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Finding the best flight deals is a bit of an art form, but there’s also some science — or at least economics — involved. There are only two definitive rules: Flights open for booking about a year in advance, and the airfare will change often between then and takeoff. So, as a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to book plane tickets well in advance, as prices spike sharply in the days preceding the flight, taking advantage of any last-minute travelers who have no choice but to pay up.
But there are many variables that impact the dynamic pricing patterns of plane tickets, including the destination and time of year. In some cases, you can book just a couple of weeks in advance, while in others, you’re better off reserving months ahead (such as a trip over a big travel holiday, when demand is high).
Following the pandemic, airfare rose to astonishing highs in 2022, and that trend continued into 2023. But 2024 looks to be more promising. Kayak predicts domestic airfare will drop 16 percent in 2024 as compared to 2023.
Still, scoring the best flight deals can be tricky, but we’re here to help you find the best fares for your upcoming travel. Our first tip: Start tracking flight prices as early as possible so you can keep an eye on cost fluctuations. Use Google Flights or Hopper to receive price change notifications about your tracked flights.
When to Book Flights for Domestic Travel
The jury is out on this one. According to a 2023 study by CheapAir.com, on average, the best time to purchase plane tickets for a domestic trip is between 164 and 46 days before your departure. But according to Expedia’s 2024 Air Travel Hacks report, the sweet spot is 28 days before your domestic flight. “Doing so can save travelers up to 24 percent compared to those who wait until the last minute, from zero to six days out,” Expedia travel expert Christie Hudson tells Travel + Leisure.
For domestic trips, pricing is elevated when tickets are first released, about a year before the flight. Per CheapAir.com, those prices will slowly creep downward, all the way to their lowest point in the prime booking window (per the company, that’s about 5.5 to 1.5 months before the flight), after which you’ll likely see a huge spike in cost for last-minute travel.
Meet the Expert
Christie Hudson is a travel expert at top booking site Expedia.
Katy Nastro is a travel expert at Going, a website that finds flight deals to more than 900 destinations around the world.
When to Book Flights for International Travel
Overall, you’re better off booking earlier rather than later for international travel — ideally no more than four months before your desired flights, per Expedia, with a sweet spot around 60 days. “This is a big change from 2022 data, which showed the cheapest fares were secured when travelers booked four to six months out. 2023 data revealed that people who booked that far in advance actually paid more on average,” says Hudson.
But there is some regional variance. CheapAir.com determined the prime booking windows for the following destinations. But do note that they’re vast ranges, which goes to show how difficult it is to predict airfare these days.
Canada: 3 to 10 months before departure
Mexico: 1.5 to 10 months before departure
The Caribbean: 2 to 10 months before departure
Central America: 3 to 10 months before departure
South America: 2.5 to 10 months before departure
Europe: 1.5 to 10 months before departure
Africa: 2.5 to 10 2 months before departure
Oceania/South Pacific: 1.5 to 10 months before departure
Asia: 4.5 to 10 months before departure
Middle East: 2.5 to 10 months before departure
As you can see, booking in advance is always ideal. But the real trick to finding good deals on international airfare is to avoid peak travel times, which include summer and major holidays (don’t forget — that includes holidays in your destination, too).
When to Book Flights for Summer 2024 Travel
Unfortunately, there aren’t many deals to be found for summer flights as it’s traditionally one of the most popular times of the year to travel. In an ideal scenario, you’re going to want to book flights for summer travel as soon as possible, preferably at least six months in advance.
“The best time to book for peak season is … the opposite season,” Katy Nastro, travel expert at Going, tells T+L. “While most of us are scrambling to focus on our winter holiday plans, we should also keep our eyes open for some great summer fares.”
She notes that the booking window for peak season ranges between three and seven months for domestic flights and four to 10 months for international trips. “And if you do book something, keep that flight alert on,” says Nastro. “If it drops again, depending on your ticket type, you can call to rebook and get a refund or travel credit back with the difference.”
When to Book Flights for Holiday 2024 Travel
You might think it’s a little too soon to be thinking about holiday travel, but it never hurts to get an early start on monitoring flight prices so you can book as soon as you find a fare that’s right for you. “When it comes to the winter holidays — the priciest time of the year — your best bet is to remember the Goldilocks zones,” says Nastro. “Look to book between three to seven months ahead for domestic travel and four to 10 months ahead for international travel.”
Hudson advises that at the very latest, your holiday travel should be booked by mid-October. “But the biggest holiday travel savings actually come from choosing the right dates,” she says. “Avoiding the busiest days like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Friday and Saturday before Christmas will yield major savings.”
As Nastro recommends for summer flights, consider buying your holiday tickets as soon as you find a decent deal — but make sure to book a fare that will give you a credit if you cancel (generally speaking, that means don’t book basic economy). That way, if prices drop between the time of booking and your travel dates, you can cancel your original ticket and use the credit to book the cheaper fare. The only downside is you’ll still have some remaining credit, but you can then use it to treat yourself to a future flight. Just don’t let that credit expire.
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