Buy your plane ticket sooner rather than later. Typically, domestic flights open for sale 11 months before their departure date, giving you plenty of time to claim seats for your next vacation. However, if you are eager to buy your tickets as soon as possible, here’s a tip: Wait a month or two.
A study released Wednesday by online travel agency CheapAir.com showed that on average, the best domestic plane fares in 2014 were booked 47 days before the departure date.
To arrive at this number, CheapAir tracked 15,000 markets in which their customers live and like to travel. They noted airfare costs within those markets, tabbing bookings that were placed from 1 to 320 days in advance of a trip.
Within a year, CheapAir had analyzed 1.5 billion airfares, spread across nearly 5 million trips, and determined that buying a ticket at certain times can really hurt or help the wallet.
CheapAir CEO Jeff Klee says the study found that, on average, the cost of tickets changed 70 times during its sale period. “When you buy your flight makes a huge difference,” Klee said. “No one wants to find that the person sitting next to them on the flight paid $100 less.”
CheapAir has a couple of recommendations: Make sure you are purchasing your tickets, at the bare minumum, 14 days before your trip. Ticket prices tend to skyrocket as departure times inch closer, and in comparison to a ticket’s lowest price within the sale window, booking 14 days in advance will cost, on average, $111 more. If purchased within 7 days, that cost difference jumps to $174.
CheapAir also discovered that it is possible to book your tickets too early. Their study found that typically, the opening price for a domestic flight is about $50 more than its eventual lowest price.
Historically speaking, ticket price patterns have proven fairly predictable. Airlines jack up prices upon opening a flight, sit on those prices for a while, and then introduce discounted ticket sales so that hopefully, by the travel date, every seat will be filled. What CheapAir’s study has done is located the trough of this trajectory, somewhere between 27 and 114 days after a flight has opened.
That period is what CheapAir has dubbed the “prime booking window.” “Way more often than not, the best fare for a domestic trip will be offered at some point during that window,” Klee said. In 2014, the 47th day, on average, claimed the lowest fare.
That being said, don’t cling too firmly to that benchmark. The prime time to purchase a ticket depends on a number of factors: destination, time of year, and travel days. So use the 47th day as a guideline, and if you have to work around it, CheapAir advocates that it’s better to purchase tickets before then.
So here’s one last piece of advice: Check airfares early and often. You will never know exactly when a ticket has hit its lowest price, so don’t have tunnel vision about day 47. If you spot a good deal on day 53, day 50, or even day 48, snap it up. Then the real vacation planning can begin.Jensen-Roberts can be reached at email@example.com.