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Airline Ticket Prices: What a Difference a Day Makes

Author: Matthew Harris

It's not too early to start thinking about summer. For the best prices, book domestic tickets starting about three months from your departure date or five months ahead for international travel.

When to Fly

The main question now is when to fly. Suggestion: Don't just pick a week or two and say that's when we'll go, not if you have any flexibility at all. Instead, take advantage of seasonal airfare changes and see what a difference a day makes. If you depart on your trip 24 hours too soon or 24 hours too late you could miss significant savings.

The following good and not-so-good departure dates come from an analysis of my company's vast storehouse of historical and real-time airfare data. Use these dates as a general guideline because airfares can and do sometimes change based on rising or falling demand (which is why it's a must to always compare ticket prices no matter when you fly). As of now, the following dates are expected to be the best bets for passenger prices breaks.

Best Dates to Fly: Spring and Pre-Summer Trips

It helps to know that airlines divide the year into specific fare seasons. Winter is cheapest, fall is generally a little cheaper than spring while summer is most expensive. There are also lesser variations within seasons.

  • March 16: Last day to depart and still pay winter season ticket prices (generally the cheapest of the year). As of March 17, most prices will rise.
  • May 16: Last day to depart and still pay spring season ticket prices (generally cheaper than summer). A bump in prices begins May 17.
  • June 9: Last day to depart and still pay lower pre-summer season ticket prices. As of June 10, peak-summer prices take over.
Best Dates to Fly: Late Summer and Fall Trips

Best bet for summer vacation bargains: Take off on Aug. 23 or later. Most airlines drop prices at this point because demand drops. You can thank all those children heading back to school.

  • Aug. 1: Starting this date, airfare drops slightly for weekday flights (Monday to Friday).
  • Aug. 23: Starting this date, airfare drops significantly as the cheaper fall season gets underway. Watch for another fall price drop in mid to late-October.
  • Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 24): The holiday itself is typically the cheapest day to fly during this popular travel period. The most expensive days to fly during Thanksgiving are usually the Wednesday before (Nov. 23) and Sunday after (Nov. 27).
Best Dates to Fly: Europe Trips

This year, the better and worse days for trans-Atlantic flights mirror the domestic dates. Tip: Look for more competition in the overseas market from European discounters such as Norwegian and Wow Air [see How to Fly to Europe for $100 (Maybe)].

  • March 16: Last day to depart to take advantage of cheaper winter rates. Prices jump a bit starting March 17.
  • May 16: Last day to take advantage of cheaper spring fares. As of May 17, ticket prices jump significantly as the peak summer season for Europe gets underway.
  • Aug. 23: Fall pricing begins, and fares drop for the season. Look for another price drop as the cheap winter season gets underway in late October.
The Bottom Line

Final thought: Travelers can usually save even more on domestic flights by flying on one of the traditionally cheapest days – Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. For Europe, it's usually cheaper to fly during the week than on a weekend. For more, see Which U.S. Airline Costs the Least? It Depends.

Rick Seaney is the CEO and cofounder of FareCompare.

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