If you’re already a member of Jack’s Flight Club you will understand that the prices you can pay for flights vary a lot! Most of you will have heard from people who have their own ‘tips’ on the best time to book flights; your super-organised friend will tell you booking as early as possible can save you a fortune. Another, less prepared pal, will always tell you to book as late as humanly possible.
Is there a best time to book flights?
Quite simply, there isn’t really. Predicting when cheap flights go on sale is difficult thanks to the way airlines price their flights. Complex analytics are used which estimate how many seats need to be sold on each route to maintain levels of profitability, and when these levels need to be hit.
Targets are constant, so if a flight hits a certain date and is undersold, prices are likely to drop. If the ticket sales are on target or exceed expectation, then prices will rise.
Despite the fact that these things are virtually impossible to know, there are definite trends involved, which we can look at in more detail.
Long haul flights
When looking at booking a long-haul flight, booking in advance is a pretty good idea. Times differ from place to place, but broadly speaking getting in somewhere between 8 months and 6 weeks in advance gets the cheapest prices. Last-minute bargains are sometimes found with 1-4 weeks to go to your departure date. Charter airlines such as TUI, which flies mainly from the UK, offer these most often but waiting can, of course, be a risky business that arguably best serves those who have no clear destination in mind.
Many routes prices actually rise significantly in the days before departure, in order to take advantage of the lucrative business flight market. It’s worth considering, though, that these are just guidelines and pricing on many routes will be affected by demand.
Short-haul flights are potentially a more predictable entity when it comes to knowing when to book; the earlier the better. The best flight prices are available as soon as flights go on sale, so as far in advance as possible will yield the cheapest seats.
We have found that for peak periods you want to book at least 8 months in advance. In the past, last-minute deals have been readily available for short-haul destinations but these have largely vanished, replaced by high prices aimed at taking advantage of those who have a need to travel rather than simply want to.
The price variations for short-haul flights are consistently competitive. Sales on short-haul often result in 20 - 30 pounds or euros ($25-38) off the original price, compared to £100+ discounts on long haul routes.
Methods to use
Skyscanner has an effective and easy to use tool that allows users to see, via simple graphs, information about how far in advance to look for flights for specific places. Drop-downs let you input where you’re going from and to, as well as showing which months are expensive, and which are less likely to be so. Skyscanner is especially good for budget airlines.
Kayak is great as its search options allow you to incorporate the cost of baggage within any searches. This is something that has become especially important in recent months as many airlines have significantly altered their policies and prices, with bags now potentially adding on large numbers to what initially seemed very cheap fares.
Momondo provides an easy to use service that lets you see how expensive dates are around when you want to fly and combines it with information about how flexibility in terms of flying to different airports or nearby locations may be cheaper. It’s best suited for bigger destinations, on which it holds more information.
Google Flights allows you to look through calendars to see what prices various dates bring back. Google Fights is probably the most comprehensive tool when it comes to depth and search options available, it’s also the most responsive. One minor issue with the search tool is that not all airlines are included in the results (Thai Airlines, Air China, China Eastern for example don’t always show up). The likes of Momondo and Kayak are more suitable for browsing prices offered by travel agents.
The best time to book flights to popular locations
Tips on the best time to book flights to UK, USA and Europe
London and New York
If you’re wanting the best fares to two of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, you really need to be looking at booking at least 12 weeks in advance for international flights. The situation is a little different for internal flights, with between 4 and 9 weeks in advance being optimum.These major travel hubs are a great starting point for onward travel for multi-city trips.
July is, rather unsurprisingly, the month when prices are at their highest. There’s also a bit of a spike in prices around December as people wish to visit the cities as it can be especially magical at Christmas time. Flying in January historically is the cheapest option but flights to New York and London are so competitive that you can usually find deals all year round.
The cheapest time of the year to fly to the city known for its romantic streets is January, with the high season considered to be March-May. It’s recommended to book at least 4 weeks in advance for flights from the UK or other parts of Europe and around 4-6 months in advance from other parts of the world including the US.
Another very popular tourist destination for international as well as domestic visitors, getting in early is key for flights to Las Vegas, with 24 weeks in advance being the sweet spot for cheap fares. Between 13 and 10 weeks in advance, they tend to rise, before dropping back down again until 4 weeks before take-off. This situation says a lot about the booking habits of those looking to visit Las Vegas, and exactly when they make their plans.
The summer months are much more popular, with April to September being consistently expensive and November and December being the most economical time for booking flights. There can also be fluctuations in flight prices depending on events being held in the entertainment capital of the world, such as the World Series of Poker or any big MMA bouts.
Again, the cheapest month of the year to fly to the city known for its rich history and culture is January, but the high season is the warmer months, July through to September. It’s also recommended to book at least 4 weeks in advance for domestic flights and 4-6 months in advance for international flights.
Los Angeles flights remain cheap up to 3 weeks in advance, and are usually at their cheapest as little as 5 weeks in advance. Summer flights are most expensive, so booking flights for the autumn months is the cheapest option, with December prices rising again as people take advantage of the Christmas break.
The city known for it’s perfect mix of city and beaches has a peak period of June-July, with the cheapest month to travel here being January. For domestic flights from in and around Europe including the UK, booking 8 weeks in advance seems to be the best time to get the best price. For international flyers, it’ll be 4-6 months in advance still.
Bucking the trends of all the other major US cities, and possibly reflecting Orlando’s status as a destination, flights are best booked late, with just 3 weeks in advance having the best prices. Booking well in advance oddly returns the worst flight prices, as they slowly decline as the flight time nears.
Similar to other tourist locations, the summer months of July and August have the most expensive flights, as do December, coinciding with traditional holiday seasons. These trends are not always consistent however, we have discovered lots of deals to Orlando for January - March time, these are likely correlated to the less desirable winter visiting time.
Tips on the best time to book flights to Australia
Anything between 23 and 5 weeks in advance will bring up a fare that’s cheaper; after the 4 week advance period flight prices rise significantly and sharply. As can be imagined, the climate plays a large factor in flight pricings. December, Australia’s peak of summer, is the most expensive, yet November flights remain cheaper. The best time to book cheap flights to Sydney generally comes between March and June, you’ll likely notice a rise in prices around the British summer months.
Flight prices to Melbourne are very similar to those of Sydney; between 23 and 5 weeks in advance have the cheapest flights, with prices rising steeply following that. December and January have the highest fares, with March to June being the cheapest, which again are very season dependent. Simply put, most people want to travel to these places in their summer!
Tips on the best time to book flights to Thailand
Booking between 24 and 5 weeks in advance will bring the best fares if wanting to visit Bangkok. July, August and December are by far the most expensive times to book flights, all of which coincide with significant public holidays in the country. May, June and September are the cheapest, meaning that visits to attend any of the various festivities around, for example, King Vajiralongkorn’s Birthday or Constitution Day can be done with cheap flights and an extended break!
Phuket’s best flight times are nearly identical to those of Bangkok in terms of the more expensive months for fares; all pretty much in line with key public holidays. Interestingly though, flight prices tend to rise earlier, with booking needing to be made more than 11 weeks in advance to secure the best deals. With this in mind, it may well be worth looking at flying into Bangkok and then travelling onwards via public transport if booking later.
The best time to book flights for peak periods
Getting great flight deals for peak periods can be tricky. All of the most popular long haul destinations such as London, Europe, Thailand, the USA and Australia all have a similar sweet spot when it comes to the best time to book. In our experience, this usually involves booking 11-13 months in advance, when flights are released. Opportunities to America and Thailand tend to show up with around 8 months to spare but great deals closer to those peak periods tend to be rare.
As you can see, monitoring when cheap flights go on sale can be a really time-consuming process if you want the ultimate good deal. That's where we come in, we take the work out of searching for cheap flights so you don't have to.
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