When you travel internationally, you want the best value for your money. This invariably leads to the question “when should I buy my international airline ticket to get the best deal?” We previously published a comprehensive study on domestic flights which indicated that 54 days in advance is, on average, the best time to buy. But for international flights, the data (and our advice) is different.
To identify the best time to buy that international airline ticket, we crunched the numbers and examined fares for 1,219,825 trips in 2015 from the U.S. to 74 popular destinations outside the country.
Here’s what the data tells us: International flights are an entirely separate, sticky ball of wax, with a lot of different variables at play. From one destination to another, you are hard pressed to do an apples to apples comparison, so we don’t even try. This should come as no real surprise, since every market is unique across the globe. When we break the study down by region, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s no “one size fits all” approach, though the data does show some international destinations benefiting more from long-term planning and others not needing that kind of lead time. Central and South America show the best time to buy at 70 days out from travel dates, which is closest to the domestic 54 day average. Canada and Mexico are also similar to the U.S. market, with 75 days out being the optimal time to purchase airfare to either of our closest neighbors, on average. The best fares to Europe can be found at 4 months out (120 days), and Asian destinations come in at 160 days from travel dates. From here, there’s a jump to 215 days for the Middle East and Africa and then a bump to nearly one year to secure the best fares for the Caribbean (320 days) and Australasia/South Pacific (320 days).
Now that we’ve given you the hard data, there are a few other considerations you should keep top of mind that might cause you to book earlier (or later) than we suggest.
1. Is there a seasonal component to your trip?
You should always be aware of seasonality when booking international airfare. Unlike domestic flights, with international flights there is often a huge disparity between the price during the low tourist season and the high tourist season – high season flights might even be double the price. For most destinations, the high season is our summer and the low season our winter, although for certain sun destinations like the Caribbean and parts of Mexico our winter is actually the peak. One example: European destinations are in high demand during the summer, when U.S. travelers typically make their international plans; so if you’re planning to travel to Italy in August, you might want to start your search even earlier to get the best deal. Flights fill faster in the summer when demand is higher and the “best” itineraries (shorter connection times) and most desirable seats will sell out earlier. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to be able to land an amazing last minute deal to Europe, if you are traveling during the winter when fewer people go.
2. How many people are in your party?
If you’re booking travel for a small group or family, you may want to book especially early when sitting together is a requirement. You might pay a bit more, but you’re more likely to have this luxury if you get the booking in early. If you’re flying solo and have some flexibility in your itinerary (let’s say you’re planning a backpacking trip around Europe), you might be more willing to gamble on nabbing yourself a last minute sale. For example, if you can fly into any European city and have some flexibility with your dates, you might snag a good deal at the last minute, especially out of larger gateway cities like New York that have many daily flights going to the region. Once again, this is really only an option if you’ve got a very loose itinerary to play with.
3. Are there extenuating circumstances that might affect demand and pricing?
This year, Brazil is going to be an interesting case. Typically, Olympic cities see a huge surge in interest and bookings. Therefore prices tend to be higher much earlier. The Zika virus is putting a bit of a damper on plans for American travelers, who do tend to be more conservative and focused on safety when traveling abroad. Turkey’s recent political problems have once again made Turkey a bargain, after years in which it wasn’t.
So there you have it. The best time to buy international airline tickets, broken down by region. Keep in mind, you should always do your homework and check airfares. You can also refer to our When to Buy Flight research which covers a few thousand cities. Although international flight prices tend to be somewhat less volatile than domestic flights, a serious bargain hunter should still be checking fares at least a few times a week to increase the odds of finding a great deal. But we also want to point out that if you’re the traveler who cares more about your airline, times, routing, or in-flight amenities than saving a few bucks, we recommend booking even earlier, when choice is more varied.