When is the best time to book flights for the cheapest airfare in 2022?

Jun 7, 2022

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You’ve probably heard any number of the theories out there on the best time to find the cheapest airfare.

There’s your cousin who got a great deal when he checked on airfare prices at 12:01 a.m. on a Wednesday. Or, perhaps there’s the friend who swears by setting a reminder on her phone for 1 p.m. on a Thursday when she’s shopping for flights.

Indeed, there are no shortage of rumors (and “studies”) out there, but does the time of day you purchase flights actually make a difference in what you pay in any predictable pattern?

Unfortunately for your cousin who is ready to set that alarm for midnight to save some cash on their next airfare purchase, it doesn’t really work that way. TPG caught up with some airfare experts to debunk myths and learn how to really find the cheapest airfare prices.

There are factors that can certainly influence what you pay, and understanding them could make booking your next flight less painful at checkout time.

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Inside a Southwest plane at Boston Logan Airport
About to take off on board a Southwest plane at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

In This Post

Is there a best day of the week to book airfare?

There “used to be some truth” to the notion that shopping for flights the first thing on Tuesday led to cash savings, the airfare analysis site Hopper told TPG.

Even then, we weren’t talking about getting half off on a trip from New York to Los Angeles.

At the most, Hopper said this generally — again, in the past — could get buyers about a 6% savings on around 1.6% of routes.

As for today? “There really is no one-size-fits-all,” said Hayley Berg, the company’s lead economist.

“Prices do fluctuate more during the work week, though,” said Bob Harrell, airfare consultant and principal of New York-based Harrell Associates, which analyzes airline pricing, generating weekly reports for its clients on hundreds of routes.

During the week, Harrell points out, airlines have more employees managing prices, on top of the algorithms that are always at work.

“The inventory is managed more actively during the week,” he told TPG.

More fluctuation between Monday and Friday means, yes, you’re more likely to see a price change — which could mean, at times, the price gets cheaper. It also means you could see the price go up; it’s a sort of roll of the dice.

With the free TPG app, you can track your progress toward your next trip, and get spending recommendations to help you reach your travel goals.

AA plane at DCA
An American Airlines aircraft at the gate at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

Is there a best day to travel?

While it’s nearly impossible to “game the system” and book cheaper airfare on any certain day of the week, experts seem to agree that there are, in fact, best days to travel if you want lower prices.

Those days: Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

While leisure travelers tend to fill the airports on Fridays and Sundays and business travelers do the same on Mondays, those midweek days tend to have lower demand for flights. That means lower prices, Harrell said.

Related: Strategies to find cheap airfare

Saturday tends to be the cheapest weekend day to travel, with many leisure travelers departing for their destination, spending Saturday there, and returning home on Sunday.

Hopper’s data suggests that by booking flights that fall on a Tuesday or Wednesday this summer, for instance, you could save as much as $75 per round trip.

When it comes to 2022 international trips, save up to $60, or 6%, by booking travel that involves a Thursday departure, Hopper said.

When to book flights for 2022 domestic travel

It’s certainly worth trying any trick you can to save money, especially considering how airfare — like so many other expenses — has risen this year, particularly as of late.

An analysis by Harrell’s team found that, “astoundingly,” he said, average leisure airfare prices in the first three weeks of May were up 20% just compared to April. The leisure fare average for the first few weeks of the month was up 52% compared to pre-pandemic, 2019 levels.

“People point to fuel prices,” Harrell said. “But airline pricing is the story of supply and demand.”

It’s a phenomenon that might help you make the best choice on when to book travel this year.

Planes at New Orleans airport
American and Spirit planes at New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY). (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

Airlines begin “actively managing” their flights and pricing four to six weeks ahead of departure, Harrell said. They’re looking at that supply and demand and using booking trends to inform decisions on whether to open up or close certain types of fares, and whether to raise or lower existing fares.

Once you pass what Harrell likes to call “mile markers” at 21 and 14 days out from departure, he says the computer will start recognizing you as a likely business traveler, which means prices will go up.

If not enough travelers buy those higher-priced tickets, though, you could see the airline reopen the cheaper tickets. After all, if you’re in the business of trying to make money off of airfare, selling a $400 ticket is better than selling a $300 ticket … but selling a $300 ticket is way better than leaving a seat empty.

So, what does that translate to for the sweet spot for when to buy an airline ticket?

In terms of booking airfare, doing so at least three weeks in advance for domestic trips is your best bet, Hopper says, noting that prices tend to spike by about a quarter two weeks out, and by another 30% in the final week.

Planes at Providenciales Airport in Turks and Caicos
Providenciales International Airport (PLS) in Turks and Caicos awaiting flights back to the U.S. (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

When to book flights for international travel in 2022-2023

You’re generally going to want to book international travel further in advance than you would domestic travel.

For New York to Paris, for instance, Hopper currently suggests booking 45 days ahead of time. For trips to Cancun, Mexico, Hopper suggests a whopping 80 days in advance.

Naturally, international trips tend to come with more advanced planning, anyway. For instance, I can tell you right now my wife and I are planning a tour of Italy … next March — nine months from now.

Considering airlines load their flight schedules into booking sites around 11 months in advance, I could start checking the pricing on round trips to Rome on a daily basis now if I wanted to.

But it would be a waste of time, Harrell said. Sure, the algorithms could lead to some minor fluctuations in prices, but by and large, he said those 2023 flights … “They’re just sitting there.”

He recommends keeping a much closer watch on the flights as departure day draws nearer. At that point, he said, “Take a gander each day. Or a couple of times a day.”

Hopper recommends travelers avoid booking more than 150 days out, since there’s always a chance airlines could bring prices down to adjust for demand. Note that this advice applies to cash fares, and if you are using airline miles it’s never too soon to start checking — and lock something in if you find what you are after.

Travelers crowd the security checkpoint at Denver International Airport (DEN) on the Wednesday leading into Thanksgiving in November 2021. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post/Getty Images)

When to book flights for holiday 2022-2023 travel

Generally, analysts recommend some holiday-themed milestones for knowing when to book holiday travel. Conventional wisdom suggests getting your Thanksgiving flights taken care of by Halloween, and your Christmas flights done by Thanksgiving, Hopper told TPG.

At the same time, Hopper was quick to point out that this guidance could evolve in 2022 as the year moves forward, to adapt to changing pricing patterns.

Historically, prices have tended to just rise steadily as Christmas and New Year’s travel approaches.

When it comes to your actual travel days, though, you can generally save quite a bit of money if you’re willing to travel on the holiday itself. Speaking from recent experience traveling on Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day, it’s also generally a much quieter and less stressful experience compared to the frenzy that can be the Wednesday leading into Thanksgiving.

Related: Tips for booking cheap holiday travel

A pricing search on Google Flights backs this up as I look at flights for this Thanksgiving, even close to six months in advance.

Let’s say you’re looking at flights from New York to Austin. You can see how the cheapest fares available surge on Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, and again on the Saturday through Monday after. If it fits your schedule to depart on the holiday itself, you’ll save.

sunrise photo on board plane
Sunrise over the southeast U.S. on a flight from Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) to Miami International Airport (MIA). (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

At the end of the day, all the data analysis and research in the world can’t put a crystal ball in your hands when it comes to finding the cheapest airfare prices for your desired trip.

“The only person who’s got the real answer is the guy behind the desk at the major airlines,” Harrell said, even with his decades of work in this arena.

And while there is no magical time or day of the week to book airfare to get the best prices, there are some common themes. You’re more likely to see fares suddenly get more (or less) expensive during the work week. And once you cross 21 and 14 days until the departure date you are likely to see more dramatic increases. At the same time, that’s also when you could see prices drop if the demand just isn’t there.

On the flip side, many months out, you’re not usually likely to see the fare change very dramatically. But as you get within a month or two before your flight, if you see a good fare, it’s often a good idea to lock it in. And in fact, anytime you see a good fare in the current environment might be the perfect time to book the airfare for your next flight. Thanks to more flexible change and rebooking policies, your deal can only really get better from there.

Featured photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty Images.

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