Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
The start of a new year means an entire year of trips to plan.
Let’s face it, travel is expensive. While we aim to provide strategies for securing the cheapest airfare, your ability to find that elusive airline deal boils down to a few factors.
In a normal year, flights during the summertime and holidays are notoriously expensive. Now factor in that this is a year when inflation, limited flights and high travel demand have driven up the cost of air travel.
Have you ever heard that booking a flight on a certain day of the week will yield the cheapest results?
Perhaps you’re thinking of a cousin who claims he found a great deal when he checked on airfare prices at 12:01 a.m. on a Wednesday. Maybe you have a friend who swears by setting a reminder on her phone for 1 p.m. on a Thursday when she’s shopping for flights.
Indeed, there is no shortage of rumors (and “studies”) out there, but does the time of day you purchase flights actually make a difference in what you pay? Could it help you save at a time when so many other expenses are piling up?
TPG spoke to airfare experts about how timing influences airfare prices to help you maximize airfare savings this year.
Is there a day that’s cheaper than others to book a flight?
There used to be some truth to the concept that certain days were better for finding flight deals. However, research shows that this is more of a myth nowadays, per booking app Hopper. Hopper found that this only applied to less than 2% of routes and yielded savings of just 6%.
“There is no one day or ‘golden rule’ about when to book that applies to all travel,” Hayley Berg, lead economist at Hopper, says. The booking app relies on eight years of data and 70 trillion flight prices to recommend the best time to book specific routes and dates.
There may not be one day to ensure cheaper airfare, and you might find airfare prices fluctuate Monday through Friday, according to Bob Harrell, an airfare consultant who analyzes airline pricing.
Airlines look at customer demand and monitor booking trends to decide whether to open or close certain types of fares and whether to raise or lower existing fares, Harrell says.
So, how can you use this information to your advantage in buying airline tickets?
Related: 10 cheapest international spring break destinations
For domestic travel, Berg says to begin monitoring prices three to four months in advance, booking one to two months ahead of travel.
“Most domestic trip airfare will fall between one and three months before your departure, before rising rapidly in the last three to four weeks before takeoff,” Berg said. “This means there is a sweet spot where airlines will be offering lower prices on average and are more likely to offer promotional discounts and ultra-low fares.”
You’re generally going to want to book international travel further in advance than you would domestic travel — start gauging these flight prices six to seven months in advance while planning on booking three to five months in advance.
“When you’re traveling internationally, planning ahead is key to getting the cheapest airfare,” Berg said. “Travelers often book international flights too far in advance or too last minute, overpaying significantly for their tickets.”
What’s the best day to travel?
While airfare prices fluctuate based on when you book, midweek travel is likely cheaper than flying on weekends.
“Travelers who fly midweek, usually Wednesday, can save an average of $56 per ticket on domestic airfare throughout the year,” according to Hopper data. “Midweek savings spike over $60 per ticket during busy spring break and summer vacation months while flying midweek over the holidays can save you $100 or more.”
The same goes for international travel: A weeklong long-haul trip originating midweek averages $70 less than the same trip originating on a weekend, per Hopper.
When to book flights for spring break and summer travel
Even though 2023 just started, now is the time to start booking your flights for both spring break and summer travel if you haven’t already done so. Finding flight deals over popular travel dates requires planning five to six months in advance.
“If you’re traveling over a popular spring or summer long weekend, book three to four months in advance for the best prices and availability,” Berg advised. “Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekend tend to see sold-out flights and high prices if you don’t plan ahead.”
If you’re planning on heading abroad for a summer holiday, set a Google alert now for your desired routes to monitor flight deals.
“Ultra-long-haul trips to destinations in Asia and Australia are usually at their lowest price closer to five months before your departure date, so be sure to start monitoring early,” says Berg.
Consider booking midweek departures in July for summer travel to maximize savings; flying during the week versus the weekend can yield savings of more than $60 per ticket for both spring break and peak summer travel.
Looking ahead to the holidays, those same midweek flights can save between $80 and $130.
While there is no magical time or day of the week to book airfare for the best prices, your best bet is to fly midweek, specifically Wednesdays, for both domestic and international travel. Flying over the weekend usually comes at a significant price premium.
Ultimately, the economics of airfare looks a lot like that of any other commodity, according to Harrell.
“Airline pricing is the story of supply and demand,” he said.
Remember, this advice applies to cash fares. If you are using airline miles, it’s never too soon to start checking and booking.
Read more: Visiting a national park this summer? Better plan ahead
Additional reporting by Sean Cudahy.