Inflation and high gas prices are squeezing traveler’s budgets these days. When booking your next trip, you’re probably hoping to score the best deal on flights. With a little planning, you most likely can.
Using tools such as Google Flights or Hopper when you’re planning your vacation can help you figure out the best time to buy that plane ticket.
“Google Flights is my go-to for finding and comparing flight prices,” Jenita Lawal, owner of Lawal Travel Services, told USA TODAY, calling it one of her research tools when planning vacations. In particular, she likes the price tracking and explore features to find good deals to new destinations she has never heard of, like Merida, Mexico.
The Google Flights team recently analyzed five years’ worth of data – from August 2017 to August 2022 – to find out the best time to book a flight and other times airfare deals are at their best. (The team also debunked the flights-are-cheaper-on-Tuesday thing.)
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Keep in mind, though, that your specific route may not always follow these price patterns, especially during these hectic travel times.
“Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason with flight prices lately,” Lawal said. “There have been times when I’ve seen some great last-minute flight deals, which are great if you’re flexible. For my clients, I recommend booking eight to six months out.”
Also, consider a vacation package, she said, which has everything rolled into one price, often including charter flights.
Here’s what the Google Flights data found about booking the cheapest flights, plus some expert tips from travel advisers.
“Google Flights brings a lot of helpful information right to your fingertips, so you can easily track prices, filter for your exact preferences, or browse destinations around the world that fit your budget,” said James Byer, group product manager at Google Flights.
How far in advance should I book a flight?
For domestic trips, the lowest prices tend to be between three weeks and three months ahead of your departure date, according to Byer. The lowest prices average out 44 days, or about 1½ months, before,
International trips will require a bit more time and planning. For trips from the US to Europe, you’re going to want to err on the early side – 129 days, or almost five months, ahead will provide the best deals. Try not to book less than 50 days before your trip.
Flights to Mexico or the Caribbean offer a little more slack when it comes to planning: The best prices are 59 days, or nearly two months, out.
April Cheng, a travel adviser and owner of TravelChic, recommends even more time – six to eight months for international and four to five months for domestic – so you have the most flight options to choose from.
“Too early or too late, you will not get a ton of times to fly,” she said.
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What day of the week is cheapest to fly?
Flights that depart on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday are historically the cheapest days of the week to fly, especially if you’re going international. According to Byer’s analysis, you could save up to 12% on airfare if you book a flight for those days rather than the weekend.
Lawal agrees that Tuesday and Wednesday flights tend to have the lowest fares, probably because most people are traveling Thursday through Sunday or Friday through Monday, she said.
“Most US travelers, I find, try to book their travel to include the weekend,” Lawal said.
The most expensive day to fly is Sunday.
Is it more expensive to fly nonstop?
Time is money when it comes to flying, it seems. Google Flights data showed that those who are willing to take a layover could save about 20% in fares.
If you do decide to go the layover route, Lawal said there are a few options you can do to make the most of the extra time, maybe even including some sightseeing.
- For layovers longer than two hours, she suggests checking out an airport lounge.
- For layovers of more than five hours, she said you can probably fit an activity into your schedule. “On my first trip to Mexico, I purposely booked a flight with a five-hour layover in Mexico City,” she said. “It was enough time to take a taxi to the historic center and grab a bite to eat before heading back to the airport.”
- Consider an overnight layover or one that’s more than seven hours and book a hotel (with an airport shuttle and breakfast, she recommends.) “In the UK, I had a nine-hour layover at Heathrow, so I bought a subway ticket and enjoyed a few hours in London – even popped into Wolseley’s for authentic English tea, “she said.
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Is it true that flight fares are cheapest on Tuesdays?
Unfortunately, waiting until Tuesday to book your flight won’t save you any money. In fact, putting it off for even a few more days may cost you.
Over the past five years, flights booked on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays have been only about 1.9% cheaper than those booked on the weekend.
“So if your trip is just a couple of weeks away, don’t wait for Tuesday to roll around – book your flight now in case the price goes up,” Google’s Byer said.
When should you start booking flights for the holidays?
For domestic Thanksgiving travel, the best airfare deals occur 36 to 74 days before the travel date, with the price bottoming, on average, 52 days, or right under two months, out, according to Google Flights data.
Domestic trips during Christmas are typically low at around 22 days, or about three weeks, before departure, but low prices tend to become available up to 88 days – or almost three months – before.
To come up with this data, Byer looked at five- to nine-day trips and 13- to 16-day trips with departure dates before the holiday and return dates after the holiday.
Cheng foresees holiday travel to be just as busy as it was this summer and suggests her clients book with more time in advance for the holidays, like at least six months for international and four months for domestic travel, she said.
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What about purchasing summer vacation flights?
If your trip is domestic and taking place in July or August, aim for three weeks before your planned departure date to catch the best deals.
Other ways to use Google Flights to find a good deal on airfares
Google Flights will show you if today’s prices are low, typical or high – which they calculate based on similar flights in the past 12 months – so you can determine whether the current price is a good deal.
When you turn on price tracking for your destination and travel dates, you’ll receive an email if prices change substantially, so you know if you should book ASAP or wait, according to Byer. Those with more flexible schedules can also track for any dates in the next few months for a destination.
When planning, check out Google Flights’ calendar view, date grid and price graph to see how fares change based on dates.