Right Now is the Best Time to Plan Summer Travel

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:

  1. When the schedule opens. Some airlines load some award seats about 11 months prior to travel.
  2. About six months out.
  3. 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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Comments

  1. Same is true for car rentals. Shameless plug for AutoSlash.com here. Rates for summer tend to rise as time goes on, but there is still a lot of volatility for the next few months. Given that with car rentals you can book without even entering your credit card, there’s absolutely no downside to booking a rental as soon as you have your travel dates nailed down since you can always cancel or re-book without penalty.

    The great thing about AutoSlash is that we keep checking rates, and if prices drop (even for 1 day), then we catch those drops and re-book you at the lower rate. Essentially you’re guaranteed to get the lowest rate between the time you book and the time you pick up. The earlier you book, the more you are likely to save.

  2. @henry I’ve actively commented on VFTW for years now (probably 100+ total comments). It’s a rarity that I even mention AutoSlash, and in fact, the vast majority of those comments aren’t even related to car rentals. I only brought it up here because I thought it added something to the discussion (and I was open and honest about my affiliation with the company.

    The fact is that many people book air/hotel and leave car rental to the last minute and then end up paying the price (literally). If Gary feels that the comment does not meet his guidelines or is spammy, then I have no problem if he wants to delete it, but I stand by my post as I feel that readers will actually save money by booking their rental early, regardless of whether it’s through AutoSlash or another site.

  3. I am sorry, but I found the autoslash comment useful. I intend to book a car this weekend (for the summer). I had heard of autoslash but have never used it and had forgotten about it.

  4. Autoslash has saved me a lot of money. The post did not offend me since he said shameless plug and did not try to slip it in. I am sure Gary has written about it too. Car rental savings are useful adds to airfare savings discussions. Also title of the post was about summer planning even thought the post was about airfare so I am OK with it.

  5. The single best recommendation I give to normal people looking to score a great advance purchase airfare is to monitor the secretflying website. They keep up with the flash sales, and make it pretty easy to figure out how to book the fares. I have no commercial relationship with these guys: I just think their website is very useful.

    http://www.secretflying.com/usa-deals/

  6. Love Autoslash as well!! they have helped me save $ numerous times. I love that Jonathan reminded us here because i do forget to use autoslash from time to time.

  7. Buying 11 months out can also sometimes make sense (I did about a year ago and recently returned from that trip). Unless you’re looking for a supercheap fare, then once your plans are firm and you find a good fare you should buy it. It’s rarely the case for me that I can commit this far in advance, but in this case I knew my destination and desired travel dates and I had an expectation of what the price should be, so when 11 months out I saw something 20-30% lower than I had expected, I bought it. As far as I am aware, price on that itinerary only went up (I was quite particular about which flights I wanted). I don’t know if I missed a flash sale in the interim, but if there was one I likely would have also missed it had I not bought the tickets.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *