There’s no shortage of opinions on the best time to book a flight, and—not surprisingly—the information varies depending on the source.
At Scott’s Cheap Flights, we know a thing or two about finding airfare deals. We swim in those waters 24/7. So, we also have some opinions on the subject.
A recent report from Skyscanner says that the cheapest month to book a flight from the US is January, followed by February and August. The same report claims that you should book flights at 5am for the most potential savings, avoid booking flights between 8–11pm, and book on Tuesdays for domestic flights and Wednesdays for international flights.
It all seems so convenient, right? It would be so easy if you knew not only the best months and days of the week, but even the best hours of the day to click the “buy” button on airfare.
Like most things that sound too good to be true, though, this report isn’t as definitive as it sounds.
As Scott's Cheap Flights members know, fantastic airfare deals pop up year-round—and they don’t care much about what day or time it is. We’ve seen some killer deals on days or months that some reports would have you believe there’s no point in even looking.
We don’t think it’s possible to answer the question of “what’s the best time to book a flight for the cheapest fare” in such simple terms. The truth is that it not only varies a bit depending on where you’re from and where you’re going, there are a whole lot of other unknowns and unexpected factors that can influence the price of a flight.
Let’s dissect the question of “best time” to get to its individual elements: month, day, and time in advance of a trip.
If the Skyscanner report was the end of the conversation, you’d only get Scott’s Cheap Flights emails in January, February, and August.
The reality is that deals pop up in every month for varying reasons and for different destinations.
For example, last year we sent the most fare alert emails in October, with August, July, November, and January also seeing a plethora of deals. However, within each month, there were some variances by destination.
For reference, here’s a rundown on the best deals we saw last year for each region of the globe. Note that these aren’t the cheapest months in which to travel to these regions, rather they’re the months during which we found the most deals to each place (for example, a deal sent in May might be for travel in December).
The best month for snagging great deals to Africa was May. However, we saw amazing deals to Africa consistently throughout the year, like an August deal from DC to Nairobi for $574 roundtrip (for travel Jan–April 2019) or an October deal for Dublin to Johannesburg roundtrip for €371 (for travel Nov 2018–June 2019).
The best months for scoring a deal to Asia were August and October, followed by April and September, but again, there were plenty of deals in other months, too. In May, we sent a deal for $196 nonstop roundtrip flights from Bangkok to Seoul (for travel Sept–Nov 2018 and Jan–April 2019) and in July we found $333 nonstop roundtrip flights from SFO to Beijing (for travel Sept–Oct 2018).
The biggest months for deals to Australia and New Zealand were November, January, and July, but there were deals to be had all year round. For example, in December we sent a deal for $684 roundtrip flights from NYC to Sydney (for travel Feb–April 2019), in September we sent a deal for $359 roundtrip nonstop flights from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney (for travel Oct–Nov 2018), and in April we sent a deal for $702 roundtrip from San Francisco to Auckland (for travel May–June 2018).
The months we send the most deals for travel to Europe were in August, October, and November. However, there were deals galore in every single other month as well, like great fares in the $200s/$300s roundtrip to Europe from the US in November (for travel Jan–May 2019) and similar flights in the $400s/$500s in July (for travel Aug 2018–May 2019) as well as great deals for travel from Australia to the US in the $900s (also in July, for travel Oct–Nov 2018 and Jan–March 2019).
We saw a marginal increase in the number of fare alerts we sent for travel to Latin America in October but otherwise, the number of great deals was pretty consistent throughout the year. For example, in December we shared a killer nonstop deal to Buenos Aires for $526 roundtrip from Miami (for travel Jan–June 2019) and in April we found roundtrip flights in the $200s/$300s to Bogota from several cities in the US (for travel April–May and Aug–Sept 2018).
June, July, and October were the busiest months for deals to the US and Canada, but again—you guessed it—we sent lots of great deals in all the other months, too. In May we sent a deal for roundtrip flights from Shanghai to several US cities in the $500s (for travel Oct–Nov 2018), in August we found roundtrip fares from several European cities across the US in the €200s (for travel Sept 2018–June 2019), and in November we sent a deal for roundtrip flights to Vancouver in the $200s from dozens of US cities (for travel Nov 2018–May 2019).
Ultimately, while some months do see slightly more deals, we see deals all the time, and there’s never a bad month to find and book a cheap flight.
Another popular question is around the best day to book flights, and in particular, people wonder, “are plane tickets cheaper on Tuesday?”
A lot of sites claim this to be true, and it once was. Airlines used to post updated prices at a certain time of day each week (Tuesday, according to popular belief), but nowadays airline prices are constantly updated and can fluctuate by the second.
We see deals every day, and we send out fare alerts 24/7, so we don’t think the Tuesday hypothesis holds water. Every day is a great day to find a cheap flight.
Part of the math involved when you book airline tickets is knowing how many days in advance you should be checking on fares. There are plenty of opinions on this topic, too.
We typically see a sweet spot of 3–6 months out, but we recommending booking earlier if you need to travel on specific dates or if your trip is during peak tourist seasons.
You can book flights up to a year in advance, but that doesn’t necessarily equal the best deal. If you have less flexibility or are traveling during peak times, start tracking flights early so you know the standard price—and can identify a good deal when you see one.
Whether or not you aspire to be the kind of traveler who decides on a Tuesday to go to Aruba on Friday, you should know that deals on last-minute flights are more rare than you might have been led to believe.
Airlines used to offer killer deals a few weeks out when they were trying to fill vacant seats with leisure travelers. But the times have changed, and now their bottom line is covered by expensive first and business class tickets, so there’s no need to fill every seat. Plus, they know some of those empty seats will get snapped up by business travelers heading out on a sudden trip—and they pay full price.
Generally speaking, waiting until the 11th hour to book airfare isn’t going to save you money. After about the three week mark, prices rise significantly, no matter the route.
Bottom line: We think there’s no single best time to buy airline tickets. We find cheap flights and send them to our members all the time, so the best time to book your flight is when you find a deal that works for you.