Travel booking platformQtrip.com has released its first Annual Airfare Study, expounding on efforts from sister brand, CheapAir.com, to determine the best and worst times to book U.S. domestic flights. The team crunched more than 917 million airfares in 8,000 markets – an easier task than in the past as airfares have become less volatile over the last few years, and the best deals appear progressively earlier.
“Chasing the lowest air fare can be a dizzying, if not maddening, experience,” said Jeff Klee, CEO of Qtrip and CheapAir.com. “Our Annual Airfare Study aims to bring a little clarity to the process, and some peace of mind.” Klee added, “The study is part of our wider mission to give travelers the transparency to know what they’re buying, the data and selection to make smart choices, the flexibility to pay on their terms, and the support to deal with the unexpected.”
Data from six consecutive years of the Annual Airfare Study by CheapAir show that the best time to buy flights for domestic US trips has changed significantly. On average, the least expensive airfares were available 77 days before departure in 2019. That’s up from 76 days in 2018, 70 in 2017, and 54 days between 2013 and 2015. In 2019, airfares changed an average of 54 times by $34 each swing. This is down from 61 changes in 2018 and 62 in 2017.
Buying airline tickets between 21 and 127 days before departure is ideal. Qtrip calls that the Prime Booking Window, when fares are on average are within 5% of their low point. The day you fly is much more important than the day of week you buy. On average, a flight traveling on Tuesday or Wednesday is $100 less than the same itinerary on Sunday, which is by far the most expensive day to travel. However, contrary to some popular myths, the day of the week that you go online to buy your tickets still doesn’t matter.
Between the day a flight is published (about 11 months out) and takeoff, airfares pass through a number of Booking Zones, each of which has opportunities and risks:
First Dibs. 315 to 202 days out. Spend $50 more but enjoy the most seat and itinerary options.
Peace of Mind. 201 to 128 days out. For $30 extra, get balance between options and price.
Prime Booking Window. 127 to 21 days out. Book here to land within 5% of the lowest price.
Push Your Luck. 20 to 14 days out. You might score a deal. But probably not!
Playing with Fire. 13 to 7 days out. Choice even more limited and prices continue to rise.
Hail Mary. 0 to 6 days out. Usually reserved for emergencies, these fares cost $200 extra.
The Prime Booking Window does change seasonally. The best fares appear 85 days out in spring, 113 days out in summer, 77 days out in fall, and just 49 days out in winter. Excluding the December holidays, winter offers the best deals. Summer will cost $25 extra on average.
Bottom line, book early to get the most options but wait for the Prime Booking Window to get the best deals.