Booking airfare can seem expensive and confusing – it seems like the prices are always changing. How can you get the best deal? Or, maybe more importantly, how can you make sure you get on the flight you need? When is the best time to book a flight? To answer these questions, I spoke to Ray Hourani, director of travel air operations at AAA Northeast. He shared some tips, tricks and pointers on how to best fly the friendly skies.
Does the time you book a flight actually matter?
Yes and no. “There are certain times when prices do drop,” said Hourani, “usually if you’re booking an international flight and you want to travel during the summer.” There’s a fair drop in price between the end of January though the first week of March for summer flights.
“The days of the week when you’re traveling matters also,” Hourani said. “There could be a surcharge of $50 to $80 for round-trip flights on weekends. If you’re traveling on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, it’s going to be a lot cheaper.” The fares tend to be lower than on a Friday or Sunday, which are peak travel days, specially for international flights. Still, Hourani noted that there is often less choice and availability of flights when searching for the best deal.
Flight prices can also fluctuate around holidays – especially big holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas.
“If you’re traveling on that Wednesday and coming back on that Sunday, you’re going to be charged a relatively high price for that airfare,” Hourani said of the Thanksgiving holiday. “If you travel on Monday and come back the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the fares will be a little cheaper.”
When is the best time to book a flight if you want something specific?
Let’s say you need to get out on a certain day, certain time of day or even just want your choice of seating. What do you do?
“Well, if you want your specific flight times and specific day and good seats to book, the earlier the better,” said Hourani. “That’s a rule of thumb. Sometimes airlines charge more for choice seats, but there will still be more availability during an earlier timeframe. The choice seats and choice times won’t get you the best fares, but from a peace-of-mind standpoint it could be worth it. I know when I’m leaving and I know the best times for me to travel and I’m gonna get a decent seat on this plane.”
What happens when you book a flight closer to the day you take off?
For live events like concerts, last-minute tickets are usually way cheaper, since ticket sellers are trying to get them off their hands. But that’s not so for airlines.
“Years ago, that used to be the case,” Hourani said. “There were a lot of empty seats, there were 747s flying across the Atlantic and transcontinental. But the airlines have become very sophisticated in managing their inventory.” Modern-day airlines now set their prices using airline revenue management systems to determine demand. This leads to dynamic price changes in real time, which can often be confusing for passengers trying to snag deals.
Almost all the flights now are full, so if you’re trying to fly last-minute, that’s actually when they’re going to charge you the most, Hourani said. Ouch! He recommends booking airfare at least 120 days before departure.
Tips for when to book your flight
Generally speaking, when is the best time to book a flight? Hourani suggests prospective flyers keep an eye on fluctuating ticket prices before committing to a purchase.
“Watch the flights you want. If you’re not in a rush, look at it every other day to check the pricing and availability. An airline can change their pricing a good 150 times a day depending on the demand, so you want to keep an eye on it. When you see the fare isn’t really fluctuating any more, it isn’t going up or going down, then you can book.” If you don’t have the time to refresh a webpage, you can find a few different apps and websites that specifically track changing airfare prices.
When is the best time to book a flight in your opinion? Let us know in the comments below!