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.
Customers 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?
Published or updated January 24, 2012.