As the cliché saying goes, timing is everything. But does timing really matter when it comes to booking your next flight?
As it turns out, yes and no.
We’ve long heard the wisdom that Tuesdays are the cheapest day to book, or that the further out in advance you go, the cheaper the flights get. As it turns out, those nuggets of knowledge aren’t necessarily true!
There are a ton of factors to consider when figuring out how to time your trip to save the maximum amount of money. Luckily, we’ve figured them all out for you. Now you’ll have more money in your pocket to enjoy that vacation—and more brainpower available to plan it! You can thank us later.
1.) Knowledge is power. Check fares as often as possible.
For reasons we can’t control, airline fares change a lot—sometimes even on an hour-to-hour basis (another article could be written solely about that). As much as we may feel like it’d be best to skip work, sit by our computers, and refresh the airline’s web page in 15-minute intervals, that’s not the best way to go about it. However, that doesn’t mean we should drop the idea completely.
There are a lot of ways you can stay on top of fare fluctuations, including a couple of handy apps that’ll keep you on high alert. Leverage that iPhone to its highest capabilities, people. Your data plan isn’t going to use itself!
2.) Book your trip approximately 7 weeks in advance.
I’ve already told you that the old, book-as-early-as-possible advice doesn’t always hold true. In fact, booking too early can actually hurt you. For instance, on average, if you book around 7 months in advance, you’re actually getting one of the most notoriously marked-up airfares you can get. Who knew?
On the flip side, booking at the very last minute has its downsides as well. If you’re a a notorious procrastinator, you fear commitment, or you just plain old want to max out the time you have to make a final decision about your travel plans, book your your flight at least 21 days in advance. At least. After that, fares tend to go way up.
So clearly, booking too early comes at a price, and so does booking too late. If you’re starting to feel like the Goldilocks of travelers—searching for the time that’s just right to book your trip—you’re not alone.
So how far in advance should you be booking your trips?
If you want a really short, generic answer, here it is: 7 weeks. Based on a long history of domestic airline data, 7 weeks has been calculated to be the average “sweet spot” for booking a flight.
That said, you might also find a flight that’s exponentially cheaper, if you wait until the day before to book it. Go figure.
3.) The day of the week that you fly matters—as does the hour of the day.
If you want to score the cheapest airfare, you’ll need to fly off-peak, when the smallest number of other passengers will be flying alongside you. What exactly does that mean?
Most people working on a Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm schedule will want to fly on the weekends. How come? That’s easy—they’re minimizing the amount of vacation days they’ll need to use on their trip. Save up your vacation days, folks! That extra day off could really save you some serious cash. Fly midweek, and your fare might be much lower.
Day of the week isn’t the only factor to consider when it comes to timing your flight optimally. The time of day matters too! Most travelers will choose to fly during the day and between meal times, so as to maintain a normal sleep schedule. If you can throw your Circadian rhythm to the wind and fly late at night or early in the morning, and/or during meal times, you might score a cheaper fare. Sleep is overrated anyway, am I right?
So if you can get to sleep early on a Wednesday night for a 7 AM flight Thursday morning, go for it. That money you’ll save will be much better spent on your actual vacation.
4.) Be strategic around the holidays.
The holidays are a notoriously expensive travel period, so finding cheap fares this time of year can get tricky. But never fear! While challenging, saving money on your airfare come holiday time isn’t impossible. An investigative reporter and producer, Peter Greenberg, says in his article on timing for booking the best travel deals, “Whenever you need to travel, it’s entirely possible to get a cheap plane ticket. But, you need to be flexible. Choose off-peak days, especially over the holiday season.”
What exactly are the off-peak days for holiday travel? We’ll tell you!
If you’re traveling for Thanksgiving, try to avoid flying the day before. Two or three days before the actual holiday will see lower fares—and if you’re willing to travel on Thanksgiving day, you might get the lowest fare of them all. When you’re returning, spend a little extra time with the family and fly back five days post-holiday. Alternatively, if you don’t have any time to spare, flying home on Black Friday can also be quite a money saver.
If you’re traveling for Christmas, try to avoid flying between December 19th and the 21st. These are the most popular Christmas travel days, and therefore, the most expensive. Instead, opt to depart on the 18th, the 22nd, the 23rd, or the 24th. When should you return? Flying back on New Year’s Day is your best bet for low fares, but if you can’t swing that (and we wouldn’t blame you), aiming for December 30th, 31st, or January 2nd are all viable options.
5.) Don’t get dead-set on anything.
This might be our most important tip. The more flexible you can be, the better. Don’t get your heart set on any one hotel or airport. That limits your options! Keep your options open, and who knows what kinds of money-saving deals you’ll stumble upon.
Choosing to fly into a smaller airport near to the major hub—the popularity difference between LaGuardia and JFK, for example, when it comes to New York—might result in significantly cheaper fares. And you’ll still be getting to the same place! Awesome.
Also, consider working a layover into your itinerary. We totally get that layovers suck, and we commend your efforts to try and avoid them when you can. But, there are ways to make the layover experience a whole lot nicer—and they might save you money alone the way! See what flexibility can do for you? It’s fabulous. Use your new flexible savings to go out to a fancy dinner while you’re on vacation. You deserve it.
Let’s face it folks, traveling can be expensive. But if you know how plan properly, stay ahead of the curve, and compromise where it counts, you can absolutely afford that dream vacation—maybe even with money to spare! What are your favorite timing tips when it comes to saving money on travel? Let us know in the comments!