flights.
If we missed anything or can answer individual questions, please use the comments section below to reach out.