The Best Time to Book a Flight for Domestic, International, and Summer Travel
Finding the best flight deals is a bit of an art form, but there's also some science — or at least economics — involved. There are only two definitive rules: Flights open for booking about a year in advance, and the airfare will change often between then and takeoff. So, as a general rule of thumb, you'll want to book plane tickets well in advance, as prices spike sharply in the days preceding the flight, taking advantage of any last-minute travelers who have no choice but to pay up.
But there are many variables that impact the dynamic pricing patterns of plane tickets, including the destination and time of year. In some cases, you can book just a couple of weeks in advance, while in others, you're better off reserving months ahead (such as a trip over a big travel holiday, when demand is high).
While travel has been upended by the pandemic for the past two years, we're seeing numbers return to normal — in its January 2022 Consumer Airfare Index Report, airfare tracking site Hopper predicts airfare will reach 2019 levels by April 2022. That said, given the general uncertainty regarding potential new variants, travelers are still holding off on booking flights until their travel dates approach, much as they did in 2020 and 2021.
Nonetheless, good deals are still all about big-picture timing, and while travel logistics are more in flux these days, most airlines now waive change fees, making it easier for travelers to book well in advance and shift plans later, if need be.
The bottom line is that scoring the best flight deals can be tricky — and the pandemic's impact on travel and the airline industry has added more than a few challenges. But we're here to help you find the best flights for your upcoming travel. Our first tip: Start tracking flight prices as early as possible so you can keep an eye on cost fluctuations. Use Google Flights or Hopper to receive price change notifications about your tracked flights.
When to Book Flights for Domestic Travel
According to a 2021 survey by CheapAir.com, on average, the best time to purchase plane tickets for a domestic trip is 64 days before your departure date. Keep in mind that this is an average — it doesn't mean you should log on exactly 64 days before travel, but rather that you should scout flights around the 64-days-out mark. Seasonality also makes a big difference. CheapAir.com revealed that the cheapest flights were found 67 days prior to a summer trip, 94 days prior to a winter trip, 84 days prior to a spring trip, and 89 days prior to a fall trip.
For domestic trips, pricing is elevated when tickets are first released, about a year before the flight. Per CheapAir.com, those prices will slowly creep downward, all the way to their lowest point sometime between 95 and 21 days (roughly three months to three weeks) before the flight, after which you'll likely see that last-minute spike in cost.
But because 2022 is all about travel recovery, this trend might not hold true this year. Hopper expects to see a 7% increase in domestic airfare each month through June. (The company hasn't yet made its predictions for the second half of the year.) So, this year, it's really all about monitoring airfare and buying as soon as you see an appealing price.
When to Book Flights for International Travel
Overall, you're better off booking earlier rather than later for international travel, but there is some variance depending on your destination. CheapAir.com found the lowest fares to Canada occurred two months before departure, and the same is true for booking flights to Mexico and the Caribbean. The prime booking window for Central America is just over half a month to three months before departure, and for the Middle East, it's between one and a half and five and a half months before your trip. The best time to buy flights to Africa is about three months out, while for Asia and Europe, it's approximately 119 and 120 days, respectively. Just make sure you book before the one-month mark — Expedia data suggests that prices start to rise 28 days before departure.
But again, as with domestic flight prices, Hopper predicts an increase in international airfare as we move through 2022 — about 5% per month through June. So, keep on tracking those flights and buy as soon as you're happy with a price.
When to Book Flights for Summer 2022 Travel
As travel is rebounding, prices are rebounding, too. "We're seeing price hikes heading into the summer travel season, likely due to pent-up demand," says Paul Jacobs, general manager and vice president of Kayak North America. To that end, book ASAP for summer travel, as prices are likely to rise as time goes on.
If you're looking for the best deal, consider an international trip instead of a domestic one this summer. "In the last two weeks, domestic flight prices for summer travel are already up 28% compared to 2019, whereas flight prices to Europe are only up 3% right now," says Jacobs.
And, if you can, plan your trip for August — Kayak data, as provided to Travel + Leisure, shows that prices for both domestic and international travel are at their lowest that month (specifically the week of Aug. 22 for domestic and the week of Aug. 15 for international).
When to Book Flights for Holiday 2022 Travel
You might think it's a little too soon to be thinking about holiday travel, and typically speaking, you'd be right — the best time to book flights for Thanksgiving and Christmas is usually in September. But given the unpredictability of pandemic-related travel, we suggest booking your flights whenever you see a price you like.
Now, if you're someone who travels somewhat regularly throughout the year, we have a little hack for you: Consider buying your holiday flights now — or whenever you find a decent deal — but make sure to book a fare that will give you a credit if you cancel (typically speaking, that means don't book basic economy). That way, if prices drop between the time of booking and September, you can cancel your original ticket and use the credit to book the cheaper fare. The only downside is that you'll still have some remaining credit, but you could then use it to treat yourself to a future flight. (Just don't let that credit expire!)