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. Hello,
    We are planning a trip to Croatia & Slovenia in September 2020. I have my eye on Lufthansa open jaws flights from Seattle to Dubrovnik (LH489 & LH1710), and Ljubliana to Seattle (LH1697 & LH488).

    The dates of our trip are September 4-26, 2020, and we’d like to fly in Premium Economy class.

    Right now the seats are about $2500pp. Should we buy now, or wait?

    • Hi Susan, It’s hard to say for sure but generally speaking, September is a less busy time of year for Croatia (at least its tapering off from the insane crowds of the summer). In addition, premium airfare tends to not be as volatile as Economy fares. However, on longer haul flights, the premium seats are almost certainly going to sell out, since people like to be comfortable when they’re flying a good distance. Our conservative advice would be to not wait too much longer. The fares aren’t likely to get more expensive if you wait, but they could sell out.

  2. Hi, im planning to travel to tokyo next year. Im flying from LAX to HND (tokyo – haneda airport) roundtrip. I want to leave on October 31 (saturday) and leaving tokyo on November 6 (friday). Im also interested in buying premium economy so i know its not the cheapest. Do you know when is the best time to start buying my flight? Also idk if this is helpful but 2 weeks ago the tickets were cheaper but now they went up $200. Im afraid the prices just might increase as time goes by.

    • Hi Allie, this is a reasonable concern. If you see fares start an incremental climb, it does usually mean those fares aren’t going to be coming back down. We like to recommend people buy when they see a fare start to make small jumps. $200 is not small, but on a long haul flight you can assume that the premium economy fares will sell out (people tend to be willing to pay a little more for the comfort on a longer flight). It ight be a little bit early to buy, but we wouldn’t disapprove if you started a search now!

  3. Looking for 2 coach tickets from Newark to Rome for Feb 13-21 2020. Have been monitoring UA with 1 stop going- nonstop returning and it seems they are slowly rising (up to $550 now as opposed to $398 2 weeks ago). Could that be due to the holidays and they may drop again, or should we book now? Know we are pretty much smack dab in the middle of the travel “sweet spot” with it being about 90 days out but I was hoping it would stay at the low 400’s for a while. You think it will drop again or continue to rise? It is Friday now, does that make a difference in the higher prices posted?

  4. 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?

    • 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.

      • Thank you for your assistance. Sorry for my confusion…Should I wait to purchase ? Flights are at around $678 …thank you

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

    • 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.

  6. 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!

    • 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.

    • 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.

  7. 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!

    • 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.

  8. 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?

    • 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.

  9. 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!

    • 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.

    • 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!

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