As anyone who’s ever tried to find the absolute cheapest airfares knows, it’s darn near impossible.
No matter where you go to search – be it Expedia or Priceline or the airlines themselves – the prices can vary, sometimes wildly. And once you find one and decide to act on it, sometimes you’re surprised with junk fees that could steal, not seal, the deal.
In its 9th annual Airfare Study, CheapAir.com took a look at 917 million flight prices in more than 8,000 markets across the United States to determine the best times to buy domestic airline tickets. Its goal was to provide travelers with all the insights necessary to navigate the myriad of fare search engines and predictors and get the best airfare value.
Start your search months before
If you really want to find the best deal on a domestic fare, the study suggests that you start at least 70 days out, but that the booking window that offers the lowest flight prices is a bit wider at approximately 1.5 to 5.5 months before departure.
“This is slightly earlier than previous years when travelers could wait up to three weeks before departure and is likely the result of today's high travel demand, staffing shortages, and fluctuating fuel prices. In order to secure the best deals on flights this year, the message is consistent: book early,” the company researchers said.
CheapAir.com's airfare researchers said that other nuances that could give consumers a leg up on a good deal include the following:
Wednesday is the cheapest day of the week to fly. The researchers found that flying out on Wednesday could save an average of $100 per airline ticket compared to the most expensive day, Sunday.
However, there is no best day of the week to buy an airline ticket. Data show that the average low fare varies by less than $1, no matter what day of the week travelers purchase airline tickets.
Right now is the perfect time to fly because February is the least expensive month to fly with January following closely behind. Flying in February will save travelers approximately $114 compared to flying in December, the most expensive month to fly (followed by July).
Airfares remain volatile so don’t be surprised if you see a good fare one day and it vanishes the next. “From the time a trip first goes on sale, fares change 49 times on average and change by an average of $43 each time,” the analysts said.
The summer travel season requires the earliest timeline to take advantage of the lowest flight prices. Winter, excluding peak holidays, is the bargain season to travel with the shortest window to purchase airline tickets than any other season.