Ever wondered if there’s a magic number of days before a flight when tickets are at their cheapest? Science has an answer for that.
Fifty-four days before takeoff is, on average, when flights within the continental U.S. are at their absolute lowest price. And if you don’t hit 54 days on the head, you should usually book between 105 to 21 days before your trip ― within a so-called “prime booking window” ― for the lowest possible prices. In this period, ticket prices typically hover near the lowest price they’ll ever reach.
At least that’s what newly released data from 2016 tells us.
The folks at CheapAir just analyzed 2.9 million airline trips taken last year. They tracked ticket prices from about 320 days before takeoff all the way up to the day before, calculating precisely which day each fare hit its lowest point.
Some travelers may believe they’ll find the lowest of low prices when they book either “at the last minute” or months in advance. This, according to present data, is clearly false.
The researchers found that, on average, a ticket cost about $150 more when booked within two weeks of departure, compared to tickets booked in the “prime booking window.” This pretty much solidifies the rule that you should avoid booking your ticket within two weeks of a flight if possible.
While the researchers found that 54 days was indeed the magic number for booking on average, they’re quick to point out that this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule: Your flight’s “best price” window depends a lot on the specific trip you’re taking.
If you’re going somewhere incredibly popular at an incredibly popular time ― like spring break in Florida, for example ― you should book well before the “prime booking window” even begins. When there’s constant, strong demand for a flight, the researchers explained in 2014, airlines have no incentive to lower ticket prices as time goes on. The same principle holds true for flights to hard-to-reach airports in smaller cities: There’s little airline competition there, so ticket prices don’t drop nearly as much over their lifespan.
Since foreign countries are popular destinations with hard-to-reach airports, researchers suggest booking much earlier than the 54 days recommended for domestic flights.
Happy booking, travelers!
This post has been updated with new data released in 2017.