The Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets

Amanda Fox24 Mar, 2016

By Stacey Rice, logistics coordinator

Sunday marked the official start of spring. Flowers are blooming, leaf buds are opening, and temperatures are warming. With that, millions of travelers are beginning to think about their summer plans, including Adventure Treks families looking to book cost-effective plane tickets for their child’s trip! But what day of the week is the best day to buy? And how far in advance will you find the best price?

A report published in December 2015 suggests that while some days of the week are better than others (with Friday being the worst), there is really no one best day to purchase cheaper plane tickets, and travelers should grab a good deal when they see one. The report also suggests that for travel within North America, the best time to buy is roughly 57 days in advance.

Timing is everything

Years ago, most airline executives would spend Mondays analyzing the number of seats sold over the weekend. They would then create advertising campaigns based on those numbers, and consumers could always count on seeing the lowest airfare prices of the week published in Tuesday’s papers. As Internet ticket-buying sites emerged, this practice continued, and low airfare prices would sometimes spill over into early Wednesday morning. Now, it seems, those days are long gone.

The report, “Preparing for Takeoff: Air travel outlook for 2016,” is a joint effort by Expedia and Airlines Reporting Corp. (ARC) to look at global airline data annually and to forecast the year ahead. Online giant Expedia and ARC (which processes tickets bought through traditional travel agencies) analyzed more than 10 billion passenger flights from October 2014 to October 2015.

While Tuesday remains a relatively decent day to purchase lower-cost tickets (and is still usually the best weekday), you’re more likely to find the best prices on Saturday and Sunday. But shy away from Fridays, as this is when business travelers are booking last-minute tickets and fares are typically most expensive. Sarah Waffle Gavin, who writes for Expedia’s travel blog Viewfinder™, summarized the report in her December 10, 2015 blog “Air Travel Trends for 2016”:

“Of course there are mitigating factors. Most analyses show low air ticket prices on weekend days because that’s when many leisure travelers purchase tickets (and leisure tickets are much cheaper than business tickets). What’s more, airlines change their fares multiple times a day. With all of this in mind, Expedia and ARC advise that travelers who find a fare that looks like a great deal to purchase it, regardless of the day of the week.”

Be an early bird

The report also suggests that booking early is often the biggest factor in scoring low-cost tickets. “The sweet spot is about two months before departure. The study found the lowest-priced economy tickets for a flight within North America were sold, on average, 57 days before departure,” said Scott McCartney in his review of the report in The Middle Seat column, published in the Wall Street Journal on December 11, 2015, “The Worst Day to Buy a Plane Ticket.”

Waffle Gavin further points out that “the research indicates that air ticket prices purchased around this point yield a 10 percent savings versus the average fare.”

In McCartney’s column, he cites Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at Hopper (the only travel app to make Apple’s Best Apps of 2015 list), as seeing “benefits in buying even earlier than 57 days on domestic trips. On many flights tracked by Hopper, the cheapest prices for domestic U.S. trips are about 80 days before departure.”

Regardless of whether tickets are booked two or three months out, the experts tend to agree that this time period often produces the cheapest options, because airlines typically begin their price-cutting measures during this time.

Parting tips

With the first 2016 Adventure Treks opening day roughly only 3 months away, now’s the time to begin the search. These days, sales are short-lived and often restrictive. While looking for the best deal possible, be wary of sales that seem too good to be true; they usually are. Rick Seaney writes a tips and advice blog for tracking site FareCompare. In his January 18, 2016, blog “Cheapest Days to Fly and Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets,” he offers these tips: compare prices and set airfare alerts. And expand the search. “Bigger airports (particularly hubs) often have cheaper airfares. Compare prices from your hometown airport as well a larger airport and you may find a longer drive is worth it,” he said.


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