Air travel is back in a big way in 2022, and so is our Annual Airfare Study! By analyzing nearly 1 Billion airfares, we break down the confusing process of purchasing airline tickets and make it simple for you. Read along and see how we unpack airfare data to make shopping for flights a transparent experience. Our analysis will give you the tools you need to understand the best time to buy flights. Use these insights to get cheap airline tickets and the best value for your money.
This year, we analyzed more than 917 million domestic airfares in more than 8,000 markets across the United States. We did the work to make your experience buying airline tickets easier.
The CheapAir.com Annual Airfare study includes:
- The best day to buy a flight, on average
- The “CheapAir.com Prime Booking Window” breakdown – the range of dates when you’re most likely to lock down a flight deal
- Which Flight Booking “Zone” offers the best value for your purchase and circumstances
- The Effect of the Pandemic on Airfare Prediction and Prices
- The cheapest days of the week to fly
- The best and worst months to buy flights
- How seasonality affects airfare price
When is the best time to buy a domestic airline ticket?
The “best day” to buy fluctuates year over year. This year, it looks like the best day happens about 76 days before your travel date, on average. What does this mean, exactly? Well, your specific itinerary’s lowest price may not be on this exact date. But when we synthesize the data for all of the flights analyzed – you get your best fare on average 76 days before departure.
How far in advance should I buy a flight to get the best deal?
This is a loaded question, and here’s why. For some people, getting the absolute lowest price is the main consideration. But if you care about having a few options for your seat and flight experience, maybe you should look at things with a bit more nuance.
Whether you’re looking for the cheapest flights, the most selection, or something in between, this report breaks down that answer into booking zones to guide you. Read on to learn more:
What are Airfare Booking Zones and why do they matter?
We came up with a system that works really well to identify the best times to buy for each sort of shopper – a set of “Booking Zones,” each with their own set of pros and cons. Let’s dig in.
315 to 203 days in advance
Approximately 10 to 6.5 months
The main benefit to booking this early is the wide open range of options at your fingertips. The First Dibs zone gives you the most choice in seats, specific flight times, and even classes of service. If you choose to buy this early, you’ll spend around $30 more on average per airline ticket than if you wait to buy in the “Prime Booking Window.” That’s a much smaller range than in past years, where buying this early could easily cost you $100+ more.
Peace of Mind
202 to 128 days in advance
Approximately 6.5 to 4 months
The Peace of Mind zone offers a bit of balance between low price and available options. The Peace of Mind zone is a little less expensive than First Dibs and you’ll save around $15 on average if you wait a little longer to buy.
CheapAir.com’s Prime Booking Window
127 to 21 days in advance
Approximately 4 months to 3 weeks
The Prime Booking Window is where you want to be if budget is the priority. Every year, this zone consistently offers the lowest airfare prices for travelers, and this year the zone is almost a month longer than usual. The best seats for the price might already be gone, but there’s still ample choice available in the prime booking window.
Push Your Luck
20 to 14 days in advance
Approximately 3 – 2 weeks
The airlines tend to reliably raise prices at around the 21-day mark, so we’re warning you – push your luck is where you get into gambling territory. If you push your luck, you’re likely to spend about $30 more than flights in the prime booking window.
Playing with Fire
13 to 7 days in advance
Approximately 2 – 1 week
If you wait to buy this close to your flight you’re almost certainly going to pay more, but still about $60 less (on average) than if you wait until the very last minute. We’re not going to say that flight deals don’t occasionally happen here, but you’re more likely to have fewer choices, get burned.
6 to 0 days in advance
Less than a week
If you have an emergency or unexpected trip, you’ll likely pay about $150 more than you would if you shopped in the Prime Booking Window. If you do find yourself here, we can help. CheapAir.com offers monthly payments for customers if the cost is prohibitive.
The COVID-19 Effect on Airfare Prices
We should also pause a moment to talk a bit about how the pandemic affected the airfare data this report is built upon. The data shows less variance in airfares than typical. It’s likely that during the peaks of COVID-19 cases when there was limited air travel happening, better fares were available at the last minute. Normally, last minute fares are quite high.
Also, the pandemic tended to make people wait longer to buy. Some destinations were heavily regulated in terms of testing and quarantines, and sometimes travelers just wanted to be sure of their safety before committing to a trip. In any event, it caused people to wait longer – which meant a wider set of dates with reasonable flight prices.
Are airfare prices starting to get back to “normal”?
Airfare prices are starting to normalize again, which means that we’re in some uncharted predictive waters right now. The later we go into the year, the more deviation we might see from the prior year – especially for the holidays when we could see some record numbers of travelers.
We want to take one more opportunity to remind you that “Push Your Luck,” “Playing with Fire,” and “Hail Mary” are the three zones where you’re most likely to get sticker shock if you wait to buy. This year, the penalty for waiting has decreased, but on average you’ll still pay more if you wait too long. And – there’s a catch. As we go later into the year and more people start booking, average fares are likely to increase and travelers should be prepared to see last minute tickets return to pre-pandemic levels.
For example, past “Hail Mary” travelers would pay (on average) $220 more than travelers who bought in the prime booking window, and that’s more than what travelers are currently experiencing.
To be safe, book sooner rather than later – especially if you’re approaching or in the prime booking window and know your travel dates. Right now, we have a more vaccinated public and a new outlook on the COVID-19 endgame. It does seem likely that these variant-driven air travel peaks and valleys might normalize back to pre-pandemic levels.
What’s the cheapest day of the week to buy airline tickets?
This flies in the face of what some Internet sources say, but, actually, the average low fare only varies by about $1, no matter the day of the week that you buy an airline ticket.
What’s the cheapest day of the week to fly?
Pay attention to the day you choose to fly. In 2022, the cheapest day of the week to fly is Wednesday. Flying on Wednesday will save you $57 per airline ticket versus the most expensive day to travel, which is Sunday. Tuesday follows Wednesday closely, with average savings of $56 versus the most expensive day to fly.
Mid-week flights (Tuesday and Wednesday) almost always offer the best value and choice, while the weekends will cost more and choice can be limited.
What is the cheapest month to fly?
December and November are the first and second most expensive months to travel, on average, when people fly to visit friends and family for the holidays. June and July, during the peak for summer travel, are also neck and neck in competition for the third most expensive month to travel.
January and February are the two least expensive months of the year to fly, on average. If you plan a trip in February, you can save about $100 a ticket, compared to flying around the Christmas holidays.
Which summer month is the least expensive to fly?
Most Americans take their vacations in the summer months. If you plan (or prefer) a summer vacation, consider August. The airfare is a better value and you’ll miss the crowds of June and July. This leads to another great question…
Do the seasons affect airfare prices?
They sure can. Have a look at this chart where we’ve identified the best time to buy flights, depending on the season you’re flying:
Putting it all together: crucial information you need when shopping for flights
The earliest opportunity to buy will give you the most choice but cost more. But waiting until you’re about to travel means you can expect to pay a lot more for a more limited set of flight options across the board. What should you do?
Many travelers will find the best prices overall in the Prime Booking Window – where you get the best-priced tickets with some choices still available.
We hope you find this information helpful when planning your next trip – big or small, for fun or for work. We aim to give you the most transparent and simple travel shopping experience on the Internet. Check back soon for part II of the Annual Flight Report – for help on the Best Time to Buy International Flights.
Until then, feel free to share your thoughts or post questions for us in the comments section below.