How Far in Advance Should You Book a Flight?
Some say you should book flights on a certain day of the week or a specific time of day. And a few studies have even claimed that you should book your flight exactly X days before departure. Don’t believe any of it.
While there is no concrete rule for when to book a flight, there’s plenty you can do to avoid paying more than you’d like.
Best Time to Book a Flight and When You Can
We’ve said it many times before. A cheap flight can pop up at any time, 24/7, 365 days a year. That being said, airlines tend to have more regular fare sales for off-season travel between 3 weeks and 4 months before the departure date. This doesn’t mean a great price won’t pop-up earlier or later, it’s just the time when airlines are doing all they can to fill seats that haven’t sold yet.
Don’t expect to find last-minute deals though. More often than not, if you wait until less than three weeks before the departure date, you’ll end up paying more. Every fare has its own rules and restrictions and the vast majority of both advertised and unadvertised sale fares require a 7, 14, or 21-day advance purchase with the latter being the most frequent. And prices tend to creep up the longer you wait within 3 weeks before departure. The cheapest long-haul international fare rules sometimes require a 28, 50, or 90-day advance purchase.
Last-minute fares that only require a 3-day advance purchase or no advance purchase requirement at all are usually much higher since they are geared towards business travelers. We do still see some last-minute deals — especially in the off-season — but it’s usually on budget airlines that are not catering to business travelers. That’s not to say a legacy carrier won’t have any last-minute deals. It’s just pretty rare that the lowest available fare on a major airline will be valid for travel within a week of departure.
Related: The Best Time to Book a Flight? Your Top 10 Travel Questions Answered
How Far in Advance Should You Book a Flight for Holidays?
If you’re traveling for a special event or holiday, it may be best to book as early as possible. Airlines will usually price fares around the major holidays higher as soon as they are available for sale, but might not be aware of certain events like sporting events, concerts, or conventions when the schedules are loaded. Of course, if you book way in advance, you’ll want to be fairly certain that your plans won’t change. Most Basic Economy fares cannot be changed — even for a fee — so if something comes up, you’ll have to just eat the cost of the ticket that you can no longer use.
In short, the best time to book a flight is when its cheap or there has been a significant drop in price. Anyone who claims to give a specific time frame for advanced booking is simply giving false hope that you’ll definitely find a good deal if you book at that certain time. Stats are great, but reporting average pricing data for advanced bookings and saying that exactly x days before your flight is the best time to book is bad advice.
Instead, start looking for a deal as soon as flights become available to book. This is a solid strategy and since schedules are published, you’ll always know when you can book a flight on your favorite Southwest airline. Track prices for your dates and get to know what the normal price is and be ready to pounce when it drops, because the price can (and usually does) go back up very quickly.