Busting cheap airfare myths.

thPlanning to hit the beaches on spring break or take your kids to a theme park during school vacation? Better buy those tickets soon. A new study from CheapAir.com indicates that the lowest prices can be found about seven weeks out.

The study also addresses questions like “When’s the best time to buy a ticket for Thanksgiving?” and “Is Tuesday night really the best time of the week to buy a ticket?”

The answer to the second question, by the way, is “no.”

“This is one of the most surprising things to me,” says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com.

After all, doesn’t “everyone” know that the best time to buy is around midnight Monday? But Klee’s data sugests that while many sales are advertised late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, they tend to be “a limited number of seats and only for certain flights and dates.”

Besides, he says, plenty of “unheralded” sales are announced throughout the week.

CheapAir.com crunched data from more than 560 million search requests last year to come up with this information. Generally speaking, the fare progression looked like this:

  • When tickets first become available for a flight, fares stay on the high side for a while.
  • Two to three months out, airlines look at how sales are going and “how aggressively (they) have to discount.”
  • Up to about one month out, prices were fairly low and fairly stable.
  • At the one-month mark, fares went up pretty drastically.

The prices go up — who knows where they come down?

Klees notes that these are averages, not absolutes. Still, they’re a decent general indicator of how prices are determined in general. Sometimes incredible deals are available at the last minute. Often they aren’t.

“For everyone who lucked out with a great price at the last minute, there were thousands who couldn’t find one,” he says.

A few other things to keep in mind:

If you’re interested in going to Europe this summer, start looking no later than 81 days before you want to leave. As for Christmastime travel, the best deals appeared about 14 weeks out.

Tuesday is the cheapest day to fly and Sunday is the most expensive. There’s an average difference of $58 between the two days. Thus the more flexible you are, the more you’ll save.

Finally, if you’re buying through CheapAir.com (or just about anyone else), give yourself an additional layer of savings by purchasing through a cash-back shopping site such as Mr. Rebates, Extrabux or Ebates.

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  1. I don’t understand why people feel such urgency to buy airline tickets far in advance. I’ve had good luck waiting until about 4-6 weeks before a trip and then grabbing a ticket at a low point. I start monitoring prices around two months out which helps me recognize when the prices are low, but I don’t feel compelled to buy that early. My last three personal airfare purchases were great deals: $317 RT between ORD and SFO; $100 one-way between SFO and ORD; and about $630 RT between ORD and Madrid, Spain. I guess I was really lucky buying these fares during the shoulder seasons because I recently bought a ticket for a trip to Scotland in October 2013 and paid just over $1,000 for it. Ouch! I wouldn’t have purchased it so far in advance except that I’ve committed to taking this package tour with a friend and we had to buy the tickets so we could complete the paperwork and get travel insurance. I’m sure the price of the airfare will drop about 2-3 months out from the trip; then again, I had my pick of seats on the plane when booking this early!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Linda: As he said, it’s a general rule rather than an absolute. I’ve had good luck myself buying tickets for places like Heathrow, Chicago and Philadelphia, at times during tourist season.
      Four to six weeks before a trip was what he was talking about. He said the prices tended to remain stable until about a month beforehand, at which point they start to go up.
      Have fun in Scotland — and remember, the Megabus is a great frugal hack in the U.K.

  2. Holly Samlan

    If I had a pre-paid trip planned such as a cruise or vacation rental I don’t think I would be comfortable waiting until 7 weeks out to buy my air.

    Also, in my experience, certain destinations are NEVER cheap such as Vancouver during Alaska cruise season and major European destinations any time.

    Best to look for alternative airports and check transportation costs to get where you are actually going.

    When we went on an Alaska cruise Vancouver was about $600. Seattle was WAAAY cheaper and a bus between them was about $50 pp.

    • I’m guessing the difference between Vancouver and Seattle is the horrendous airport fees here in Canada. Many people from Canada cross the border to fly out of U.S. airports to avoid these fees which can account for a large portion of the ticket.

  3. Great tips! I too have found that flying out Tuesdays always saves me money. I’ve also figured out that waiting can save me money, but I’m impatient and usually pay the premium to get the flight I want a few months in advance…I overpaid at least $60 by buying my plane ticket early for FinCon last year…

    • Donna Freedman

      @Crystal: Bummer. I hope to make it to FinCon again in 2013. If you’re there, come up and say hello.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  4. Interesting, Donna. I always just try to find a good site, do a little superstitious dance and hope for the best. Maybe there’s an actual strategy here. LOL. Do you think Sunday flights are the most expensive because everyone wants to be back to school/work on Sunday?

    • Donna Freedman

      @Daniel: I think that’s it. People who need to be back for Monday morning but also want to stay as long as possible will pay what they must pay in order to do so.

  5. ImJuniperNow

    I don’t fly and apparently I’m missing all the fun.

    But I do know people who do, and they will do anything to get cheap seats, including flying on Christmas morning or Thanksgiving afternoon or taking the 4:30 a.m. out/2:00 a.m. back flight. The best was being on standby and sending half the family home while the other half waited for another plane (I have visions of bleached bones sitting in an airport chair waiting for a plane that never comes).

    It sounds awful. Is it worth it?

  6. This is a very timely post for me Donna, as I’m trying to find a vacation that doesn’t cost a year’s salary! By the way, we originally were going to cruise to Alaska, and decided this should be a Mom and Dad cruise only. Any suggestions?

    • Donna Freedman

      @Sharon: It would depend on where the cruise docked. Some end up in southeast (Sitka, Juneau, et al.) and some come all the way up to Seward or Anchorage (and maybe put you on a train to Denali).
      If you want to e-mail me at SurvivingAndThriving (at) live (dot) com I’d try to answer any specific questions.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  7. Karen Datko

    I use a travel agent because she’s a pro at finding deals and I’m not. I sent her an article about finding the best fares, to see what she thought about it, and she replied that when you live in a small market (I fly out of Great Falls, Montana) the usual advice doesn’t apply as well. It works for those flying out of major airports, but you have fewer options when you fly as I do. My best bet is to be flexible and I can do that. Unfortunately not everyone can.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Karen Datko: I’m not sure Anchorage is a major airport, either — and as you recall from having lived here, it’s not cheap to fly just about anywhere if you start out in Alaska. It’s my understanding that travel agents are starting to come back into style, since not everyone has the time to deal-hound.
      And I, too, love the flexibility factor. It’s one of the things that makes our jobs bearable.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.


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