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Buy Airfare Six Weeks in Advance

This article was written by in Travel. 21 comments.


Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), a company that processes airline transactions for travel agents and consumers, has analyzed 144 million transactions for domestic flights in 2011 to better understand airlines’ pricing schemes. The study found the lowest fares were available six weeks in advance of the departure date.

I’ve always been under the impression that the earlier you can purchase tickets for a flight, the better, but buying far in advance does not seem to be the best option when looking at the data. The study makes the case for planning ahead, but not too far in advance. The data also show that waiting until your departure date is just three weeks away can be financially damaging. Prices incline steeply once your departure date is three weeks away. The fare paid according to the study features another, steeper increase seven days before travel date.

AirplaneCustomers who purchased their airline tickets six weeks in advance received an average discount of about 6 percent off the average fare paid for that flight.

Not everyone has the luxury of planning six weeks in advance for a trip. Businesses often need to respond to changing travel needs, and are more likely to pay higher prices for a flight than a family planning a vacation.

I purchased tickets to my most recent round-trip flight, traveling from the east coast to the west coast for Thanksgiving, only seven days in advance. The flight cost $419 including all taxes and fees. It wasn’t the most expensive fare I’ve paid for this type of trip, and there was at least one slightly less expensive option available if I were willing to fly at an inconvenient time.

I haven’t done a great job of planning in advance. It could pay off to know where I will want to go six weeks in the future. I’ll try to keep that in mind if I intend to travel this spring. How far in advance to you plan your travel?

ARC [pdf]

Published or updated January 24, 2012. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Financial Samurai

It’s definitely the conventional wisdom I’ve been using, however, I’ve noticed a change.

I booked my ticket to Hawaii LAST WEEK, and it was as low as I ever saw it eg $320…. and this is the 2nd time I booked just a week before. Seems like for this route at least, prices have dropped. Perhaps due to competition.

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avatar wylerassociate ♦162 (Cent)

I usually buy plane tickets at least a month before my trip if I’m flying domestic and a little bit longer if I fly internationally.

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avatar Julie @ The Family CEO

My sister and brother-in-law just returned from a three year stint in Europe. They always advised us — based on their frequent travel — that the lowest fares were usually six weeks out. That was based on their experience so it’s interesting that this study found the same thing.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

Good information to have.

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avatar So You Think You Can Save

The last few times we’ve flown, we planned the vacation pretty far in advance, so it was purchased at least three months beforehand.

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avatar Jonathan

We generally buy our tickets months in advance, with the expectation that we’ll both be getting the best price and that we’ll be maximizing flight availability. This was sorely put to the test last week buying tickets to Hawaii for May…By the time we got the info entered into the website, the price had gone up by $50 per ticket. When we called the airline, they said there was nothing they could do, sorry. So we went back to book at the higher price…and the flights weren’t available anymore! We finally called “web support” instead of customer service, and the nice Indian support guy gave us the original flights at the original price. Figures. We wasted half a morning with the process.

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avatar Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager

I tend to be a last minute purchaser when it comes to plane flights. However, aiming for 6 weeks out doesn’t seem like that bad of a plan in the future. Thanks for sharing this stat!

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦95 (Newbie)

I try to do it far in advance — six weeks or more — but sometimes I get a pretty decent deal even though it’s relatively close to my travel date. Last summer I booked a Seattle/Philadelphia ticket for $264 RT, about three weeks before I flew. In fact, I was quoted $244 but hesitated — and 10 minutes later when I decided to take the offer, it had gone up $20.
I would never *rely* on getting a great deal just days before takeoff, though. Usually I know I want to go somewhere in plenty of time to book the ticket.

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avatar Steve Dupree

If you have flexibility in your travel plans (whether it’s the timing, destination, or even simply go/no go) then you can wait until six weeks before hand. If you don’t have that flexibility, you might want to book earlier. You can get a voucher for future travel if and when the price drops.

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avatar twiggers

No, you cannot get a voucher for future travel on any of the legacy airlines. IF the price drops within 24 hours of booking THEN you can (on the major airlines). Southwest, however, will honor price drops at any time….but then again, it’s Southwest lol

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avatar Steve Dupree

I have personally gotten vouchers in this way, though it was a coupla few years ago. I don’t know what you mean by “legacy airlines” but I’ve done it on at least one “major” airline. I’ve even been offered cash back, but they would have subtracted a $100 change fee, so I took the voucher.

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avatar twiggers

“legacy” = American, Delta, United, etc. The ones who fly internationally as opposed to the budget airlines.

Today you can request the difference back, but what happens is that they hit you for the $250 change fee and it essentially wipes everything out. It’s very rare to find steep price drops like that. And I believe it might only be Delta who does….but I could be wrong.

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

I try to book as far in advance as I can. We’re planning to go to Ireland in May and I’m ready to pull the trigger on two airplane tickets now, but am still waiting for the boss to approve the time off.

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avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

I am surprised. I too would have thought that the further in advance, the better. Thank you for this important information!

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avatar Anonymous

This is good to know! I fly between the United States and Australia a couple times a year, and I’ve paid anywhere from $950 to $1800 roundtrip. I usually buy between four and six weeks out, but I’ve gotten lucky when major carriers had price wars.

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avatar twiggers

I typically book 4 weeks out as I had always heard that 3 weeks was the magical number where prices start climbing. The best thing to do is to set up a Kayak alert so that you can track the prices and jump on it when you see a good price drop. I bought my tickets for an upcoming trip to Panama about 6 months in advance because there was a big price drop. We’re now 50 days out and it’s more expensive than what I paid.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

Did you use Kayak to purchase the tickets? I’m a bit leary to use an outside site because if something goes wrong, no one seems responsible.

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avatar twiggers

Lynn,

I don’t. I go directly to the airline website once I’ve found a good deal. There have been several articles written that show that places like Expedia/Orbitz are NOT generally cheaper than booking directly with the airline.

The only time I use Expedia is when I need to mix airlines for some reason (typically with open jaw/multi-city bookings). And it is a bit annoying because if something goes wrong then you end up having to deal with Expedia to rebook stuff.

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avatar Steve Dupree

The airlines have been furthering that. In fact it is their goal to get all travel booked through their own site, and cut out middlemen such as expedia. They don’t want to pay any commissions (in fact, I think they might have stopped paying even the token amounts they were down to).

Kayak is not a travel seller, they are a search aggregator.

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avatar JK

All my tickets are purchased online directly with the airline after checking with Kayak. I wonder what this analysis looks like when including sales of tickets purchased directly from airlines. (I would venture to guess that a sizable % of total ticket sales are direct) The airlines also tend to guarantee the best prices directly with them.

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avatar qixx ♦1,895 (Half-Dollar)

I did a lot more flying in college than i do now. I’d always try to buy my tickets around the2 month to 1 1/2 month range. For the flying i did that seemed to be the best for price. I’d start to get antsy if i waited much past that range. I hated paying more than the low for a flight.

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