How to find cheap flights

If you’ve ever bought a flight online (and who hasn’t at this point?) you’ve probably spent a good amount of time watching the price of a specific flight fluctuate before you finally pull the trigger. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason behind why that flight you had your eye on just increased in price by $50 one day, and goes back down the next.

While we don’t have all the answers, we do have some helpful tips to keep in mind in order to find the most affordable flight in 2016. Analysis of travel data over the last several years has shown that 2016 is another great year to travel. Expedia and Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) reported an 8% decrease in fares from October 2014 to October 2015. 2016 may show a similar decrease.

There is a science to booking a cheap flight (well, sort of). Experts have reviewed data, analyzed statistics and come up with the best time to book your flight in order to save the most money. There are a lot factors that make up the range in price for a flight.

When an airline first lists a flight it will likely start at the highest price point because they will have airfare sales later on down the road. If you’re booking a flight last minute you’re also facing the highest fares because there is a sense of urgency in securing on of the final seats on the plane.

So is there a perfect window of opportunity to find that lowest fare? Yes and No! While every airline will have their own pricing structure, there is a general understanding about the best time to book domestic or international travel. Several travel sites have gathered years of data and studied billions of flights and found that there is an ideal window of time that you can discover and book the cheapest flight.

So what is this magical window of time? How many days out do I book my flight?

Travel sites like momondo analyzed 12.6 billion airfares around the world and determined that if you book your flight 53 days before departure you can save 26%.

Recent data from Expedia has determined that the magic number is 57 days in order to save about 10% off the regular fare. Cheapair also released new data just a few days ago which says 54 is the best number to book a domestic flight within the US after reviewing 1.3 billion fares.

how to find cheap flights

Cheap Air

While the information is a bit conflicting, it does give you a pretty solid time period that you should consider booking a flight. On average, you should be purchasing your airfare about 2 months out from your departure date. Remember this is based on data from the past year or so, and every year may yield different results. Start seriously looking into flights around 120 days out from your trip and you should start seeing a decline in price.

Are you booking international travel? Here are some international booking suggestions courtesy of Expedia:

Optimal Booking Times

  • North America to Europe: 176 days in advance, for savings of 11 percent
  • North America to Caribbean: 77 days in advance, for savings of 5 percent
  • North America to Asia-Pacific: 160 days in advance, for savings of 13 percent
  • North America to the Middle East and Africa: 144 days in advance, for savings of 24 percent
  • North America to South America: 90 days in advance, for savings of 10 percent

(For additional details from Expedia, you can learn more here).

If you live in Europe and traveling to another destination in Europe your best fare can be found about 140 days in advance.

Cheap Air

Cheap Air - When to Buy Flights

If you find there are too many variables to put in the extra effort to get that cheap flight, you’re not alone. Cheap Air has actually created an interactive site where you can plug in your departure location and where you want to go and it will analyze the data surrounding the location to give you your optimum booking window. It also lists the airlines that fly that route, the highest and lowest flights purchased through the site last year between the locations, and other helpful hints. Check it out here!

Of course there are always exceptions to the rule. All rules regarding flight prices will go out the window regarding holiday flights. These flights are going to be higher in price because the demand for the flight is higher. Don’t forget to do your research on international holidays too! Your flight abroad may stay consistent in price due to a holiday that we don’t have here in the states.

Other factors to consider when looking for the cheapest airfare:

Day of the Week & Time of Day of Booking --

Flight prices can also be affected by the time of day that you are booking the flight. Fare Compare found that the best time to book a flight within the US is Tuesday at 3pm EST. Hooper on the other hand says that Tuesday around midnight is the best time to book (it gets more expensive around midnight later in the week).

Day you are Flying --

Booking a flight on a Friday or Sunday will be the highest in price. If you want to save a few bucks and have the extra flexibility, booking a flight on a Tuesday or Wednesday will give you the best options. Business flyers will typically fly out on a Monday and return Thursday or Friday. Weekend vacationers will fly out on a Thursday or Friday and return Sunday evening to get back before the next work week.

The mobile flight-search app Hooper found that the cheapest day to depart on average is Wednesday and the most expensive day is Sunday. The best day to return from a domestic trip is Tuesday and the best date to return from an international flight is Wednesday.

Time of the Flight --

Convenience also dictates rates. Flights at the crack of daw, dinner time or the latest flight of the night will be some of the most affordable options. Mid-day flights will be the highest price. If getting up incredibly early or catching a red-eye flight don’t phase you, you can save some cash.

Other tips to finding the cheapest flight:

Set price alerts! There are a number of sites out there that will notify you when a great deal comes up! One of my favorites is Airfare Watchdog as well as Skyscanner.

Are you traveling during peak times? If your destination is popular for spring break, and you plan to travel there around that time, your best bet is to book the flight well before this ideal booking window. If you wait too long, the prices are bound to get higher because of the popularity of the destination.

Fly in and out of larger airports. If you’re flying into or out of a small airport, you will find the fares do not fluctuate as much. For example, my local airport is San Diego, but Los Angeles International Airport is much larger and will likely have a better range in prices and flights available. It might be worth flying out of Los Angeles to save more money on a flight.

Take a connecting flight. Non-stop flights are great, don’t get me wrong, but another money saving tip is to take a flight with a layover. If it is too long of a layover it can backfire. You may end up spending more money on meals in the airport or have to book a hotel overnight if the layover is more than a couple hours.

What do you do with your airfare savings?

Saving money on a flight means you have more room in your travel budget for something that means more to you. That may be incredible luxury accommodations or a fabulous meal at a top restaurant. Whatever you see fit! Being frugal with your airfare will give you more flexibility to spend your money on what means the most to you at your destination.

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More Tips on Booking Cheap Flights:

Your Turn...

Let us know if you’ve used these tips and found a great deal!

If you have any other advice for fellow travelers, leave it in the comments below!