As a summer with exorbitant travel prices unofficially comes to a close with Labor Day weekend, we look ahead to the rest of 2023 with hopes for cheaper airfare this fall and holiday season.
Flights during the summertime and holidays are notoriously expensive, with air travel costs driven further this year by inflation, limited flights and high travel demand, only exacerbated by weather events.
Have you ever heard that booking a flight on a certain day of the week will yield the cheapest results?
Perhaps you’re thinking of a cousin who claims they found a great deal when he checked on airfare prices at 12:01 a.m. on a Wednesday. Maybe you have a friend who swears by setting a reminder on their phone for 1 p.m. on a Thursday when they’re shopping for flights.
Indeed, there is no shortage of rumors (and “studies”) out there, but does the time of day you purchase flights actually make a difference in what you pay? Could it help you save at a time when so many other expenses are piling up?
Here’s what airfare experts have to say about how timing influences airfare prices to help you maximize airfare savings.
Is there a day that’s cheaper than others to book a flight?
There used to be some truth to the concept that certain days were better for finding flight deals. However, research shows that this is more of a myth nowadays, per booking app Hopper. The app found that this applied to less than 2% of routes and yielded savings of just 6%.
“There is no one day or ‘golden rule’ about when to book that applies to all travel,” Hayley Berg, lead economist at Hopper, said. Hopper relies on eight years of data and 70 trillion flight prices to recommend the best time to book specific routes and dates. “There’s a common myth that ‘booking on a Tuesday’ will guarantee a traveler the best price. The reality is prices change so often and depend on the route, the travel dates, etc., that there isn’t one day that guarantees you the best price.”
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For domestic trips, TPG recommends starting to monitor prices three to four months before your departure date and expect to book one to two months in advance. For international trips, we recommend starting to monitor prices 6-7 months in advance and expect to book 3-5 months in advance.
There may not be one day to ensure cheaper airfare, and you might find airfare prices fluctuate Monday through Friday, according to Bob Harrell, an airfare consultant who analyzes airline pricing.
Airlines look at customer demand and monitor booking trends to decide whether to open or close certain types of fares and whether to raise or lower existing fares, per Harrell.
So, how can you use this information to your advantage when buying airline tickets?
Try using a price monitoring tool to get real-time updates, says Berg, who recommends travelers use Hopper’s Flight Watch tool to start tracking the price of their desired route before booking. When prices are at the lowest for your trip, Hopper will notify you.
Whether or not you use a tool, a good rule of thumb is to start monitoring flight prices three to four months in advance and expect to book one to two months in advance.
“For most domestic trips, airfare will fall between one and three months before your departure before rising rapidly in the last three to four weeks before takeoff. This means there is a sweet spot where airlines will be offering lower prices on average and are more likely to offer promotional discounts and ultra-low fares,” said Berg. “To take advantage of these prices, start monitoring prices three to four months before your trip.”
For international trips, you generally need to book further in advance — start gauging these flight prices six to seven months in advance while planning on booking three to five months in advance.
“When you’re traveling internationally, planning ahead is key to getting the cheapest airfare,” said Berg. “Travelers often book international flights too far in advance or too last minute, overpaying significantly for their tickets.”
What’s the best day to travel?
While airfare prices fluctuate based on when you book, midweek travel is likely cheaper than flying on weekends.
“Travelers who fly midweek, usually Wednesday, can save an average of $56 per ticket on domestic airfare throughout the year,” per Hopper data. “Midweek savings spike over $60 per ticket during busy spring break and summer vacation months while flying midweek over the holidays can save you $100 or more.”
The same logic applies to international travel: A weeklong long-haul trip originating midweek averages $70 less than the same trip originating on a weekend, per Hopper.
When to book flights for Labor Day travel
If you haven’t made Labor Day travel plans, you may still be in luck since domestic airfare prices are down 11% from last year, and international airfare is down 10% from 2022, according to Hopper’s new 2023 Labor Day Travel Outlook report. The average domestic flight over the holiday weekend is currently $226, per Hopper data, while international flights are averaging $1,132.
Despite lower flight prices, U.S. hotel rates are up nearly 4% this holiday at $215 per night, but car rental prices are way down (14.5%) to $41 per day.
When to book holiday travel
Looking ahead to the winter holidays, booking those same midweek flights can save you between $80 and $130.
For Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the best time to book your holiday trips is typically in September and early October, when Hopper predicts prices could be at least $100 cheaper.
According to an analysis of 11,000 travel itineraries examining the best months to book holiday flights, CheapAir.com says that Thanksgiving airfares are trending up by 12% compared to 2022 prices, and Christmas prices are up by 11% while concluding that September remains the best month to book cheapest holiday flights.
“While holiday travel days are more accommodating this year, airfare is still on the rise, so it is in travelers’ best interest to plan ahead and book early,” says CheapAir.com, which analyzes airfare data.
Similarly, Google’s 2023 flight booking trends report suggests that average flight prices around Christmas are lowest 71 days before departure.
For other notoriously busy travel periods, such as spring break or summer weekends like the Fourth of July, start planning closer to five to six months in advance and expect to book three to four months in advance for the best prices and availability.
Additionally, Google recently launched new insights to provide travelers with data regarding when prices have typically been the lowest to book their desired dates and destinations when searching via Google Flights.
While there is no magical time or day of the week to book airfare for the best prices, your best bet is to fly midweek, specifically on Wednesdays, for both domestic and international travel. Flying over the weekend usually comes at a significant price premium.
Ultimately, the economics of airfare look a lot like that of any other commodity, says Harrell.
“Airline pricing is the story of supply and demand,” he said.
Remember, this advice also applies to cash fares. If you are using airline miles, it’s never too soon to start checking and booking.
Sean Cudahy and Clint Henderson previously contributed reporting.