There are many myths surrounding the practice of booking a flight. Some people swear by a specific day, while others go as far as to claim there’s a specific time of day when it is best to book a flight.

In reality, booking flights at their cheapest rates is far from an exact science. In fact, it’s closer to a gamble, given the dynamic pricing algorithms used by airlines and sudden price drops.

However, all things considered, there are a few general trends when it comes to booking flights, as well as some tactics you can employ to put you in the best position for finding the cheapest airfares. Let’s dive into the world of flight booking.

Is There a “Best Time” to Book Flights?

Previously, the go-to advice was that the best day to buy flights was on Tuesdays. This was because airlines used to release their tickets on Tuesdays and would price match each other. Thus, Tuesday was historically the optimal time to book a flight and snag the lowest price.

However, the situation isn’t so clear-cut anymore.

Searching for Flights Online

While Expedia claims that you can save up to 5% on domestic flights and up to 15% on international flights by booking on a Sunday, the data from Google Flights indicates that you can save a mere 1.9% by booking on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays compared to the weekend.

Suffice to say, there’s no guaranteed best time to book a flight anymore.

That being said, there are several patterns that remain when it comes to flight booking which you can leverage to your advantage to get the lowest price possible.

Factors Affecting Flight Prices

When it comes to flight pricing, the good ol’ laws of supply and demand rule the game.

Airlines use dynamic pricing algorithms to maximize their revenues. These algorithms attempt to optimize the price of flights based on two filed fares, responding to price competition, consumer behavior and other factors.

When demand for flights is high—typically during holiday seasons—prices increase. Likewise, when the date of departure is near and the supply of flights on the same route is low, prices also increase, responding to higher last-minute demand whereby consumers have limited options.

Similarly, when oil prices and operational costs fluctuate, these changes tend to be passed onto consumers in the form of higher prices.

That being said, price competition between airlines can push prices down before last-minute demand kicks in. In some cases, this can lead to overbooking, costing the airline the ability to profit from higher-priced last-minute sales.

Understanding this interplay of factors is key to booking flights at the optimum time.

Best Time to Fly

Best and Cheapest Days to Travel

Most studies indicate that mid-week travel is cheaper than travel on the weekend.

Expedia claims that you can save up to 15% on domestic flights and up to 10% on international flights if you depart on a Wednesday, compared to departing on the weekend.

An analysis conducted by the Google Flights team came up with similar results. However, they claim that flying on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday can save you up to 20% on domestic fares and up to 12% on international fares compared to flying on the weekend.

Data from Cheapair also concludes that weekends tend to be the most expensive days to travel, while Tuesdays and Wednesdays remain the cheapest days.

Likewise, flights that occur early in the morning or late at night tend to be cheaper than flights during the day. This is often the case because flying during these times is less ideal than during the day. Similarly, low-cost carriers often take these slots and charge lower fares, with the knowledge that these are less than favorable times to fly.

In brief, mid-week travel early in the morning and late at night is going to be your best bet when securing cheap airfares.

How Far in Advance Should You Book for the Best Deals?

When looking for the best time to book a flight in advance, “the earlier the better” works as a general rule.

You want to avoid booking both domestic and international flights less than about two to four weeks in advance. The last few weeks before take-off are typically considered last-minute. During this time, airlines tend to spike prices, knowing that travelers will have limited options. This is also a time when business travelers tend to book. They tend to be willing to pay higher last-minute prices to fly, especially if they have important business reasons for doing so.

For domestic flights, you typically want to book a little more than a month before take-off. Expedia recommends 28 to 35 days, while Google Flights expands this to 60 days before your flight as the optimum booking period for low fares. You could save up to 10% if you book a flight during this time frame. Generally, booking domestic flights more than 100 days in advance will lead to you paying higher prices, so be patient and wait for that 30-to-60-day sweet spot before take-off.

The best time to book an international flight is typically around six months before departure. Booking flights six months in advance could save you up to 10% compared to booking an international flight two months or less in advance.

Planning Your Flights

That being said, for international flights, the optimal time to book a flight can vary widely between destinations. For example, Cheapair reports that booking flights to Mexico, Oceania and Europe from the United States is best done between 1.5 to 10 months in advance, while flights to Asia should be booked 4.5 to 10 months in advance. These are significant booking windows, as well as significant variations depending on the destination.

In some instances, last-minute fares may be cheaper on certain flights. Airlines don’t want to have empty seats, so if the bookings aren’t coming in, they may begin dropping prices. While this could land you an ultra-cheap fare, it’s a risky strategy to pursue. If you need to travel, you should avoid this tactic and instead book a flight well in advance.

Myths Debunked: Flight Booking Tricks that Don’t Work

Here are some of the most common myths about how to book a flight, debunked.

Group vs. Individual Tickets

Some flight booking theories claim that you can receive volume discounts for group bookings or that you can secure lower prices by booking each ticket individually. In most cases, there’s no benefit to either approach. Differences in prices are most commonly due to tickets belonging to different fare buckets, rather than hidden discounts.

Last-Minute Price Drops

While there are exceptions, last-minute price drops are rare.

Typically, airlines will increase prices the closer it is to the departure date. This is because last-minute travelers can’t be picky when it comes to price, as they usually have to travel.

If you have no need to travel and are simply looking to snag a good deal, then use Google Flights to search for last-minute price drops. Otherwise, stick to booking well in advance to secure yourself a fair price.

Browse Incognito and Clear Your Cookies

While data mining algorithms certainly have an interest in your search habits, you won’t be penalized with higher prices as a result. Clearing your cookies and browsing for flights in incognito mode will have zero effect on prices.

Think of it this way: airlines want you to book directly with them, which gives them an incentive to offer you fair prices. If they would raise their prices due to your repeated searches for a specific flight, you could easily go through a third-party website to find cheaper fares.

Woman Checking Phone at Airport

Top Tips for Finding Cheap Flights

While there may be no perfect time to book a flight, there are some strategies you can employ to find the cheapest flights possible.

Track Flight Prices

There are many options available when it comes to tracking flight prices. Google Flights is one of them.

With Google Flights, you can select a specific flight, date or route, depending on your flexibility, and have Google track and regularly alert you about price fluctuations. This can help you find the lowest fare without having to do all the work yourself.

Likewise, for Capital One cardholders, you can use the Capital One Travel portal to monitor flights and price drops. Capital One partners with the flight tracking service Hopper to analyze and predict the optimum time to book a flight. If you select “watch this trip” for a certain flight, Capital One will not only update you about price drops, it will also recommend whether you should book now or wait longer.

Using flight price tracking tools is an easy way to reduce the effort of finding the lowest fare.

Book Flexible Tickets

Unless you book a basic economy fare, most U.S. airlines enable you to change your booking without applying fees. You can use this to your advantage.

If you know you’re going to travel around a certain date, go ahead and book a standard economy fare or higher. When you do this, double-check that you can change your ticket without incurring any change fees.

Once you’ve booked your ticket, monitor the price of the flight and stay alert for price drops. If you find a lower-priced ticket, rebook your fare to the cheaper one. Although you won’t get a refund, you’ll typically receive the difference in price as a voucher to be redeemed on future flights.

Use Price Drop Protection

Both Capital One and Google Flights offer price drop protection.

With Capital One, you can receive up to $50 of the price difference in the event of a price drop after booking, if you book a flight based on Capital One’s recommendation.

Similarly, Google Flights offers price-drop protection on certain flights departing from the U.S. These price-drop-protected itineraries are highlighted with a special badge on the flight results search page. In the event you book one of these flights and the price later drops by more than $5, Google will refund you the difference. You can receive up to $500 back across a maximum of three price-guaranteed bookings per calendar year.

Search for Round-Trip and One-Way Flights

Generally speaking, round-trip itineraries can save you money compared to booking two one-way flights. Most, but not all, airlines will price a round-trip itinerary at a price lower than the equivalent sum of the same two one-way flights.

However, all rules have their exceptions.

While booking a round-trip itinerary may save you compared to booking two one-way flights with the same airline, booking two one-way flights with separate airlines may save you even more.

For example, instead of flying with Delta Air Lines to your destination and back, you could fly one leg with Delta and the return leg with United Airlines.

That means when it comes to booking flights, you should search for both round-trip itineraries as well as separate one-way flights to check for hidden cost-savings.

Change Your Booking Country

In some but not all cases, you may be able to secure a lower-priced fare when you change your booking country to the home country of the airline you want to book a flight with. Local booking can sometimes get you cheaper airfares.

If you pursue this method, just be sure to take exchange rates and currency conversion fees into account. If the cost-savings on airfare are marginal, you may end up paying more in currency conversion fees if the website is in a foreign currency.

Travel from a Hub

When booking flights, you’ll have a greater range of options as well as typically lower prices when booking from a hub airport.

Hub airports host a greater number of airlines and offer a wider range of routes. This increased supply of airlines and flights encourages price competition, making it easier to find a lower-priced fare compared to smaller regional airports.

In some cases, it may even be worth using a positioning flight to get you to a hub airport, where you’ll then have a greater choice of low-cost fares. This is a classic example of how to use positioning flights to your advantage, netting you overall cheaper airfares.

Man at an Empty Airport

Travel Mid-Week

As already mentioned, traveling on Tuesdays and Wednesdays can save you up to 10% compared to traveling on weekends.

When booking flights, try to select mid-week days as your dates of departure and avoid the weekend when possible.

Look for Nearby Airports

If you live near multiple airports, consider searching for flights departing from all the airports in your area, rather than just your airport of preference. Likewise, find out if there are other airports in your city of destination.

You can normally alter the search function to include airports near your cities of departure and arrival.

Just remember to consider the additional costs involved in traveling to and from airports that may be further away from your airport(s) of preference. If the extra fuel or transportation costs are equal to or more than the difference in price between a higher-priced fare at your airport of preference and a lower-priced fare at a nearby airport, then the added benefit will be negated.

Consider Layovers and Red-Eye Flights

Booking a flight with a layover could save you up to 20% compared to booking a direct flight.

If you have a travel credit card that gives you access to an airport lounge at your layover airport, this can make waiting for your connection much less hassle.

Likewise, flights that leave early in the morning and late at night tend to be priced lower than those that depart during the day. If you can bite the bullet and fly at these times, you’ll likely save some money while doing so. Just keep in mind that flights that depart later than 3 p.m. have up to a 50% higher chance of delays or cancellations compared to those scheduled earlier in the day. So if you must fly on your planned departure date, consider booking an early morning flight.

Man Waiting at Airport

When and How to Book Flights Using Points & Miles

When booking flights using points and miles, the best time to book is when you can get a redemption value equal to or higher than what your miles are worth. It’s easy enough to calculate this.

Let’s say a flight costs either 10,000 miles or $200, and the average redemption value of these miles is 1.5 cents per mile. If you simply divide the cash cost of the flight by the number of miles required, you’ll find out the redemption value. In our case, $200 divided by 10,000 miles gives us a redemption value of 2 cents per mile, making this a high-value redemption.

Alternatively, if the cash cost of the flight was $50, your redemption value would be 0.5 cents per mile only, making this unprofitable.

It’s important to keep airline alliances and transfer partners in mind when booking flights with points and miles. Often, you can get a higher redemption value by booking with a partner airline, compared to booking directly with the airline whose rewards currency you hold.

Certain points and miles have blackout dates as well as expiry dates. Blackout dates prevent you from redeeming your miles on certain peak travel days. While blackout dates are becoming less common, the greater problem is limited award seat availability. When booking flights with points and miles, don’t wait too long as award seats may become unavailable on the specific flight you wish to take.

Ready, Set, Fly: Making Informed Travel Decisions

While there may be no perfect time to book a flight, there are definitely ways you can avoid paying excessive airfares.

For domestic flights, plan to book about one month in advance, and for international trips, you can extend that to an average of six months, depending on the destination. Generally, try to book mid-week departures and returns, and track flight prices using a third-party service to secure the lowest rate.

When looking for flights, the more flexible you can be, the better. Expanding your choice of dates and airports can save you a significant amount of money. And if you’re still out of luck, it doesn’t hurt to mix it up with layovers, red-eye flights and one-way flights with separate airlines.

For more travel tips on securing low prices and valuable redemptions, follow the latest posts from 10xTravel.