When Should I Buy My International Airline Ticket?

Planning an international trip is a dream for many of us, and purchasing airline tickets is usually the most expensive part of your vacation! To get an affordable flight, acquaint yourself with the international segment of our When to Buy Flights study.

international when to buy airfare study

International airfare is not one-size-fits-all. Every region of the world looks a little bit different and has its own quirks. But we’ve done the work of tracking 917,000,000 airfares this past year, covering thousands of markets, to help you find low cost international flights.

For each trip, we studied all the possible days someone might purchase a ticket – so we can provide you with the insight to make an informed decision.

In this report we look at:

• The best timeframe to buy your international flight
• Seasonality – the most and least expensive months to travel
• The best days of the week to fly internationally

The Differences in International vs. Domestic Airline Tickets

To start, most airlines publish international fares almost a year out. That’s a huge window to consider when you’re looking to buy affordable airfare.

While domestic US flights have a slight cost penalty for those making ultra-early bookings, this year, the trend for most international destinations indicates that buying on the very early side isn’t going to burn you (in most cases). That’s great news, since buying early will give you the most choice in seat availability and “good” itineraries (those with attractive connection times and numbers of connections).

Some regions have quite a wide window in which to find a great airfare deal – as long as you don’t wait until the last 3 weeks before a trip to buy, when prices spike. Here’s a deep dive into exactly what you need to know, region by region:

when to buy your international airline ticket

World Regions and When to Buy

Canada
Our neighbors to the north usually have a similar “best day to buy” as the U.S., but this year it pays to book out a little bit earlier than in the past. The official “Best Day to Buy” has moved to almost 4 months out from your travel dates. And with Canada being a popular winter and summer destination, plan even earlier for those peak times.

Prime Booking Window: 43 days to 10.5 months before departure
Best time to buy: About 115 days out from your travel date
The average airfare: $415
Cheapest months to travel: January and October
Most expensive months to travel: July and December
Least expensive day of the week to fly: Tuesday, Wednesday
Seasonality: Summer travelers to Canada should start their search early – around 8.5 months out isn’t too early to score a good deal.

Mexico
Airfares to Mexico are holding steady. Mexico’s best day to buy is right about the same as the domestic numbers – just about 2.5 months from your planned departure. Keep in mind Mexico is popular as a destination around the Christmas holidays, so you’ll want to start your search earlier if you want to have a Feliz Navidad!

Prime Booking Window: 21 days to just under 10 months before departure
Best time to buy: About 80 days out from your travel date
The average airfare: $451
Cheapest month to travel: September
Most expensive month to travel: December
Least expensive day of the week to fly: Tuesday, Wednesday
Seasonality: Mexico is pretty consistent year round, with summer actually being the month that you can probably afford to wait to buy. Just over 2 months from your travel dates seems to offer the best prices for summer travel.

Caribbean
Flights to the Caribbean have remained relatively stable from last year which is great news for travelers looking to make their way back after the devastating hurricanes of 2017.

Prime Booking Window: 21 days 238 days before departure
Best time to buy: About 99 days out from your travel date
The average airfare: $566
Cheapest month to travel: September
Most expensive month to travel: December
Least expensive day of the week to fly: Tuesday, Wednesday
Seasonality: If you’re planning a trip in the summer, try to start your search around 7 months out to see some good prices.

Central America
With more North Americans opting for destinations closer to home, it shouldn’t be surprising that Central America is a bit more expensive than it was last year. It’s an embarrassment of cultural and sporting riches – take a trip now, before the prices spike further.

Prime Booking Window: 20 days to 202 days before departure
Best time to buy: About 78 days out from your travel date
The average airfare: $624
Cheapest month to travel: September
Most expensive month to travel: December
Least expensive day of the week to fly: Wednesday, Tuesday
Seasonality: Central America’s seasons don’t have too much volatility, though if you’re planning a trip around Christmas it might be a good idea to start your search at least 4 months out.

South America
South America is hot, hot, hot in 2019 and the rising prices (up $136 since last year) are an indicator that you better get there soon! Luckily, these airfares are not terribly volatile – which means whether you buy 10.5 months or 4 weeks out, you’re likely to score a deal!

Prime Booking Window: 23 days to 321 days before departure
Best time to buy: About 84 days out from your travel date
The average airfare: $981
Cheapest month to travel: October
Most expensive month to travel: December
Least expensive day of the week to fly: Wednesday, Tuesday
Seasonality: Traveling in summer? Make sure to book very early – you should start shopping nearly 10.5 months out to find the best bargains.

Europe
Europe’s prices have held pretty steady from last year, so at least there shouldn’t be many surprises on the overall flight cost. Keep in mind that large gateways like London and Paris that offer many daily international flights offer the best value, while cities in central and eastern Europe are a bit most costly. July is peak tourist season, so be prepared to pay a premium for travel during this busy month. To grab the biggest flight discounts, plan on flying in February.

Prime Booking Window: 59 days to just over 10 months before departure
Best time to buy: About 200 days out from your travel date
The average airfare: $1,158
Cheapest month to travel: February
Most expensive month to travel: July
Least expensive day of the week to fly: Tuesday, Wednesday
Seasonality: If you’re planning a spring trip to Europe, you can likely afford to wait a little bit before buying. People traveling this time of year get the best fares when they’re right around 2.5 months out from their travel dates.

Africa
This year airfare to Africa has gone up slightly – but not by an overwhelming amount – just over 8%. You’re not going to see much volatility in the fares either. To get a decent deal you can buy anywhere from 112 days to just over 10 months out from your flight. Take advantage of the relative stability of these fares and get that safari or Moroccan dream vacation on the books!

Prime Booking Window: 112 days to 313 days before departure
Best time to buy: About 199 days out from your travel date
The average airfare: $1,405
Cheapest month to travel: February
Most expensive month to travel: July
Least expensive day of the week to fly: Tuesday, Wednesday, Monday
Seasonality: If you plan to travel in either spring or summer, plan to start your flight search almost 10 months out to find the best deals.

South Pacific
South Pacific destination flight prices have continued their downward trajectory – so this year will be a bit less expensive than last year if you choose to go. And since these flights tend to be some of the most expensive, that’s great news for travelers. To score the best flight deals, visit South Pacific destinations in May. December is peak tourist season, so the prices are about 35% more than they would be in May.

Prime Booking Window: 21 days to 321+ days before departure
Best time to buy: About 186 days out from your travel date
The average airfare: $1,667
Cheapest month to travel: May
Most expensive month to travel: December
Least expensive day of the week to fly: Tuesday
Seasonality: Travelers heading to the South Pacific in the fall get the best deals when they book around 1.5 months out! For the rest of the year, you’re better off keeping to 6 months out.

Asia
With countries as diverse as Vietnam, Mongolia, India and China comprising it, Asia is definitely having a travel moment. Many countries in Asia, while expensive to get to, offer great value for the money once you’re on the ground. You can expect to pay about the same price for flights to Asia as you would have last year, and that’s great news considering how popular it’s become.

Prime Booking Window: 71 days to 287 days before departure
Best time to buy: Around 160 days out from your travel date
The average airfare: $1,099
Cheapest month to travel: November
Most expensive month to travel: December
Least expensive day of the week to fly: Tuesday, Wednesday
Seasonality: Summer travelers should be looking around 6.5 months out for the best deals, while autumn travelers can snag deals under 2 months in advance!

Middle East
Prices to destinations around the Middle East have dropped slightly this year, and you have a very wide window in which to take advantage of them.

Prime Booking Window: 83 days to 10.5 months before departure
Best time to buy: Around 196 days out from your travel date
The average airfare: $1,165
Cheapest month to travel: February
Most expensive month to travel: July
Least expensive day of the week to fly: Tuesday
Seasonality: Traveling to Middle Eastern countries in the winter? It’s the time of year you can most afford to wait to buy. The best winter fares to the middle east are available around 4 months out.

If a stateside trip is more in the cards for you this year, be sure to check out the 2019 Domestic Best Time to Buy Airfares Study.

Once you start your search, if you’re hit with sticker shock you might want to explore our monthly payments for flights option on CheapAir.com. Our travel customers love the flexible terms that let you fly now and pay later, to help offset the large out of pocket travel expenses from overseas trips.

Happy international travels!

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56 Comments

  1. I am traveling the Tel Aviv and at the end of June. All legs of the flights appear to be less half full at this time. The airfares are ~$1900 for coach and $5700 for 1st class and have been at this rate for the past several months. With such a low load factor, do you think the fares will decrease within 60 days f departure? We are about 70 days out at present? Thank you!

    1. Hi there, It’s possible that the coach fares will go down (perhaps even likely if the flights stay at this level). Very doubtful that you’ll see movement on the first class fares. The airlines tend to save those unsold first class tickets for loyalty program upgrades OR they upsell the seats at a discount on the day of travel. First class fares tend to be fairly stable/not volatile for this reason.

  2. I assume your study is only for fares originating in the US? Have you ever looked at best times if you are starting somewhere else (e.g. Canada)?

    1. Hi there, Yes our study is based on flights originating in the U.S. We have thought about looking at other origins – Canada would be the logical next place to research as we do have some customers from our neighbors to the north. We’ll keep you posted when and if we add that to our data set. Thank you for the question!

  3. To Barcelona, from Denver. Later part of June, gone about 14 to16 days for 2 Adults over 65 and three children under 17

    1. Hi Alfonso, Please get on buying those tickets soon. You’re looking to buy tickets in the most expensive time of the summer (July). If you’re hoping to all sit together on your flight, you already might have a little trouble grabbing reasonably priced tickets. The best fares I’m finding for your approximate dates from Denver (with one 6 hour layover) start at around $1,200. One other option might be for you to price out tickets to New York separately and then price out tickets from New York to Barcelona. For example, I see there is a nonstop flight available for just under $700. If we price a flight from Denver to JFK they come in around $300. So you could save $200 pricing out the itinerary this way. Let us know if you’d like me to look at more specific dates/flights for you.

  4. Mi experiencia de compra para mi viaje el trato de venta fue excelente, el vuelo fue bueno el trato muy bueno pero la comodidad de los asientos Don incómodos y sin televisión para distraerse. Por lo demás muy bueno.

    1. Hi Victoria, Can you share what city pairs you’re considering and the specific dates so we can better look into this question for you?

  5. I also discovered code share flights can be priced differently on each partner. An example a R/T from PHX-LHR on American was just under $1100 on British Airways it was $100 more but on code share partner Finnair it was just over $600! Same flight. It paid to check on a website where all code share partners are priced for viewing.

    1. Hi Sunny, This is not something that should be happening (in fact, it’s one of the reasons that code shares exist – so that across the network they can standardize fares). I did check with one of our data experts who says that this CAN happen occasionally, but that its an aberration rather than a strategy on the part of the airlines.

    1. I’m not sure Mario. Can you share the city pairs and dates you are considering so we can better look into this for you?

  6. HI,
    Looking for SFO to Paris Aug 26 -Dec 30 wondering when to buy, prices right now are super expensive, hoping that they are going to go down. Is the price high because of the long stay?
    Thanks

    1. Hi Carrie, Actually, before I checked the fares I would have guessed that the price is likely high because you’re flying in summer AND one of the busiest weeks of the year (the week between Christmas and New Years). But now that I’ve had a chance to look at dates, I see that the fares are actually quite good. There are connecting flight (with one stop) fares in the ballpark of $600. The best fares from SFO are generally in the $480 range (but not in the summer or Christmas week), so your prices are actually quite reasonable. Now, if you’re looking for nonstop fares, the prices jump quite a bit for your dates (prices start at $923 on Air France).

  7. Hi, My family & I plan to travel to Athens, Greece this summer for 18 days. 3 aduts (1 adult 70 yrs old) & a 7 yr old child. We are flexible on dates betw June 15- Aug 4. Have looked @ booking separate flights from east coast of FL to another US city then to Greece and roundtrip from FL to Greece. Do you have a suggestion which route would be best. Seems to be a lot of extra charges for luggage etc which adds up.
    Thanks for your help.

    1. Hi Debbie, When yoi say east coast of Florida are you talking Jacksonville? Miami? Your best fares out of the country to Greece are from JFK in New York. During the summer months you can generally get fares within your date range for around $850-950. The thing is, if you’re flying from Miami, it’s probably going to be a wash to fly to New York and then on to Athens. Though the flights out of Miami are significantly higher ($1,100 or so for your dates), that’s still a more convenient itinerary than flying through New York and likely won’t save you much money. If you’re flying from another regional airport on Florida’s east coast, we might need to do a little more research to see what the best plan might be for you. Please let us know.

    1. Hi Prisco, To where are you traveling and from which airport? Are you looking for assistance in booking or researching flights?

  8. Can you address ‘open jaw’ tickets best prices? We are traveling Orlando to Vancouver, and returning Anchorage to Orlando. Also, next Spring we are planning to travel either Orlando or Daytona to Rome, Italy, and returning from Barcelona. Thanks.

    1. Hi Lora, These days, one way fares are often just as economical as round trips. Can you share specific dates that we could research for you?

  9. When is the best time to buy a cheapest ticker to travel to Lima_Peru from Johannesburg _ South Africa for Nov to end of Jan. Thank you

    1. Hi Laura Our specialty is outbound flights from North America (where we have most of our customers), but generally speaking its probably a good bet to buy your flights sooner rather than later – definitely by the end of summer. Watching the fares over the summer is going to be a good idea – if you see incremental bumps in the fares (even just a bit), that generally shows that the lower priced tickets on the flights you’re watching are selling out.

  10. Looking for the cheap price from Tokyo Narita to Raleigh Durham NC
    When is the time to Boom for Best Cheap Price
    Flight From July 27 to August 28 Round trip for 3 persons 1 adult 2 youth or From August 1, to August 30

    1. Hi Catherine, The prices for your travel dates are better leaving July 27 to August 28, and the overall flight times with connections seem to be better at that time too. You can get a ticket for around $1470 (in August the fares are looking like they are $100=200 more with worse connection and flight times).

  11. Do you have any recommendations specific to Thailand? I’d likely be flying out of PHL but could swing an NYC airport if it made a big difference. I’d be looking to stay for about a month in Dec/Jan timeframe (to get the most out of my vacation time by combining end of one year with beginning of another)

  12. Hi! I’ve been looking at flights from LAX to Paris for Feb 17-28. I want business class (seat lies flight) and direct flights. I’ve been seeing flights $3200-3800. Is that a good price? Or should I wait until closer to the date?
    Do you think it would be a good idea to buy coach and then ask for an upgrade on the day of the trip? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Cathy, We can’t recommend buying coach and then upgrading. Frankly, what typically happens on the day of the flight is that the airlines give those upgrades to their frequent flyer/loyalty program members. You’re much better off buying business class tickets in advance. There’s a lot less volatility with business class, which means you won’t often take a hit in price if you wait to buy, BUT those sleeper tickets will usually sell out. You do tend to pay a bit of a premium when buying early (around 20% more than the lowest published price during the lifespan of a fare), but LAX to CDG is a popular route and I wouldn’t gamble if you want that seat. The flight will very likely sell all of those seats. Good luck to you.

  13. Why is a RT flight from london heathrow $400 to louisville ky in october 2019 but a RT flight from louisville ky to london heathrow at the same time is $2100? is the us traveller paying the freight for the world travel market?

    1. The market for visitors to London is larger than the market to Louisville. Having said that, $2100 seems very high. Can you share what airline/itinerary is returning this fare? We see fares well under $1,000 for October, Louisville to London.

  14. Travelling Los Angeles to Buenos Aires Sept 27 thru Oct 13. Flights are running about $988 right now. Should I wait or buy now? Thanks

    1. Hi Linda, We’re pretty close to the “best time to buy” for South America right now. $988 isn’t a bad price for your dates – I’d probably buy now if you’ve been watching a while and fares seem pretty stable (or they are starting to creep up). The fares are definitely going to start to climb by the end of July – you want to get the best price available? I’d buy soon!

  15. We are looking for SEA to SJD for the week of Thanksgiving, Nov 24-Dec1. Prices seem really high right now, is it better to wait a little longer or will the holiday week only make things more expensive?

    1. Hi Karla,

      It is recommended to buy early when traveling during the peak holidays, but we’d say you still have some time to keep shopping. How many travelers? That can really impact when to buy. Ultimately I’d just make sure you’re ready to buy if you see your flights drop though. Keep in mind, when you purchase flights with CheapAir.com 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! This can help eliminate your concerns about overpaying early, because if that flight does drop, you can get a voucher from us. Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights. We’re here to help you.

  16. My family (4adults, 1child) is looking to fly LAX to Tokyo the end of May, and because we have a specific day we would need to arrive, should I wait until the 6 month mark to see if prices change or book now? They are currently at $560 for a one way ticket and I’m not sure if that’s a good price. Thank you for such a helpful travel blog!!

  17. Are the “average airfare” prices listed above for each world region for one-way or round trip tickets?

    Also, I just purchased a ticket from Austin to Singapore yesterday (one-way) for $614, but on the way back I intend to stop through Maui, for which the one-way price is $880 (correction, was $880 just 30 minutes ago, now is $788); then the flight from Maui to Austin is currently $277 right now. Is this difference in price ($614 and $1065) just due to Maui being a hot spot tourist destination? And should I jump on the $788 flight from Singapore to Maui?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Might help to have the dates:

      Austin to Singapore flight was for 12/28/19.
      Singapore to Kahului (Maui) flight is for 1/19/20.
      Kahului to Austin flight is for 1/28/20.

    2. All of our airfare prices are round trip. Singapore is a major business travel destination so flights are plentiful and cheap. If you’re connecting in LA Or SFO, those are the best-priced flights you can get from the states. I think you’ll likely see much fluctuation in pricing. Hawaii is a popular destination in the winter – though if you were going for Christmas it would be even more. The prices that youre seeing are reasonable. Hop on them soon!

  18. I’m trying to plan a trip to Australia in February 2020 for about 3 to 4 weeks. I would like to start in Cairns for a few days then fly to Melbourne. I can fly out of Philadelphia pa but most of the flights start from Los Angeles and the domestic flights aren’t on their website this far out. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Anna Marie, which domestic flights are you not seeing? In general, most US airlines should have their Feb flights listed. If you’re referencing the Australian flights, those might take a bit of research on your end. In any event, you’d be buying separate tickets for the Aussie flights – it might help to reach out to an Aussie travel agent to see if you can bundle in-country flights for a better overall price). I believe Qantas has an “exporer” ticket that lets you get multiple flights around the country for one low price, but it sounds like that might be more than you need. If the Aussie flights aren’t published yet, it still makes more sense to buy your flights to and from Australia now. Also, and this is just adding another layer to the decision-making process. The flights from LA to Cairns will probably be (sometimes significantly) less expensive. If you’re the kind of traveler who wants to put her bags on the plane in Philly and then pick them up when you get off the plane at your final destination, this won’t be ideal for you. But a flight from PHL to LAX booked separately will probably still save you a few hundred dollars.

  19. Planning a trip to Italy in June 2020 for 4 adults. I have been researching different airports. Can you offer any advice on when to purchase tickets and maybe what the cheapest airport is to fly into? Thanks!

    1. Cassia, it will depend a little on which airline you’re departing from in the States, but in general Rome offers the best/lowest fares. There are more flights in and out of Rome (Milan has quite a few flights as well, but that is more business travel), and Rome will always beat destinations like Venice and Florence in price. Can you share what city you’re departing from? Then I could get you more personalized recommendations.

    1. Hi Corrine, You are traveling during spring break. To get the best prices you should definitely start a search now. Flights will get very expensive the longer you wait.

  20. We (9 adults) are going on a trip to Rome, Italy on May 10 through May 22, 2020, to catch a cruise (leaves on Wed. 5/13-5/20). We have been searching for nonstop flights out of Miami or Fort Lauderdale, but every time I search the prices get higher. Could you please offer advice on when to purchase tickets? Will they have more nonstop flights later? We are looking for economy and the most comfortable seats as we are all a bit overweight. Thank you very much!

    1. Hi Janet, the problem for you is that if you’re searching for 9 tickets, you’re not going to get the best price. The airlines default to the fare where you can get all of the tickets when you’re shopping online, That means there could be 4 or 5 tickets available at a lower price (sometimes much lower), but the airline is only going to show you the tickets that are available for 9. You’re better off shopping in small groups. And if you are looking for seats with more space, you will definitely end up paying a premium. Your other issue is that you’re looking for nonstops. Nonstops always sell out first (everyone wants them). So for that reason alone, I would say don’t wait. A nonstop flight is not going to suddenly offer sales. Shop soon for the most choice.

  21. Best time to buy tickets from Charlotte to Naples, Italy – May 9 to 17? Should I buy now or wait until Jan after holidays?

    1. Hi Anna, You’re probably okay waiting until after the holidays, but we’d recommend keeping at least a weekly eye on the fares in case they start to creep upwards. Once you see fares start a steady climb, it’s best to jump onboard. Incremental bumps in price means the lower priced tickets are selling out.

  22. Hello I would like to thank you ALL for ALL your help. I would love to be able to travel from PDX to Managua Aug.24th
    and return Sept. 1st , 2020 . Are there more direct flights ? I don’t see hardly any from PDX straight down, it’s always all the way over to Dallas or Miami and then down… Kooky…Thank you!
    P.S. also when to buy?

    1. Hi Johnny, Unfortunately coming from PDX you’re going to have to contend with connecting flights. The flights with 2 connections are priced better than the flight with one connection (people are pleased to pay extra for the added convenience of a more direct flight). It does look like Los Angeles has one nonstop a week, but that Dallas has 4 – which is why for your travel dates you’re routed through there.

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