What is the best time to buy cheap flight tickets?
It’s the classic traveller’s dilemma.
Buy on Wednesday! Don’t fly on a Saturday! Buy last minute! Don’t buy at the last minute.
Who and what do you believe?
Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that there is any one way that will guarantee you the cheapest tickets because it just isn’t true.
Let me share five general rules of thumb that I follow to get the cheapest airline tickets.
How I search for the cheapest plane tickets
Living in France has many benefits, except it gets pretty expensive to fly back to Canada to see friends and family, so I’m constantly searching for deals.
I have a very simple research method that helps me systematically find the best time to buy airline tickets at or close to the cheapest price point for a given time period. By the end of this article, you can conduct your own research and find some great travel deals using a variant of my research process. It’s not foolproof, but it works most of the time.
First, the bad news.
Trying to find the cheapest airline tickets is a bit like gambling; no ONE SINGLE method will guarantee you always find the most affordable airline prices.
However, there are certain patterns and rules that savvy travellers can and do follow that help guide them towards cheaper price points. Once you know these general rules, you will also be able to use these rules to help guide you and systematically buy airline tickets below the AVERAGE price or normal ticket prices.
**It is better to try and get ticket prices below the average rather than try to get the cheapest tickets. If you keep waiting for prices to drop to rock bottom, you could miss your window by waiting too long before they shoot back up. Sounds like the stock market, doesn’t it?
I always get a feel for the average and buy below the average. You can’t lose that way.
Once you know the average or have a baseline, you can then try to get a flight that is cheaper than that using some basic rules. Let’s get started.
5 Steps to Finding Cheap Flight Tickets
1- Buy your tickets in advance! But how far in advance?
There is one simple rule that most experienced travellers agree on, and that is….“You will save the most money by buying your tickets in advance.”
Just how far in advance is where even the experts tend to disagree or split hairs between 3 to 8 weeks in the future.
8 Week Rule:
An economist named Mr. Watanabe created a formula that he claims can calculate the best time to buy the cheapest advance airline ticket. **source Guardian (UK)
The formula looks like this– Why ∏A = gUG + min(k-g, (1-g)(1-r)). If you don’t speak math, let me interpret it for you. The best time to buy cheap airline tickets is about 8 weeks before you intend to fly.
Cheap Air came up with a similar number when they analyzed all flights sold in 2013. They discovered that the most affordable flights were bought 54 days (7 weeks and 5 days) in advance,
21 Days for Domestic, 34 Days for International:
According to Kayak, the best time to buy cheap airline tickets for domestic flights is 21 days in advance and 34 days in advance for international flights.
Do you see how different and far apart these two time periods are?
In short, you need to buy your ticket at least 3 weeks in advance but not more than 8 weeks in advance.
I like to sign up for price alerts via email for my given date and destination. These alerts are emailed to me and tell me whenever there is a price hike or drop for my future trip.
2- Fly Out On A Tuesday, Wednesday Or Saturday:
The day you depart can make a huge difference in ticket prices.
Some people claim it’s more expensive to fly out on a Sunday, which probably has to do with the fact that lots of people are clamouring to get back home or work in time for the beginning of a new work week on Monday.
All those people drive the ticket prices for that particular day.
3- Can You Plan Your Trip During The Shoulder Season?
There are three travel seasons.
High being the most expensive time to travel and low being the cheapest.
Shoulder season falls smack dab in the middle of high and low season, somewhere between April – mid-June, September, and October, but be careful because shoulder season can also vary by destination:
In my opinion, shoulder season is the best time to travel. Not only do you get great deals on cheap flights, but you’ll also benefit from the lingering good weather from the peak season without all the touristy crowds.
For example, Thailand’s shoulder season tends to be short, during the month of June, right after the rains have cooled the earth and right before the tourists arrive in July. Paris’s shoulder season is from April to May and November to December.
**Shoulder season usually does not fall within January, February, July, and August.
Low or Off-Peak Season:
If you want rock-bottom prices, virtually no crowds and a more authentic local experience due to the lack of tourists and crowds, consider travelling during low or off-peak season.
The big drawback for travelling during low or off-peak season is some destinations have bad weather, cold rains, and even monsoons.
4-Shop for tickets in the afternoon:
Ticket prices fluctuate throughout the day just like they do in the stock market. According to Watanabe’s formula, ticket prices are generally the cheapest in the afternoon.
I don’t personally track at this level of granularity, and I can’t imagine that the price difference could be that great in the morning vs. the afternoon. If you know differently, let me know in the comments below.
5- Shop On A Tuesday Or Wednesday:
Many sources and fellow travellers agree that, in general, it’s best to shop for the cheapest airline tickets on Tuesday and Wednesday. I have found that cheaper tickets can also be had on a Thursday. This is why it’s important to do a little research.
Start your research
Now that you know the general rules for when to find the cheapest airline prices, you can start doing your research.
Choose An Airline Consolidator:
An airline consolidator or airline aggregation is simply an airline comparison tool to search for the cheapest flights all at once. Example: I use sites like Expedia.com, skyscanner.com and OneTravel.com, to name a few. If you have your own favourite, then use them.
Record your findings
Next, you will need something to record the prices by date. I use a spreadsheet, but you can use a piece of paper or a word processing document. You will use this over the course of a few days or even weeks, depending on how in-depth you want to watch and compare prices.
Now that you have your tools let’s get started.
Get your piece of paper or spreadsheet ready.
Choose an airline aggregator like Expedia.com or OneTravel.com.
Pick a date or period when you want to go and input it into one of the aggregators.
Your results page will look something like this, depending on what aggregator you use.
Notate the cheapest flight, the dates and the carrier.
Record your findings by day, date, and even by time.
Tracking the results like this helps you see patterns and become familiar with what is a good deal and not a good deal.
I typically record check prices daily for several weeks or a few days. It just depends.
If I see a trend where prices are declining, I wait until I think the price is well below the average. Or, if I see that prices keep rising, I may decide to buy before they get too high. Once you do this a few times, you will develop a good sense and know when and what is a good deal.
Remember that these tips are here to guide you. So use them as a guide and a starting point to search for the cheapest airline tickets.