The best times to book cheap flights for every vacation season

by Сашка

Mark your calendars for these windows to shop for airfare in 2024

Nailing down the perfect moment to book airfare can be agonizing. Starting your search too late nearly guarantees you’ll get gouged by airlines. Book too early and “you actually might be missing out on a future price drop,” says Scott Keyes, founder of the airfare booking site Going.

To find the sweet spot, embrace window shopping: not strolling down Fifth Avenue peeking into the Saks display, but giving yourself a timeline on when to pursue your airfare. The idea is not too early, but not too late. You’re looking for what Keyes calls the “Goldilocks Window.” This is the period when cheap fares are most likely to pop up.

The Goldilocks Window will vary depending on whether you’re traveling domestic or international, and during peak or off-peak times. Use it as a time frame for your shopping, not an immediate pressure to book.

Over the course of your Goldilocks Window, which could be days, weeks or months, Keyes says you should pay extra attention, because that’s the time you have the best odds of spotting a cheap flight.

If you miss the window, you’re doomed. (Just kidding.) “It’s not a zero percent chance [of finding low fares] outside of the Goldilocks Window, but it’s a lot lower,” Keyes says.

Once you’ve established when you should be shopping based on your travel dates and corresponding Goldilocks Window, try the set-it-and-forget-it method of signing up for airfare price alerts. You’ll be notified when fares drop or look reasonable.

If you’re not sure whether you’re getting a good deal, plug the trip into Google Flights. The site will tell you whether a price is high, low or typical compared with past averages.

Without further ado, here’s when to start looking and booking, depending on when and where you want to fly.

The most popular spots: 3 to 7 months out

Getting to in-demand destinations at popular times will be expensive no matter how far in advance you book, so you’re out of luck if you’re flying to Paris for the Olympics or Tokyo for cherry blossom season. You can still keep an eye out for unexpected drops in price, mistake fares or sales. Or opt to visit during shoulder season, when crowds are smaller, hotels and car rentals are cheaper, and the weather might even be better. In Spain, Keyes said, “the weather’s way better” in the spring, September or October than in the middle of the summer.

Otherwise, Keyes advises travelers to start shopping for hot spots during the opposite season (so winter for a summer booking), or about three to seven months out for domestic trips, and four to 10 months for international.

The same is true for flights around nationally recognized long weekends, says Hayley Berg, lead economist at the travel booking app Hopper. For the Fourth of July, for example, you should consider booking by “very early April,” she says.

A regular getaway: 1 to 3 months out

For an off-peak domestic trip — meaning no holiday weekends, no school breaks and no coinciding with a Taylor Swift concert in the same place — “you are most likely to see cheap flights pop up about one to three months in advance,” Keyes says. For an international trip, he says “two to eight months in advance is the sweet spot.”

That domestic estimate lines up with Expedia’s 2024 Air Travel Hacks Report, which says travelers can save most by booking domestic flights at least 28 days before departure. The report has different advice for international travel, arguing that travelers should book tickets abroad between 60 days and four months out for optimal savings.

Spring break: 1 to 2 months out

Spring doesn’t technically start until mid-March, but some schools offer breaks as early as February. If you can swing something last-minute, February is one of the cheapest times of the year for airfare, Keyes says, “even if you’re flying to warm-weather destinations. You know: Florida, Hawaii, the Caribbean, et cetera.”

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For breaks in March, April or May, start hunting in early February. Google Flights data shows that prices for domestic trips in March and April are typically lowest 23 to 59 days before departure — meaning you’ll soon be seeing an uptick in prices.

Summer vacation: February through April

Brace yourself for another gangbusters (read: pricey) summer of travel, and not just for the most popular spots. “Expect even some of the off-the-beaten-path destinations to be busy and expensive,” Berg says.

With that warning, “if you’re thinking about a trip for this summer, start planning it now,” Berg said in February.

Keyes agrees. Planning and booking now aligns with his advice for shopping for peak fares during the opposite season. Per Keyes’s Goldilocks estimate, you should have a few more months to mull it over if you’re going domestic, but be ready to book in late winter in case the right airfare lands sooner than later.

Fall trips: Late summer

Whether you’re looking for an autumnal jaunt through New England or a shoulder-season trip to the beach, “we expect the fall season to be inexpensive as it typically is,” Berg says. “This past year, we saw the lowest prices in fall for domestic trips that we had seen since 2018 at least.” Berg even recommends shifting your big vacation from July or August to September or October, because doing so could save you up to 30 percent on airfare.

Get the lowest fares by looking for domestic trips one to three months out, and international ones two to eight months. If you’re heading to some of those particularly popular leaf-peeping destinations, start a month or two earlier.

Thanksgiving: May through early October

Per Keyes’s Goldilocks predictions, get ahead of the Thanksgiving gouge by setting price alerts as early as late May. Google Flights data claims that the lowest prices for flights around Thanksgiving have hit their lowest 52 days out; following that calculation, you can extend your shopping window through early October.

Berg falls somewhere in between. “Really, this sweet spot is booking those trips in late September or October,” she says.

Of course, you could skip the turkey and go abroad instead. As Thanksgiving week doesn’t mean much to the rest of the world, it’s one of the cheapest times to travel internationally. You can follow the two-to-eight-month timeline, but Keyes says it’s also possible to find last-minute deals on trips overseas. A last-minute deal for a regular Thanksgiving trip to see your family, on the other hand, is wishful thinking.

Christmas and New Year’s: July through October

While you’re at the beach in the throes of summer, start your Christmas and New Year’s domestic airfare shopping. Keyes says to think about it like winter apparel: You’re going to get a deal on a down coat when it’s hot out, not when demand surges as temperatures drop.

“When Fourth of July rolls around, that’s when you should be looking around for Christmas trips,” Keyes says.

Google Flights data has shown that the lowest prices for late December flights appear around 71 days before takeoff. This Christmas, that’s mid-October.

More travel tips

Vacation planning: Start with a strategy to maximize days off by taking PTO around holidays. Experts recommend taking multiple short trips for peak happiness. Want to take an ambitious trip? Here are 12 destinations to try this year — without crowds.

Cheap flights: Follow our best advice for scoring low airfare, including setting flight price alerts and subscribing to deal newsletters. If you’re set on an expensive getaway, here’s a plan to save up without straining your credit limit.

Airport chaos: We’ve got advice for every scenario, from canceled flights to lost luggage. Stuck at the rental car counter? These tips can speed up the process. And following these 52 rules of flying should make the experience better for everyone.

Expert advice: Our By The Way Concierge solves readers’ dilemmas, including whether it’s okay to ditch a partner at security, or what happens if you get caught flying with weed. Submit your question here. Or you could look to the gurus: Lonely Planet and Rick Steves.

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