Lonely Planet Writer

The best time to book to save money on flights in the US

There’s so much advice on how to score a cheap flight, it can be hard to know which to follow. But, since avid travellers are likely to try anything for a deal, it’s worth considering the results of yet another airfare study.

Data can help you find the best deal on flights. Image by Hero Images/Getty Images

The latest recommendations come from CheapAir.com’s 2018 Annual Airfare Study, which analyses millions of airfares to find the prime booking windows for getting the best deal. According to the company, flight prices change as often as 62 times – or about once every five or six days. That means, week-by-week you could be facing a different price for the same flight. In fact, each fluctuation was an average increase or drop of $36.

But, if you want to use historical data to try and get the best deal for flights in the continental US, in 2017, 70 days in advance was the best time to book. That’s a bit higher than the previous year when the best time to book was 54 days in advance. However, those numbers are averages, so it’s not a perfect formula for success. Finding the best time to book a flight is based on a number of factors, so the company tried to find different windows that will help guide travellers to the best deal.

Save money on the flight you want. Image by ©normalfx/Getty Images

The first window is what CheapAir.com calls “First Dibs”. While being an early bird might seem like a good idea, buying a ticket 169 to 319 days (or six to 11 months) in advance, flights will actually cost about $50 more on average. If you book 112 to 168 days before travelling or about four to six months, you will pay about $20 more on average. However, you will have the peace of mind of having a ticket in hand. But, if you can hold off, the prime booking window comes between 21 and 121 days in advance – or between three weeks and four months. While that’s a pretty big window, it’s your best bet for getting a cheap flight, as fares will generally hover within 5% of their lowest price.

After that, the gambling begins. About 14 to 20 days in advance, fares will start to rise, and between seven and 13 days in advance it will become even harder to get a deal. The absolute worst time is what CheapAir.com calls the “Hail Mary” period of less than a week in advance, where travellers are likely to pay $208 more per ticket than in the prime booking period. There are still more factors that will impact prices, like season and the day of the week that you depart. Learn more here.

Travellers in the UK may see different price fluctuations, but thankfully online travel agency Opodo ran the numbers for travellers leaving the UK and found just how many days in advance they should be booking.