When is the best time to buy an international flight?

It’s hardly a secret that airfares fluctuate a lot. Knowing the best time to purchase a flight has turned into something like Russian roulette for travelers – if you don’t “win” a low fare, you can lose big and be left with a sense that there has to be a better way. That’s where we come in.

international when to buy 2018

Every year, CheapAir.com analyzes hundreds of millions of domestic and international airfares – and you can read about the results of our domestic When to Buy Flights study, where we show you the best time to buy a domestic flight. But we also track international tickets, and this year we took a deeper dive into the international data to provide our customers with the most comprehensive insights we’ve ever shared.

In our study, we reviewed a total of 917,000,000 airfares, including fares covering more than 1,000,000 international trips over the last year. These airfares covered more than 3,000 international markets. For each trip, we studied all the possible days you could buy that airline ticket – to uncover when international flights have the lowest fares.

We identified the best day to buy a ticket in the different regions around the world, and we identified the “prime booking window” for each region as well. The prime booking window is the range of days in which you are likely to see the lowest fares – the window where it’s generally not too early to get a good deal, but also not too late. If price is most important, you should plan to purchase your flights within this range. Of course, the prime booking window is a generalization, and you should be aware of events like large festivals, international sports events, and major holidays. At a very busy time for the destination – Oktoberfest in Munich, the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, and Holi in India are just three examples that come to mind – you’ll want to buy in the early part of the prime booking window, or in some cases even earlier. Otherwise, use the prime booking window as a good estimate of when it will make the best sense to buy.

We also looked at whether traveling in certain seasons will impact when you should buy your flights, and which travel months had the highest and lowest airline ticket prices for each region. Finally, we analyzed the days of the week to determine whether there was a price advantage to buying, or flying, on any particular day.

Here is a breakdown of the average number of days before departure that yields the lowest airline ticket price for U.S. travelers heading to international regions:

2018 International When to Buy

We’ll now review each region in more detail, and address how to approach buying a ticket to each destination, using a range of criteria as explained above:

Canada
The Canadian market is very similar to the U.S. market – it’s best to buy your airline ticket to Canada 66 days in advance, on average. Flights to Canada are about 3% cheaper than they were last year on average, which is a modest savings but hey—we’ll take a modest savings over a modest increase any day! No big surprises that Canada’s warm summers see the most expensive airline tickets, with July being the most expensive month to visit, but still – the difference between July and October (the least expensive month) is relatively modest—about $64.

Prime Booking Window: 3 weeks to about 5 months before departure
Best time to buy: About 66 days from your travel date
The average airfare: $427
Cheapest month to travel: October
Most expensive month to travel: July
Least expensive days of week to fly: Tuesday and Wednesday

Mexico/Central America
Mexico and Central America were quite similar to domestic U.S. flights (this has not always been the case in the past) – you can generally wait about 70 days out for the best fares to Mexico or Central American destinations. The airfares to our neighbors to the south are also trending slightly cheaper overall versus last year, translating to an average 3% savings on each ticket. December is the most expensive month, so get your Christmas beach vacation booked stat!

Prime Booking Window: 2 weeks to almost 6 months before departure
Best time to buy: About 70 days from your travel date
The average airfare: $489
Cheapest month to travel: September
Most expensive month to travel: December
Least expensive days of week to fly: Tuesday and Wednesday

Caribbean
On average, the cheapest flights to the Caribbean are found when you buy that tropical airline ticket a whopping 207 days in advance – nearly 7 months before you go. The prime booking window is enormous as well – which frankly, is good news to travelers. You don’t really have to scrutinize the calendar as closely when the fluctuations in price remain fairly small over the course of most of the time before your trip. Having said that, the fares do still jump up in that last month before you plan to go. And you should also pay close attention to booking holiday flights early if you’re spending Christmas or Hanukkah in Jamaica. December is the priciest month to travel.

Prime Booking Window: 1 month to almost 11 months before departure
Best time to buy: About 207 days from your travel date
The average airfare: $545
Cheapest month to travel: January
Most expensive month to travel: December
Least expensive days of week to fly: Tuesday and Wednesday

South America
Airfares to South America will set you back the fewest dollars on average at 110 days out—closing in on three months before you go. Tickets are a bit more expensive, and are trending more expensive than last year. Travelers can expect to spend an average of 8% more – about $65 more than they would have paid in 2017. One reason for this might be that destinations like Colombia and Argentina are pretty hot right now – the ole’ supply and demand driving up prices. It’s almost $250 cheaper to visit South America in February (the cheapest month to go) than in December. That’s a savings of nearly $1,000 for a family of four!

Prime Booking Window: 5 weeks to almost 11 months before departure
Best time to buy: About 110 days from your travel date
The average airfare: $845
Cheapest month to travel: February
Most expensive month to travel: December
Least expensive days of week to fly: Tuesday and Wednesday

South Pacific
A vacation to Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti or other South Pacific spots in theory should be planned pretty far in advance, as the cheapest time to buy clocks in at 197 days before takeoff. But here again, the prime booking window is very wide, which means that the airfares are not very volatile for a good chunk of time. Because flights are already so expensive, if you have a trip in December (summer down under), you can expect to pay more than $550 more on average than if you travel in the cheapest month of May. That’s a gargantuan argument for visiting in late spring, wouldn’t you say? Airfares to South Pacific destinations are also a modest 3% cheaper this year – so visitors do have that going for them!

Prime Booking Window: 54 days to just over 8 months
Best time to buy: About 197 days from your travel date
The average airfare: $1,708
Cheapest month to travel: May
Most expensive month to travel: December
Least expensive days of week to fly: Tuesday and Wednesday

Asia
Airline tickets to Asia are cheapest right around 4 months (120 days) in advance. The prime booking window is also quite wide for Asia, so you can relax a bit and not worry that prices are going to have a huge spike while you’re watching and waiting. November is the cheapest month to travel with the popular North American travel month of June being the most expensive. Travel in the least expensive month can save you $420 on average. Insider Tip: Asia is a huge region, so we urge our readers to do some research on their own – using our Best Time to Buy Flights Widget. You’ll want to fine-tune these results for your particular itinerary.

Prime Booking Window: A little over a month to 7 months
Best time to buy: About 120 days from your travel date
The average airfare: $1,113
Cheapest month to travel: November
Most expensive month to travel: June
Least expensive days of week to fly: Tuesday and Wednesday

Europe
The cheapest airline tickets to Europe are, on average, found 160 days before departure, and prices have dropped close to 10% since last year (great news for North American travelers, as Europe is always a pricey but coveted vacay – every little bit helps)! One way that the data was a little different for flights to Europe – the best days to travel include Monday—more options! It’ll probably come as no surprise that July is the most expensive time to go across the pond; if you can handle the weather March is the best value hands down, with an average savings of $371 dollars per ticket. We know that people usually try to tackle Europe in the summer, so for more guidance on the best days to fly to Europe this summer (with a handy color-coded calendar for reference), see our Europe Summer Flights page.

Prime Booking Window: About 1.5 months to a little more than 8 months
Best time to buy: 160 days from your travel date
The average airfare: $1,151
Cheapest month to travel: March
Most expensive month to travel: July
Least expensive days of week to fly: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday

Africa/Middle East
If you’re traveling to a country in Africa or the Middle East, you’ve got some wiggle room in the “when to buy” department. The prime booking widow is pretty wide, so there aren’t huge variations in price for much of the time leading up to a flight. The absolute best best airfares to Africa and the Middle East are found 199 days in advance, close to 7 months, on average.

Prime Booking Window: 96 to 287 days before departure
Best time to buy: About 199 days from your travel date
The average airfare: $1,238
Cheapest month to travel: February
Most expensive month to travel: July
Least expensive days of week to fly: Tuesday and Wednesday

There you have it. The insider’s scoop on 2018 international travel. In case you want to do further research, here are a few more airfare tools for you to check out:

When to Buy Domestic Flights Study

Guide to Summer Flights

Please feel free to comment with your individual questions below – we always take the time to address each question and/or comment from our readers and we know that planning an international trip can be a complex undertaking. We love helping people plan trips. We’re also pleased to offer monthly payments for flights, which can sometimes help make budgeting less stressful for international trips. Happy travels!

53 Comments

  1. Most interesting! Proved some of my beliefs formed previously by casual observations were incorrect. This report on international travels seems like it used the US as origin but this was not clearly stated. On the map shown, it stated 70 days (in advance) as the best time to but for the US. So if that means domestic travel, would like to see a section on the US.

    1. Does anybody believe that they studied 917,000000.00 fares ??? Thats 76 Million fares a month. Total scam as you look at their results and some are the booking window is 2 weeks to 6 months. What B.S.

      1. Hi Bob, You’re right if you mean we look at each flight with a magnifying glass. That would be a tough thing to do. But luckily these days we can rely on computers to crunch the numbers for us and plot the fares for us so we can look at trends in fares. Sometimes the booking window is wide because the difference between the fares can be small day over day on average. We We’ve ben doing this for quite a while – you should try our guidelines for a specific itinerary and let us know how we did!

    1. Hi Alejandro. We do get asked from time to time about flying from other destinations outside of the U.S. and Canada, but up until now we have focused our study on outbound travel from both. Our customer base is primarily from the United States, so we (to date) have kept the analysis to what we know best (and where we actually have the data).

  2. I plan to fly WAS-EZE on the second week of Nov 2018 for about two weeks. When, for how much and by whom was the cheapest fare sold for last year 2017? I’m seeing less than a grand right now and wonder how low it can go if this year fares are more expensive this year.

    1. Hi FR, I’m going to assume that you mean (any airport in and around the D.C. area) as I’m not seeing an airport code for WAS. At the moment, flights to Buenos Aires are holding strong at $933 for most dates later in the year (excluding Christmas week, of course). It’s hard to predict if the fares will dip any lower. While it’s true that fares are trending about 8% higher than they were last year, if tickets do not sell at these rates the airlines will probably drop them back to 2017 rates. That would take the published fares down to around $860 but to be honest, with the popularity of Argentina – I don’t see it as a great gamble to wait too close to your travel dates. I might check in a couple of times a week for a few months and plan to start a serious search about 2 months out if the fares stay static.

    1. Hi Joseph, Unfortunately we do not do reporting on Business Class fares. To be frank, the bulk of our business is in economy fare and that’s where we come up with our reporting. In addition, business class fares are not terribly volatile, so you can generally wait much longer to buy and still get a decent (for the class) fare without worrying about the dizzying fluctuations found in economy fares. It’s food for thought though – would be interesting to find out who might be doing this sort of analysis. Right now, we just don’t have the data to crunch in meaningful numbers.

  3. I’m planning to travel to Nigeria Lagos next year of may of 2019 I want to book early is it a good idea if I book in September or October and I’m interested in the monthly payment installment what advise can u give me

    1. Yes, that sounds like a good time to buy. You can see if you can use monthly payments by choosing that option at checkout. We are partnered with Affirm who manages that option for us. Please let us know if you have specific questions about monthly payments.

  4. I’m planning to travel to Mexico in January of 2019 wen is the best time to get my tickets I have 10 people going with me

    1. Hi Francisco, You should really reach out direct to the airlines. You;ll qualify for group pricing with 10 people traveling. Good luck to you.

  5. Planning to fly to Auckland NZ from Chicago or LA next January. Have been waiting for some sales, but haven’t seen any. Your analysis suggests buying tickets in the next month or two. Correct?

    1. Hi Lars. Yes, that’s correct. We recommend buying tickets to South Pacific destinations around 7 months out. This is actually shortened up from previous years where 8-9 months was more the recommendation. We still recommend looking at fares for your specific itinerary as our recommendations are based on averages and you are traveling in summer. Good luck to you!

    1. Hi Jay. I would reach out to an Estonian agency who will have better intel for you. Goos luck on your search!

    1. Hi Bonnie, Our focus is on economy fares. Business Class fares are much less volatile and therefore, you can buy most tickets up to within a month or so without much increase. After that, all bets are off. Fares will go up quickly.

  6. I just finished the first leg of a roundtrip flight from Bangkok to LA with a connection in Hong Kong on Hong Kong Airlines and will be returning May 8th. The in-flight meals were good, the staff provided excellent cart service and the seats were very comfortable with in-flight entertainment consoles. The plane from Hong Kong to LA was an Airbus A350-900. I flew economy and purchased my ticket using their fare calendar, 9 days before departure and the total cost was $491.03.

  7. I’m looking to fly out week of November 5, 2018 to Lima Peru onward to Machu Picchu. When is the best time to buy those tickets?

    1. Hi Charles, What city are you departing from? Our advice is geared for outbound North American travel. The best time to buy on average from anywhere in Canada or the US is about 4 months out. That is a general recommendation, so you should also look at your specific itinerary and we recommend searching early and often to get a sense of fare fluctuations for your dates.

  8. Curious… If I am looking for the best fare and go into a site several times, does the airline track when I enter looking for a fare and because I keep coming back looking for a lower fare, I get an increase because I’m looking for a particular flight. Crazy, but it’s a theory.

    1. Hi Cheryl, Our guidelines do not drill down into specific countries, so yes. Egypt is included in the African data. We’ve discussed a more detailed drill down for upcoming Reports – we’ll keep you posted if that should happen. If you’d like to share your origin city we can try to give you more personalized advice. Good luck to you.

  9. i will attend a wedding on january 17 in Manila Philippines and i am allowed 28 days vacay inc my flying time. I have no particular airline as long as i get a good deal. i plan to leave san jose around Dec 27 and fly back jan 20 or 21 ❤️

    1. Hi Jackie, It looks like the best airfare for your flight dates is going to be right around $1,000. Alaska and China Southern have an itinerary right around that price departing on December 27 and returning on January 20. If you return a day later, you can save an additional $100. Flights are around $918.

  10. Hello Cheapair! Thank you for telling us when to buy tickets. But you haven’t said how. I really believe that if you let them most websites will track your ip and increase flights the more times you visit the same flight/airline. I have had lower, more consistant pricing by hiding my ip. Easiest way to do this is 1. book using data vs WiFi, and 2. Search for flights in incognito mode.
    Don’t round down those two cents!

    1. Hi Kevin, We did a post about just this thing early last year: https://www.cheapair.com/blog/is-clearing-your-cookies-a-foolproof-strategy-for-buying-cheaper-airfare/. If you’re finding that hiding your IP returns lower, more consistent pricing – keep doing that! But, we’ve just not seen the data to support this as fact. We do her about this a lot (as anecdotal evidence) but since we haven’t been able to replicate it on our own, we have to keep a bit distance from making any proclamations.

  11. Any windows you can share for September flights to Ireland? I’ve heard it can be cheaper to buy one way to Europe, then a separate one way back. Is this true?

    1. Hi Louise, Sometimes it can be cheaper to buy one way tickets to Europe. September (especially later in the month) can also be a good time to go since it can be considered shoulder season.

    1. Hi GardMarie, It looks like the best prices to Dubai out of Miami are in late November and early December. You can get a flight right now on Swiss Air for $811 that connects through Zurich. It’s not too early to book. Flights to Dubai are typically a few hundred dollars higher. It’s not likely to go lower, but you may not see $811 round trip the longer you wait.

  12. Seems like this is for more popular times of travel. We are traveling to the UK in November. How far out would your recommendation be to purchase those flights?

    1. Hi Deana, Our study is actually an average of dates (including high and low seasons). You’re correct, traveling to the UK in November you can probably wait quit a bit longer (possibly as late as September) to start a serious search. Our advice is always to dip in and out of your itinerary (at least weekly) to get a sense of how the fares are fluctuating. Sometimes events in a city can cause fares to spike as well. Good luck to you.

    1. Hi there, It’s not too early to start a search now. If you’re not traveling the last week of November fares are usually quite inexpensive and you might not want to buy just yet (might be worth waiting until the end of summer to start a serious search). If you plan to travel in the last week of November, plan to start your search a bit sooner – flights for Thanksgiving week tend to be much more expensive. What city might you be booking from?

  13. I would like to plan a carrabean cruise for my whole family in June of 2019
    When would you recommend to start?

    1. Hi Ninfa, You cannot purchase your airline tickets until at least July of this year (since flights for the following year are published no more than 11 months out). Having said that, I would start a search as soon as flights are published. Typically flights that coincide with Caribbean cruises sell out the lowest fares very early. Best of luck to you.

  14. When is the best time to book flights from Washington, DC to YVR from 12/26/18 – 1/2/18? They are very pricy right now! Trying to book for 6 adults and 3 kids.

    1. HI Jane, Because of the size of your party AND the dates you’re looking at I would probably book sooner rather than later. The last week of the year into the first week of the New Year will always be priced at a premium. Then, as the fares sell down the prices will rise. It’s very unusual to see flights for this period ever go on sale or go down. If you are seeing even incremental hikes in price this means that the lower fares are selling out. On top of this, you have a big group. If sitting together isn’t key you might be able to wait longer, but to access the best available seating at the best available price you should probably buy soon. A good trick for larger groups is to search for one ticket only. When you look for flights for 9, you’ll be bumped to the one fare category that has 9 tickets available at the same price (they don’t give you the 4 tickets that may be a lower price (it’s just a technology gap that hasn’t yet been fixed in the travel industry). Try searching for smaller numbers of tickets – I would bet you’ll find lower prices. This makes the streamlined and tidy “one ticket for all” impossible, but it may procide you significant savings to cobble it together.

Post a Comment