If last year’s soaring airfares discouraged you from taking a summer vacation (the average price for a domestic flight was $396 in the third quarter of 2014, according to the most recent data from the Department of Transportation) then now’s the time to book before prices take off once again.
According to a new travel industry report from Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Corp., the best time to buy a domestic flight is 50 to 100 days in advance. Tickets sold during that window averaged approximately $85 less than the standard ticket price. For international travel, you should book even earlier — 150 to 225 days prior to your departure, when ticket prices are $300 less than the overall average.
All of this information makes April the sweet spot for booking summer airfare. Here’s how to land the best price.
Shop on Tuesday and Wednesday. These are the days you want to target to get the best fare, says Warren Chang, vice president and general manager of Fly.com.
The magic hour? Data from FareCompare.com says the best time to book a flight in the U.S. is 3 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday (when airlines release the most sales), but Chang says not to stress the clock so much. “It used to be that airfare was filed a couple of times a day, but now it’s all throughout the day.” However, sales do tend to be posted earlier in the week, and usually earlier in the morning, he says.
Fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. Being flexible can pay off, and that means flying on the least popular travel days and at unfavorable times. We’re talking red-eyes, flights at the crack of dawn and around the dinner hour. “Many of the sale airfares are only good on Tuesday or Wednesday — the other days of the week are blacked out,” says Rick Seaney of FareCompare.com.
Discounts range from 15 to 40 percent. Seaney suggests splitting the difference — in other words, fly one way of your trip (in either direction) on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday to reap the benefits. On the flip side, avoid flying on Friday and Sunday. Beloved by leisure and business travelers alike, these days are in high demand and the ticket prices show it.
Connect to save coin. More data from FareCompare.com says you can save up to 50 percent on your plane ticket by adding a stop or two to your itinerary. “Airlines have merged into submission, with four airlines comprising 80 percent of the traffic,” Seaney says. “The only cities that have decent competition are Chicago, New York and L.A. Because of this — and sophisticated computer systems — they can see how much more they can charge for nonstop flights. That’s why you see the competitive connecting offers.” For some, time is money, but if you’re willing to sacrifice a few hours to save change, then this is a good option for you.
Buying tickets for two or more? Book separately. “I call it a feature — they call it a glitch,” Seaney says. With airlines, if you’re booking for more than one person, then all of the tickets have to be the same price. So if the cheapest price point has one seat less than the requested number of passengers, then it bumps everyone up to the next price level that has enough seats.
Seaney says to shop for one passenger first to get the base price, and then compare it with the quote you get when shopping for multiple passengers. He did this on a family trip to Frankfurt. “There were two cheaper seats and the difference was $200 per person.” If you’re apprehensive about using this technique, then look for a “hold” feature. “Most airlines have a 24-hour cancellation policy and by using your credit card, you can keep airlines honest on their policies.”