Most of the time, we recommend thrifty consumers wait a bit to purchase airline tickets – somewhere between 2 and 4 months is the typical “sweet spot” for domestic tickets, with the average best fare around 54 days from travel dates. Of course, there is an exception to every rule, and here’s a good one for you to wrap your head around: sometimes the lowest fare is not the best value.

family reunion

Now, you might be saying, “Wait a minute. Didn’t you just tell me to book between 2 and 4 months to save the most cash?” Why, yes! In fact, we did. But…

There are events in which the cheapest ticket might not be the best ticket. Let me explain. We tell people in our latest domestic “When to Buy” study to think about purchasing 6.5 to 11 months out when maximizing your flight options is most important to you. Some people just like to have the most choice – in flight itineraries, in available seating, in flight times, etc. – so we choose to call this time period of premium options the very apropos “First Dibs” zone.

But there are other situations when you might want to be thinking “first dibs” rather than “bargain basement,” and we’ve got a handy shortlist of just those occasions. There are the usual suspects – people who need to travel around the Christmas holiday, the Fourth of July holiday, and both Memorial Day and Labor Day already know they best be shopping early – the decent fares will be long gone if they wait too close to their travel dates. In addition, more and more airlines consider window and aisle seats an upgrade, not something you can just request. So when they’re gone, guess what? They are gone with a capital G. Here are a few occasions you might want to book well in advance.

Your Favorite Grandchild’s College Graduation
May and June are popular times to travel because it’s graduation season. Flights will fill. Oftentimes you may be traveling with family and friends and coordinating itineraries and seats. Buy early to make sure everyone’s preferences are respected.

Your Honeymoon
True, you’re not shopping for a large group of travelers. But here’s the thing. There are few tried-and-true special occasions in this life, but getting hitched is definitely one of them. We have heard of bargain shoppers getting stuck in bad seats on their honeymoon. We have read complaints from newlyweds who had to wave to their spouse across 20 rows and two screaming babies on their flights. Not only will you want to sit together on the plane, you might be ready for some pampering as a “just married” soul. Don’t take your chances by waiting to purchase tickets. If you buy early, you will get a seat assignment. And consider an upgrade in seating. Treat yourself.

destination wedding

Your Destination Wedding
Don’t forget your guests. Please. For the love of the marriage gods, don’t forget them. When you ask people to travel halfway around the world to see you marry the man (or woman) of your dreams, you want to make it easy for them to book flights. Giving people the information 12 months in advance basically puts all of the eggs in their decision-making baskets. Some of them will want to purchase nonstop flights and premium seating. Boom! They’re guaranteed to find the best itineraries early. Some of your guests will harangue you for 4 months about when they should buy, assuming you have insight into the airline ticket pricing machine. That’s okay! You can be absolved of guilt if you remember that they were given the info a full 12 months in advance. Some of your lovely friends might wait until the last minute in hopes of snagging an elusive eleventh-hour sale! Oops – you might want to have them read our international “When to Buy” post, but in any event the onus is on them. If they don’t mind the center seat, four long connections, and/or plan to fly with their bathing suit in a backpack to save baggage costs, more power to them! But seriously, let people know so they can plan as early as possible. It’s just the polite thing to do. Ditto for family reunions and teambuilding weekends!

As always, happy travels.

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  1. Wish to fly from Savannah, Ga to Larnaca, Cyprus in the Month of January 2017. When would be the best time to purchase the ticket. What will be the best price.

  2. Hubby and I need to go to Boston Nov 3 and will return either the 11th or 12th. We leave from Houston. How does the price guarantee work? How long can I wait to purchase to get the best deal?

    • Hi Linda, Our Price Drop Payback policy guarantees the price you paid for a flight up to $100 after you purchase your ticket. So if you bought a ticket for $400 and subsequent to the purchase the price went down to $320, we would issue you a credit for future travel for $80. It’s that simple! Unfortunately, there’s no formula to give you that will guarantee “the best deal” but with Price Drop Payback, you have a very good chance of avoiding overpaying. Good luck to you!

  3. There are two of us traveling into Dublin Ireland in late Aug returning early Sept. Can I find a decent roundtrip airfare that won’t take 24 hours both ways? This is the only time we can go.

    • Hi Ann, Can you share what your originating airport is? I think we can help, but need to know where you are leaving from.

  4. I need three tickets from Syracuse NY to Phoenix AZ from oct 11th thru oct 18th, When should I start looking? I have looked and right now the prices are high for us. Like to leave in the mornings and get to our destination no later than early evening but prefer early afternoon

    • Hi Jack, It looks like WestJet has nonstops but I would need to know approximate dates to narrow down availability for you.

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