The Best Time to Book Flights

Follow these general and seasonal rules to get the best deals on your family's airfare.

How to Get Deals

Airline ticket prices continue to rise, but there are still deals out there. Knowing when to buy your tickets for spring break and the holiday season can help you save big. Kellie Pelletier, the airfare expert at Jetsetter, has the inside scoop on when to buy for each big travel season. Keep reading to get her advice.
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A version of this article originally appeared on

Ground Rules for Getting the Best Airfare

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Before going into the specifics of when to buy each ticket, she shared some basic rules:

-Shop on Tuesday mornings. Fare sales are often launched Monday nights, so other airlines have matched their prices by Tuesday morning.

-Search how full your flight is. You can tell if your flight is full or empty by starting to buy tickets online and "choosing your seat." That will show you how many seats are taken already.

-Remember it's a gamble. When in doubt, booking earlier is safer. If you wait, fares could go up or down, and usually fares go up by more than they go down (read: going down $50 vs. going up by $300). Only bide your time if your flight isn't too full and you know the price is a lot higher than it should be.

-Use online tools. Kayak's "Hacker" tool can help you find two separate one-way flights to make a round trip that saves more money. Kayak also offers a fare chart so you can see trends in the ticket prices, and Bing created a price predictor tool to help you guess if fares are going up or down.

-Follow airlines. Some airlines promote one-hour sales on Facebook or Twitter only, so follow an airline for the best deals.

-Consider a destination serviced by low-cost carriers. Carriers like Air Tran, Southwest, and Frontier drive down all airfares along their routes. So it might make sense sometimes to drive longer to go to a bigger airport with low-cost carriers, since even major carriers' flights will likely be cheaper.

Also See: 5 Creative Weekend Getaway Ideas

If You're Traveling at a Normal Time (Not During the Holidays or High Season) Kim Carson/Getty ImagesKim Carson/Getty Images

Non-peak domestic flights present one of your best shots at timing your ticket-buying. This will be easiest if it's a route you're familiar with and you have a sense of what a good price is.

When to buy: Pelletier says, "Recent fare analysis by the Airlines Reporting Corporation, which processes ticket transactions for airlines and travel agencies, reported that over the past four years passengers paid the lowest price for domestic flights when buying just about six weeks in advance."

Here's your plan of attack:
-Check available tickets eight to ten weeks before your departure. If the flights aren't too full, wait until six weeks prior.

-At six weeks: If the price looks good, go ahead and book. If the tickets look a little high but your flight is pretty full, buy anyway because fares will probably only go up. If the price is high and your flight is pretty empty, you can choose to wait a week or two to see if prices decrease.

-Consult resources like Kayak's fare chart and Bing's price predictor to see if your flight's price is likely to go down. Put a fare alert on a few different airlines.

-Right before you're two weeks out, buy your tickets. If you book within 14 days, airlines assume you're a business traveler and will charge you a premium.

Also See: Airplane Etiquette

If You're Traveling to a Popular Location in the High Season
Thayer Allyson GowdyThayer Allyson Gowdy
Disney World during summer break. Aspen during ski season. Anywhere warm during the winter. When you're trying to go somewhere at a popular time, buy tickets well in advance.

When to buy: One to three months in advance-preferably three.

Bonus tip: Prices will be lowest if you avoid the usual Friday to Sunday weekend cycle. If you're going for a weekend, try using the "weekend trip" option under the "flexible trip" search on most web resources like Kayak. This lets you define weekend however you want, whether Friday to Sunday or Saturday to Monday, so you can find the cheapest options.

Also See: U.S. Island Destinations

If You're Traveling Around a Holiday
Jamie Grill / Getty ImagesJamie Grill / Getty ImagesPelletier told me Thanksgiving is the absolute hardest to buy tickets for, because everyone is trying to fly out and return on the same days (Wednesday to Sunday). Christmas is more flexible because people choose different days off. Notice when holidays fall midweek. For example, if July 4th falls on Wednesday some people take time off before, some after. This allows you more flexibility in buying tickets.

When to buy: At least three months out. Aim to buy Thanksgiving tickets the Tuesday after Labor Day; don't book too early because rates will usually come down at least a little after the summer, when rates are high because gas is expensive.

Bonus tip: If you can, avoid Sunday flights and traditional travel days. That could mean leaving before and coming back later than most people, or flying on the holiday itself. Pelletier told us you can often save 50 percent on a ticket by flying Christmas Eve or day. "We saved $300 per ticket around Thanksgiving for our family of four by flying out the Saturday before Thanksgiving and coming back the Saturday after," Pelletier said. "Not everyone can swing that with their work schedules, so my advice is to leave Thanksgiving Day and return on Saturday for cheaper fares."

Also See: Save Big on Summer Travel

Click Here to Learn About More Ways to Book Flights and Save

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