When to Book Your Flight for the Best Deal
Life + Money

When to Book Your Flight for the Best Deal

With spring break just around the corner, many Americans are dreaming of lying on the beach or wandering the streets of some of the world’s most charming cities. Some of us are also thinking ahead to our summer travel plans.

Turning those daydreams into reality can be tricky, though, as even travel websites disagree on just when the best time is to book a flight and secure the best deal. If you’re wondering if you’re a tad too late to benefit from the best fares for a spring getaway — or a little too early for the best summer vacation fares — here’s a roundup of the best advice out there.

Related: The Hottest Travel Spots for Americans in 2015

Domestic Flights
The advice from travel websites is all over the map, but the takeaway is pretty clear: booking somewhere between one and two months ahead of time is best.

Every year, CheapAir.com looks at the top 15,000 markets where its customers live and like to fly to — and watches fares between those cities for a full year. On average, the site now recommends booking your domestic trip 47 days in advance of departure, down from 54 days last year.

Kayak.com suggests waiting a little longer and booking flights within North America between four and six weeks in advance. Meanwhile, FareCompare.com says the best time to buy an airline ticket on a domestic flight is between 30 days and three months before departure.

Hopper.com is a little more vague. For spring break, it advises travelers to book at least two weeks in advance for the best deals. If you book only four to 14 days in advance, your ticket price will increase by at least 13 percent, it says.

Related: What Air Travel May Look Like in 2039

Expedia found that for domestic flights, the lowest fares are found 57 days prior to departure. That’s based on the report it released in December in partnership with the Airlines Reporting Corporation.

International Flights
The best deals for traveling out of the country require more advance planning. FareCompare.com found that for international flights, your best bet is to book as early as five-and-a-half months ahead.

Kayak.com breaks down best booking times by destination:

  • Europe: at least six months
  • Africa: two months
  • Asia: five weeks
  • Central America: four to six weeks
  • South America: three to six week
  • Caribbean: two to four weeks

Expedia says the lowest price for international routes was 171 days (or a little less than six months) prior to departure.

Qualifying Factors
Now that you’ve taken notes and marked your calendar for the best times to start searching for fares, keep in mind that many factors go into the final price. “As we have found in years past, the average is the average — but there was a huge variance across all of the five million trips we looked at,” CheapAir.com said in its February report.

Related: Bad Weather Flight Cancellations Cost Americans $2.4 Billion

“For individual trips, the best time to buy varies substantially depending on the destination, time of the year, and travel days. So think of 47 days as a guide, not an exact day you should book.”

CheapAir.com also noted that the risk of booking too late is generally much higher than the risk of booking too early.

Although these numbers are mere indicators, they’re a good reminder to start searching for plane tickets early. With airline consolidation and better use of technology, last-minute deals have largely become a thing of the past.

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