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!

75 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.

    2. I’m flying May of 2019 to LHR, now I live near SDF but could drive 4-6 hours away, possiblyATL. Now the question, will Premium Coach prices follow coach or what kind of price movement can I expect?
      Thanks

      1. Hi Glenn, It’s hard to predict for sure but typically the Premium coach fares do sell out quickly. People are inclined to pay a bump in price to secure a little extra leg room. If you go up a class in service to Business, those seats tend to remain open a lot longer (sometimes they don’t sell at all) and the prices are fairly static.

  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. Planning a trip to S Africa in May. Would like to go via Amsterdam in the way there and maybe Munich on the way back. Should I purchase the European part as a round trip and then secure the Europe to Africa piece or am I better to go using the multiple destinations route?

    1. Hi Jamie, The only way to know for sure is to do some different searches to find out the best way to price your particular itinerary. If you’re traveling from a city like New York, you might find that buying the US to Europe portion (and back) is the most affordable way to go. If you send us your departure city we can give you more personalized advice. Best of luck!

  15. 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.

    1. Hi Bill, We tend to not play favorites with the airlines – every airline can be the best if the stars align! We start with the airfare for a particular route. In general, you might find that Alitalia has reasonable rates from JFK.

    1. Hi Annie, What city are you departing form? I can give you better advice if I have departure cities in hand.

  16. When would be the best time to buy 2 tickets out of San Francisco to Spain? The days are flexible, but is planned to last 14 days between January 1-19. Does the average airfare noted in the post of $1,113 apply to Spain specifically? If not, what prices should I be looking for?

    1. Hi Tony, You didn’t say if you were interested in Barcelona or Madrid but the numbers are good either way. Frankly, Barcelona is the best all around deal. You can take a flight on Lufthansa on Jan 1 for as little as $549 (with a 2 hour connection in Munich). Flights to Madrid are almost $1,000 for the same set of dates but if you prefer Madrid, it’s still less than the $1,113 you were looking at anyway. Let us know if you were thinking of a different Spanish city or if you have any other questions regarding these specific flights. Best of luck.

  17. Hi.. me and my brother are leaving out of Chicago and leaving for MJB on Oct 31 to Nov 4. What’s the best time to but our ticket? Your site says 200 days but other sites says 70. I know Tues and Wed are good days to buy.. Should i wait until the middle/end of August?

    1. Hi there, I think your best bet is to look at he specific itinerary you’d like and plan to buy soon. We’re definitely within 200 days but it may be that your particular destination is better to buy on a more short term basis. Our recommendations are meant to be a guide, not a hard and fast rule. I’m not sure what the airport code is for MJB. Can you share and I can possibly give you more specific advice?

  18. We’re heading to Costa Rica in December – Dec 25 – Jan. 3. We know that’s the most popular time to go there but don’t know how far out we should plan to book our flights. Seems like there is ton of availability right now (5 months out). Should we jump on it or can we afford to wait and hope for better pricing?

    1. Hi Kristen, while it’s never an exact science (some itineraries are more popular than others), the last week in December and the first week in January are notoriously difficult to find a deal. To avoid getting sticker shock by waiting, I would definitely aim to buy very soon. Sales do not often happen for these two weeks. In addition, they are priced at a premium straight out of the gate. Then you add in the fact that customers are much more likely to buy a holiday flight at a premium price and you have a recipe for disappointment if you wait. As those lowest priced seats sell down on the plane, what’s left will be less attractive in terms of seat selection AND get more expensive. Buy soon. If you decide to buy with CheapAir.com and our ticket price does go down after your purchase, we refund up to $100 per ticket in the form of a credit for future travel.

  19. Looking for 2 tix from Seattle to Malaga Spain (or nearby) in May 2019. When is it best to buy, still 4-8 months? That’s a big window!

    1. Hi Jackie,

      For international trips, we do recommend booking well in advance. Especially since May in Spain is right before the peak summer season. While the window of 4-8 months is still applicable, we strongly recommend checking the fares daily to get familiar with the pricing. This allows you to get a sense of the pricing so when it does drop, you can act fast and buy. Keep in mind, when you purchase flights with CheapAir if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  20. Thinking of going to Greece mid-last part of May. Family of 3 departing either SEA or PDX and 1 will join from LAX. Would like to fly together but don’t see any flights where we can join. Should we just fly to LAX and then try to fly all together from LAX? when should we purchase our tickets? We are open on when to fly as long is the least expensive. Any ideas?

    1. Hi Alma, I would suggest either meeting in LA or New York. The fares out of JFK to Greece ($800) are going to be the best, though at the moment they are only about $100 less than flying out of LAX ($900). That may change as we get closer to your dates, but I would keep an eye on both to compare. Usually you can get flights to Athens out of JFK for around $500-600 which can’t be beat. However, you are looking to travel at high season, so those prices we’re seeing right now might not come down much.

  21. Thank you so much for compiling this info for us!! My bf and I are planning a trip to St Lucia the end of May 2019 to celebrate his college graduation so of course we are looking and waiting for the best airfare since it’s so expensive! Any helpful hints???! Thank you!

    1. Hi Alicia, Really the best advice we can give is to search early and often for flight deals. The good news for you guys is that high season generally ends at the end of April, so you may be able to snag some good shoulder season fares. You should buy very early if you are the kind of travelers who like to be able to choose their seat from the entire selection of “good seats” on a plane. These days, the lowest priced seats on a plane with “good” characteristics are likely to be a pretty low number of seats. If your main concern is cost, definitely wait for that sweet spot you can find by using our report as a guide and planning to strike as soon as you see a good fare pop up. It doesn’t make much sense to shop until you have the money to buy – otherwise you’ll just be torturing yourself.

  22. Nice data crunching! I’m assuming 2017 and 2018 results are based on data in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Is there any reason why they are not combined?

    1. Hi Cianny, We do studies year over year because different elements do affect fares year over year. Weather events like hurricanes can affect entire regions’ popularity and price and some events (like the Olympics) make certain destinations higher demand than at other times. In addition, various factors like fuel prices and economic health can also push or pull prices higher or lower from year to year. Great question – hope this helps!

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