Wherever you’re headed, here’s how to save some cash along the way.

By Kristine Gill
August 05, 2020
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Unless you’re planning a casual (spontaneous) vacation, we don’t all have the luxury of timing our purchases for the best day and time to buy airline tickets. But there are some strategies you can use when purchasing flights for weddings, business trips, and other obligations to ensure the best flight prices. These experts have tips to help you navigate the best time to buy airline tickets for your next trip.

Airlines can up their prices when they know demand for a particular destination or time is high. That means flying when everyone else is flying is going to cost you more than flying on slower days or during slower times of the year. If you want to save some money, that might mean flying to visit the family after Thanksgiving rather than just in time for turkey dinner.

“You can find the best deals by flying during less popular times—that means avoiding holidays,” says Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert with NerdWallet. “You see lower prices in January compared to the end of December, for example.”

Liana Corwin, a consumer travel expert for the app Hopper, says that the same rules that apply to major winter holidays go for summer vacation times, too.

“When it comes to summer travel, June and July are the peak of the season,” she says. “If you can wait to take your vacation until mid [or] late August, you’ll spend less on your summer getaway than if you left earlier in the season.”

If you want to get really detailed with it, Hopper did the research on when to book flights for major holidays based on your departure dates. You can also use apps such as Hopper to monitor flight prices for you. As Corwin points out, each airline can be known to change their prices multiple times in the course of a single day.

“We’ve found that having the app monitor prices for you can save you as much as 40 percent on flights,” she says.

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“You also see lower prices if you can travel on weekdays, and when it comes to booking the flight, try to book on Sundays because tickets are lower priced then,” Palmer says. “You can also save around 10 percent on airfare by flying out on a Thursday or Friday.”

The best time to buy international tickets more or less coincides with the best times to buy airline tickets for domestic travel, with a few exceptions.

“While we’d love to have a golden rule for when to fly and buy, the reality is that every route is going to behave differently, so it’s important to monitor prices for your specific trip,” Corwin says. “That being said, when analyzing the data as a whole, we do see some patterns emerge that can serve as starting points when planning your trip.”

To start, Corwin suggests departing on Wednesdays for both domestic and international trips, which is usually the cheapest day to fly out. The worst days to fly are Friday through Sunday.

“You can save about $40 on domestic trips and $60 on international trips by leaving on the cheapest day as opposed to the most expensive day,” Corwin says.

The best day to return from a domestic trip is Tuesdays, and doing so can save you up to $45. You can save up to $60 by returning from your international trip on Wednesdays. Whether you’re flying international or domestic, Sunday is the most expensive day to book a return trip. 

The best way to secure great deals on airfare is to plan ahead, in the same way you plan how to best fill your approved carry on luggage to meet travel restrictions. Whenever you decide to book your flight, it’s best to begin thinking about the details far in advance.

“The best advice I can give to someone looking for a flight deal is to plan ahead,” Corwin says. “If you know about your vacation coming up in August, start monitoring those flights now using an app like Hopper. Analyzing over 30 billion flight and hotel prices a day, Hopper has the distinct advantage of seeing a daily global picture of airfare and will notify you when the price is right.”

Just be sure not to plan too far in advance, Corwin adds.

“Flights go on sale 11 months before departure, but don’t expect to catch deals more than 150 days prior to takeoff,” she says. “Booking more than six months ahead can cost you, since airlines set their initial prices conservatively.”

The best time of day to buy airline tickets will be when apps like Hopper tell you to purchase. Those alerts are based on algorithms predicting the likelihood that a flight’s price will decrease. If the algorithm says to buy, it’s likely the best time and day to do so.