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When Is the Best Time to Buy the Cheapest Airline Ticket?

Airlines and Aviation

Airline tickets usually go on sale about 11 months before the airplane departs, and the price changes an average of 70 times. So when is the best time to buy your ticket in order to get the cheapest air fare?

Book your low cost airfare with CheapAir.com

Aviation lufthansa in flight female passenger with app
Passengers flying on Lufthansa German Airlines can now book flights in flight thanks to an iPad app. Photo Credit: Lufthansa German Airlines.

Air travel used to be so simple. An airline advertised a fare. If you liked the price, you bought a ticket. If you didn't, you didn't.

Sometimes there were Red Eye specials - with tickets for flights scheduled at off hours sold at a discount. And sometimes there were special promotions. But basically a price was a price.

Nowadays prices don't only vary according to when you fly. They also vary according to when you buy.

Based on an analysis of nearly 5 million trips on 15,000 routes in 2014, CheapAir.com determined that ticket prices changed an average of 70 times from the time that tickets went on sale, which is usually about 11 months in advance, and the date of departure.

And contrary to what you might think, buying early does NOT usually result in a lower fare. Prices generally decline slowly but surely over the first few months. And then they rise sharply just before departure.

Informed Decisions

"When you buy your flight makes a huge difference," says CheapAir.com CEO Jeff Klee.

"No one wants to find that the person sitting next to them on a flight paid US$100 less for their ticket. We spend a lot of time collecting and analyzing fare data so our customers can make more informed decisions."

The difference between buying high and buying low averages a whopping US$201! For a family of 4, we're talking serious money!

So when is the best time to buy an airline ticket? For domestic tickets within the United States, the opportune time is between 27 and 114 days before departure, or one to 4 months.  CheapAir calls that the nearly 4 month period a 'prime booking window'.

The difference being the opening price and the lowest price averages US$50.

"Way more often than not, the best fare for a domestic trip will be offered at some point during that window," Jeff says.

Whenever possible, travellers should always try to buy tickets more than 14 days before departure and never within 7 days of departure, when the price tends to jump by US$174 on average.

Holiday Periods

There are, however, some exceptions.

Flights around holiday periods such as Easter, summer, Thanksgiving, and Christmas tend to sell out early - especially if they are to popular holiday travel destinations such as Florida or Hawaii.

For Hawaii, it's usually advisable to buy tickets as early as possible.

With international travel, it is wiser to book earlier than with domestic travel within the United States. But the advice for different parts of the world varies wildly.

For travel from the United States to Latin America, tickets should be purchased 96 days in advance. To Europe, it is 276 days. To Mexico, it is 251 days. To Asia it is 318 days.

CheapAir advises travellers to check often, looking for a good deal, but not holding out for the absolute lowest price.

You have no way of knowing for sure which way prices will go, so if you see a good price you should jump on it lest prices go up rather than down.

I don't know about anyone else, but I liked it better before. I find it tedious having to key in date after date in search of the cheapest fare. All I want to know is, "How much does a ticket to Bangkok cost?"

I would prefer to start with the cheapest fare and then find a date that suits me rather than the other way around. But that only works it you are flexible, which I usually am.

Sometimes I just don't go. Nobody likes to feel ripped off.

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