There’s a lot of advice about the best time to buy an airline ticket. Most of it’s wrong, like buying tickets “Wednesday at 1 a.m.” or “Tuesdays at 3 p.m.”
The truth is that the best way to get an airfare deal is to:
- Research and learn what tickets on your route usually cost
- Watch pricing, and buy when the cost is lower than normal
The trick to this is to be looking far enough in advance that a sale is more likely than the price creeping up. Close to departure prices are more likely to go up than down, as tickets sell out on full planes.
You want to start looking for deals about six months before travel. In general the cheapest tickets are available 2 to 3 months before travel. But for peak holiday travel, the cheapest tickets are available earlier than that.
But you don’t want to buy 11 months or a year in advance, airlines don’t know what final demand for seats will look like that far out — they only have guesses based on historical data and both American and United have talked recently about the limits of their forecasting ability — so may be conservative in not selling out at the cheapest prices.
The way the absolute cheapest tickets are sold now is through flash sales available for a day or two. So start looking 6 months before travel. In other words, start looking for summer now.
It’s also a good time for award tickets. Having booked literally billions of miles worth of awards, I’ve found the times that airlines in general make award seats available is:
- When the schedule opens. Some airlines load some award seats about 11 months prior to travel.
- About six months out.
- Close to departure, when they know what seats will ultimately go unsold for sure
If you want to plan in advance for award travel, six months is a better time to look than two or three months out.
Meanwhile, this far out you can still get credit card and earn bonus points or free hotel nights for your travels.