UPDATE: This international airfare study has the most current information on when to buy flights. 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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75 Comments

  1. Hi, I’d like to travel to Europe from Brazil next spring (thinking about maybe April?) and spend three months there. Could you recommend the cheapest city or country to choose as a destination? Since I’ll visit different countries I could plan my trip starting anywhere. Also, when should I buy the tickets? Is January a secure month to get a nice price? Or is it better to buy them in October? Thank you in advance!

    • Hi Maria, which city are you flying from and which countries do you plan to visit? There are generally a lot of good airfares to Peru, Colombia and other South American countries depending on where you are flying from in the U.S. Thanks

  2. Hi! Looking to book a July Trip from BOS to GCM. Prices look pretty good right now, however i think the data is saying i should wait. Any insight is appreciated! 🙂

    • Hi Jamie, As you know, COVID-19 has thrown regular air travel into a period of uncertainty. WE anticipate when regular travel should come back online, that you’ll find very good prices for flights. For now, if you prefer to buy, the airlines are offering liberal change and cancellation policies to help offset any uncertainty about flying later this year.

      • HI! I’m not sure if you’re still replying to comments on this thread but I really appreciate your efforts!

        My friends and I are planning a trip for 3 people to China, Japan, and Taiwan (and maybe Korea for a day) during the summer of 2021 for our senior trip. We’re planning around a month from June to July, however due to COVID19 we have no idea when to plan or how to plan this trip at all, however since this trip is a long one we would like to get the cheapest prices.

        How do you think COVID19 is going to affect airline prices when travel resumes? (although travel has still been quite prevalent right now) and how early should we look into booking our tickets? For us at least everything is still up in the air so we’re pretty confused. Thank you!

        • Hi Franklin, thanks for reaching out. COVID-19 has made it harder to gauge airfare trends. On one hand, airlines have lowered fares to encourage travel, on the other hand, they are reducing flights due to lowered demand so that there is less inventory and that can cause fares to increase. For a big trip, for next summer, we would probably stay close to our original predictions of buying 6 months out. We would encourage you to start looking at airfares so that you get an idea of fares to the places you will be visiting. You can track fares on our site. Be prepared to be flexible. Also, remember, if you purchase on our site, and the airfare goes down on your itinerary after your purchase, we will give you a voucher of up to $100 per person.

  3. Hello and thanks for all of this information! In your South Pacific section it says: “Travelers heading to the South Pacific in the fall get the best deals when they book around 1.5 months out!” Is that fall for the northern hemisphere or southern? I am looking to travel in October. 1.5 months seems very close for such a large trip, not sure I can handle that. Is 3 months any better than 6?

    • Hi Jake, Yes that data point is for outbound US travel only. And to be honest, it may very well be different this year. Our International Report for 2020 isn’t our just yet, but we do always like to remind people that these averages fares are based on the lowest priced seat at that time. If you do wait closer to your travel date, you’ll be getting the last seats that weren’t scooped up. And on a long haul flight, you might want a seat with extra leg room or not get stuck in a center seat. Hope this helps!

  4. I have a bit of a complicated one: I need a one way ticket from Jax to Beijing that I need to use United miles for (I already have a return flight left over from separate travel), and my girlfriend Needs a ticket that leaves from Jax to Beijing and is open Jaw returning from Tokyo. So far we just can’t find a flight even connecting through NYC that we can both get on for the overseas flight that’s available and affordable.

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