2024 cheapair.com annual when to buy domestic flights infographic

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

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Shopping for Domestic Flights

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?

when is the best day to buy cheap 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?

how to shop for cheap 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?

2024 cheapair.com annual when to buy flight booking zones infographic

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 Latermonthly 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?

is there a best day of the week to buy cheap 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?

Is there a 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:

what is the cheapest season to buy flights?

When to buy cheap flights can be subject to seasonality. The best time to buy flights in each season:

when is the best time to buy flights 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.

Happy Travels!

41 Comments

  1. I like the information you’re “trying” to convey, but it does not at all match a large number of flyer’s experience. That’s because you’re grouping too many airlines which operate so differently from each other.

    Thus, creating an “average” time is worthless data, whereas certain airlines should be grouped or (most likely) individualized, in order to get meaningful information out.

    Example: I can routinely find CHEAP flights 1 day in advance using Spirit & Frontier. I just flew the other day on an $18 ticket (booked the prior day). I do this all the time.

    Your “recommended prime booking window” makes no sense because the fares in your chart escalate starting around the 45th day to the 18th day, now compare that to “peace of mind” area in blue, from the 165th to 75th day are ALL cheaper tickets than the “recommended prime booking window” in green (after the 45th day.

    So really, the prime booking window is 165th day to 45th day.

    I also use Southwest airlines. You can’t group that airline with all the others and just say “here’s an average date to buy”. Each airline is independent of each other, and needs to be analyzed separately.

    • Hi Gary,

      Thank you for your comment and feedback. We really appreciate your insight and agree that this is not an exact rule for everyone and every traveler. We provide this insight into the airfare data to help guide travelers to plan ahead to help save money on flights. The numbers reported are averages and we agree that we could do better. We’ll take your advice and work on making some improvements. We do have our Best Time to Buy Flights tool which does get more specific about the routes or destinations you are specifically researching. This tool does help provide a more detailed guide to help travelers plan and save on flight costs. Please keep in mind that our data is compiled from historical airfare data from the year prior. The complicated and confusing process of gathering flight information for all the airlines isn’t simple. The airlines certainly are making it more and more difficult as most have different ticket types and are unbundling fares to offer different options for all kinds of travelers. We work hard to make the flight search and booking process as transparent and easy as possible. That’s been our mission from day one. We appreciate you reading our airfare study and sharing your feedback. Thank you.

    • Hi Jovita,

      To take advantage of Price Drop Payback, any time after your purchase go to the “My Trips” section of our web site to retrieve your itinerary. From there, with one click we’ll check to see if your fare has gone down. If it has, we’ll issue you a travel credit immediately. You can check your fare every week, every day, or as often as you want. It’s fast and easy. Some restrictions apply, so click here for complete TERMS AND CONDITIONS. Keep in mind this only applies if your trip has not departed yet, otherwise we cannot check the fares for past trips.

      Price Drop Payback is available only for customers of CheapAir.com. It applies automatically to every ticket that we sell. And best of all, it’s totally free! If you have any questions or need any help, feel free to email us at [email protected].

  2. Re: Your graph of Booking Zones. Doesn’t the optimum advace ticket purchase date depend on the month you expect to be traveling? Wouldn’t it be more accurate if you could specify the month you expect to be traveling, then determine the best advance ticket purchase zones?

    Thanks

    • Hi Mike,

      Yes and no. Not all departures and destinations are the same when it comes to seasonality and other big events that happen which can impact the demand of a destination. This is even more true when factoring in international routes. The Booking Zones are a general representation of averages which can vary depending on a lot of factors. It is a guide to help travelers better understand the concepts around advance purchase and why it matters when you book. You are correct that by specifying the month of travel would be more accurate and we will take your advice when analyzing our data in the future. Thank you for using CheapAir.com.

    • Hi Patti, when you book on our website you can use the “Compare Fare” option on our website or click the “details” link and we will describe and compare the various types of fares and what they include. Hope that info helps.

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