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How To Know When To Book a Flight (US Edition)

AuthorThe AirHelper

When it comes knowing when to book a flight, it’s all about balance.

We recently discussed the danger of buying your tickets too early, which can be (surprisingly) as costly as buying them too late. As if that weren’t confusing enough, there are a variety of other factors that play into the cost of airline travel:

Where you’re going
When you’re going
Whether you’re flying domestic or international

While there is a general best time to buy (called the “prime booking window”), you can save even more money if you break down the details of your travel plan. Read on to learn all the factors you need to consider to purchase plane tickets on a budget.

When to Book A Domestic Flight

Flying within the country? That’s good news in terms of how much lead time you’ll need to buy tickets. While domestic flights aren’t always cheaper than international, they do offer the ability to book closer to your trip for less:

When you’re booking a domestic flight, book your tickets between one and three months prior to your trip.

According to Travel & Leisure, Kayak compiled one year of flight data and discovered the following:

“Six months before departure, domestic ticket prices were about 20 percent higher than the lowest fares. They started dropping three months out and hit a low three to seven weeks before departure.”

They went on to warn against waiting too long though, by saying:

“Whatever you do, don’t wait until the last week, when prices shoot up — by 25 percent.”

In other words, if you book flights for a domestic trip more than three months out, you could pay 20% more for your ticket than you’d pay if you waited until the prime booking period of one to three months. But if you wait until the month of your trip, you could then pay 25% more for your ticket, thanks to a last-minute surge in pricing.

When to Book An International Flight

It takes a lot more preparation to plan an international trip – and that includes booking your tickets further in advance. International flights don’t see the same kind of price fluctuation domestic flights do, so more often than not what you see is what you’re going to get. According to CheapAir, international flights:

“…stay fairly flat for a few months, then start to creep up slowly, until about 90 days before departure when the pace of increase starts to accelerate.”

Put simply, three months out is when you want to start thinking of booking domestic flights – whereas for booking international flights, three months out is the last minute you want to be thinking of booking. Go more than three months out to book tickets for international flights to ensure that you’re getting the best deal possible.

When to Book Flights For Popular Destinations & Times

Airline ticket sales operate on complex formulas, but one thing that remains fairly simple is the concept of supply and demand. When there is less supply, there will be more demand. When there is more demand, there will be higher prices.

What that means for your travel plans is that you’ll want to book early when traveling to popular destinations and during peak travel times. Going to the beach or to Europe this summer, when everyone else is doing the same thing? Book early. Heading home for the holidays? Book early.

In general, apply common sense and you’ll get a good deal. However, there is one caveat to remember: supply and demand doesn’t mean airlines will lower their prices the month of a flight if seats aren’t filling up. No matter how you dice it, trying to book a flight the same month of your trip (international or domestic) is going to cost you more.

Getting Specific on When to Book

There’s a lot of information here, but since it comes from data averaged yearly, it’s best to consider these to be best practices, not concrete evidence of the exact day you should book. For more specific and up-to-date information, plug your travel details into Kayak’s 2015 Travel Hacker Guide. And don’t forget to use these travel apps to plan your trip!

Flight delays happen, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept them. You may be entitled to as much as $680 in compensation if your flight was delayed, canceled or overbooked within the last three years.

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