How far in advance do you need to buy a plane ticket? This is one of the most frequently asked questions in the world of travel. Here is the answer, at least the best you will find.
We already told you that there are days in the week when flying is cheaper than others (usually). But we also said that for the best time to make the purchase, the day of the week doesn’t matter that much: it’s the amount of time remaining before your departure that matters the most.
I need to tell you from the start (and if you read us a bit, you’ll have seen this sentence before): there is no absolute rule in the world of plane tickets and travel. Nothing will be true 100% of the time. It depends on each specific situation, each market, each destination… and even each flight.
The best thing is to do your research often and follow the pricing pattern for your flight regularly… either with our price comparison tool, or our advanced search tool (available soon on the same page, but detailed explained here) if you are ready to put in a but of time for research and to save more money.
But there’s no magic number on how much time ahead to buy that will beat our best tip for saving money: buy the ticket from the deals we find every day on our deals page, they’re often 50% off from regular price. That being said, this article is part of our series of articles on how to save for flights that are not in our deals or when you are less flexible.
How Far in Advance Should You Book Your Plane Ticket?
Because many don’t want to read an entire article (if you didn’t know, at the end of each of our blog posts, there is a “Bottom Line” section that summarizes the essentials in a few lines), I’ll give you the general period for the majority of cases now: one to five months before departure for the best regular prices, and one to three months in advance to find the best deals at greatly reduced price.
Why this difference? Keep reading.
Variations by Destination
Here are estimates that are a little more specific by destination. According to a study that has been done on the subject: for flights within North America, the best moment to book would be, on average, two months (57 days to be precise) before departure. But again, I just want you to understand that it will not apply at large for all destinations at all times. Nothing is so simple. For the Caribbean, we are talking about two and a half months in advance (77 days). For Europe, it’s closer to 5 months in advance, the same goes for Asia. But beware.
This is to save a bit on the regular price (for example, to pay $1000 instead of $1400 to go to Thailand). To get the best deals, you have to be flexible on the dates and wait for one of our great deals, and then you might get Thailand for as low as $600 roundtrip, less than half the regular price, like we often find. But those are often between 1 to 3 months in advance. And there’s no guarantee that those deals will be available before the dates you had in mind for your trip. All great deals are much more unpredictable than “regular” prices.
But even at the regular price for Europe and Asia, I find that 5 months is very early and that’s because the study takes into account and is based on the most frequent searches, which are for peak periods (Summer, Christmas, etc.) for which tickets must be purchased a lot more in advance. But if you travel outside of the busiest periods, I would recommend buying a little less in advance (closer to three months than five).
So, the amount of time in advance to look for the best price depends on your destination, but usually, you should start looking at prices on our flight search tools within one to five months of your scheduled departure.
I’ll explain more in detail how can these timeframes be impacted (and also cover some exceptions and special cases).
Buying a Year in Advance
First, let’s start with the obvious. I will immediately burst the bubble of those who are really anxious and want to book their plane tickets a year in advance: you will definitely pay more! Airlines have absolutely no incentive to discount prices that much in advance. Wait before buying. Unless your dates are completely inflexible, there is absolutely no reason to buy more than six months in advance, other than throwing your hard-earned cash in the fire pit in the overwhelming majority of cases.
Buying at the Last Minute
Let’s go to the other extreme. At the last minute. There is a popular belief that airline tickets are cheaper at the last minute, that there are bargains to be made. It’s completely wrong. It’s almost always a lot more expensive at the last minute. Always book at least 3 weeks in advance (21 days according to the study). If you are looking for a ticket that leaves tomorrow, the airlines know that you are probably vulnerable and need to buy now, so you will pay more. We are talking about normal plane tickets, not all-inclusive packages… which leads us to the next point, our first exception.
The All-Inclusive Exception
We don’t often talk about all-inclusive packages, for many reasons. But the main thing is that it’s something completely different than our flight deals… and different from regular flights as a whole. Almost all of the tips we share on this blog are for plane tickets with normal airlines, which excludes charter flights (Air Transat, Sunwing, …) who are completely different. It’s another world entirely and it has nothing to do with everything else, because they’re not really airlines. Those are vertically integrated companies and they mainly sell packages, not flights. So that’s the only time you can find last-minute deals (and sometimes even more than six months in advance): because it’s the all-inclusive world and it has nothing to do with normal airline tickets.
Ultra-Low Cost Carrier Exception
There is another exception. You probably know about ultra-low cost carriers (ULCCs) by now (if not, read this). They have a business model that is a little different and in their case, it’s not as simple. Their prices are much lower, and in their case, they always want to have at least some dates that are advertised at a very good price. Knowing when to buy varies even more with those. Always having flexibility on your dates is the key to save more. It couldn’t be more true with the ULCC. To find the best price for the destinations served by those ULCC, there might be deals on shorter notice or way early, a bit like all-inclusive package… but not always! The best thing to do is looking often to our deals page for those deals, because we update it daily with the best deals that we can’t find, including those on ULCCs.
Deals and Discounts
Our deals are a bit different than simply finding the best regular price, because they are rather exceptional sales, impossible to predict… but they can save you 50%, not just 10% less like you’d saved by buying a little later. If you follow our deals page, you will see that the dates are quite varied. It pretty much reflects what we told you: in general, the best dates are between 1 month to 3 months for the majority of our deals of the day … but deals are updated daily and that’s because they really change every day. Sometimes there are dates five months in advance, it happens.
For destinations and dates that are not on our deals page, know that two to three months is the best estimate you can get, and a little more in advance for the peak seasons.
There is no absolute rule, it varies a lot. But if your dates are not really flexible, it will be harder to find a great deal and you should buy between one and five months in advance depending on your destination, and if you go in peak periods. If you have more flexibility, you can afford to buy a little less in advance. And above all, watch our deals every day!
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