Snagging the cheapest airfare takes plenty of planning and a little bit of luck. Airlines discount their fares according to the level of demand for the flight, so predicting those price drops isn't easy. Nonetheless, following a few basic guidelines can help you spot discounted tickets and snap them up before prices rise again.
Best Day of the Week to Book a Flight
Leisure travelers have an advantage when it comes to booking flights, because they can book on a Saturday or Sunday. Companies book their employees' tickets during the working week, which means airlines may temporarily drop prices at the weekend to entice the casual browser with a bargain. What's more, airline executives returning to work on Monday increase prices to create maximum profits, which means smart customers can sneak a cheap seat purchase before the price goes up. Having said that, for a last-minute deal on a weekend flight, the best time to look is the Tuesday afternoon prior, when airlines discount fares for the coming weekend.
How Far in Advance to Book
Generally speaking, booking flights months before your departure date pays dividends with cheaper tickets, but the tactic isn't cut and dried. Air tickets are often available at fairly low prices six months or longer before the departure date, but airlines don't offer significant discounts until they're actively trying to fill the flight. Around seven weeks in advance is the best time to scour websites for price drops on short haul flights, and for long haul flights, begin checking 18 weeks before the planned departure date.
A word of warning, however: None of this applies to flying on peak holiday travel days like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. For those dates, it's best to book months ahead of time.
Some airlines offer 21-day advance purchase discounts, and booking any later means that customers miss out on lower airfares.
Best Time of Year to Book
Airlines are more likely to have airfare sales at certain times of the year. For bargain-basement offers, check ticket prices directly after New Year's Day or in early fall. During these periods, most people aren't yet thinking about vacations, and airlines are keen to drum up business.
Finding Cheap Flights
It takes time and dedication to find the lowest airfares, as well as an understanding of how airlines operate their pricing systems. On some websites, airlines track searches and increase the ticket price at each repeat search, creating an illusion of time-sensitivity that spurs the customer into buying before the price increases again. To avoid this strategy, clear your computer's cookies between each search or browse in incognito mode. Alternatively, save time and effort by using Yapta or a similar ticket price tracking service that sends out an email alert when an airfare drops to the desired price.