How soon in advance to purchase airline tickets to get cheapest flights?
April 25, 2006 2:50 PM   Subscribe

How far in advance, or how close to the time, is the most advantageous time to purchase airline tickets in order to get the cheapest fares? For instance, if I were planning to travel in early August, and it's late April now, should I buy my ticket now, or should I wait until closer to the time (and how close is the "sweet spot")? Are there risks of the price going up substantially (more than $100)? This refers to U.S. travel (SEA-ATL in this case), traveling mid-week, with a weekend stay.
posted by matildaben to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Generally they say the earlier the better, but the sweetest deal I ever got on a flight was 11 hours before it took off.
posted by saladin at 2:53 PM on April 25, 2006

There's really no good answer to this question, that I can see - as with saladin, I've bought last minute fares that were cheap, and I've also bought a couple months ahead and had it be cheap. I think the best answer is to stay vigilant - know when you want to go, and check fares every day...
posted by pdb at 3:19 PM on April 25, 2006

i'd keep checking Airfarewatchdog and other sites, and look for sales--there are lots of sales on now for travel good thru summer, but it all depends. If gas goes way up, there won't be sales later.
posted by amberglow at 3:23 PM on April 25, 2006

Generally the earlier you book, the better. The exception is at the very other end of the time-scale, buying a ticket on a massively underbooked flight a few days before departure can get you a big discount. The problem with the last minute option is that you sacrifice a lot of choice. You'd have to decide to fly sometime in August, and then keep checking for last minute tickets and keep your bags packed.
It's worked well for me, but if you have a job that you can't just leave with no notice for a few days / are planning on being at your destination on a *specific* weekend, then it probably isn't the right way to go.
posted by atrazine at 3:40 PM on April 25, 2006

Best answer: I've heard the seet spot for domestic travel is between 3 and 6 weeks away from when you want to fly. I think I got that info from this previous AskMe on the subject.
posted by amro at 3:47 PM on April 25, 2006

seet = sweet
posted by amro at 3:48 PM on April 25, 2006

Incidentally, Tuesday and Wednesday are the cheapest days of the week to fly. So if you have some flexibility as far as what day to travel midweek, it might save you some money to opt for one of those days.
posted by amro at 3:54 PM on April 25, 2006

I'd buy now, personally, because airlines have started nudging up fares in the past few weeks, cutting back on filghts in the last few months, and fuel prices aren't likely to go down by August.

It's true you can sometimes get a good last-minute deal, but that's just about impossible during peak travel times -- which in the US include June through August, mid-December through mid-January, and any national holiday.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:33 PM on April 25, 2006

Best answer: I fly from Seattle to Atlanta regularly (3-4 times per year for the past 4 years or so) and I check the prices all the time.

If you book 3+ weeks in advance, you'll typically pay $280 - $400 and the cheapest flights are usually non-stop.

If you book at the last minute, you'll pay between $200 and $750, and the flights might have connections. When the price goes down, it usually happens within 2-5 days of the flight.

However, last-minute bookings are special in the sense that you can often get a last-minute travel package for an incredibly cheap cost - often less than airfare alone. For this reason, I almost always book last-minute.

Last time I went to Atlanta, the cheapest flights were around $650 and were connecting. However, I found a package on Travelocity for a nonstop flight + 4 nights at a Marriott for $540. Separately, the hotel alone would have been more than that! I've also booked many last-minute flight + car packages for between $250 and $500 at

If you'd benefit from a hotel and/or car, then you might want to consider last-minute travel.
posted by helios at 4:36 PM on April 25, 2006

Best answer: Buy now! The increasing price of fuel is going to make ticket prices continue to increase. Normally the situation would be different and the previous advice would be helpful but this year you won't be able to avoid the effect of gas prices on ticket prices.
posted by JJ86 at 6:58 AM on April 26, 2006

How valid is the 3-6 week rule when it comes to end-of-the-year holiday booking?

I like to lock in a non-stop cross-country ticket (with reasonable departure/arrival times) several months in advance, but it seems like finding those tickets' sweet spot is a real crap-shoot.
posted by Rash at 11:06 AM on April 26, 2006

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