Getting the timing right to save money on airfare is a perennial concern of travelers. That's why advice on when to buy and when to fly is almost as easy to find online as TikTok debates about proper plane etiquette.
But while we may never get an objective ruling on whether passengers in middle seats deserve both armrests (they absolutely do), it is possible to glean some flight-timing insights from the reams of data generated by airline ticketing transactions (even as we keep in mind that forecasting prices will never be foolproof, given the near-constant fluctuations in airfares).
An annual report released by Expedia, in collaboration with Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) and OAG, compiles billions of data points from the world's most extensive airline ticketing database to determine, based on the multitudes of flights booked during the first 8 months of the year, when consumers should book air travel for the best savings in the months ahead.
Among the "data-backed strategies for saving money" in this year's just-released edition of the Air Travel Hacks Report:
Passengers should book U.S. domestic airfare 28 days before departure. That matches the recommendation from the 2022 study, though the new analysis found that "travelers [in 2023] saved up to 24% compared to those who booked at the last minute, surpassing the 10% savings travelers saw on average in 2022."
Meanwhile, international airfare should be booked between 60 days and 4 months ahead of travel for the best availability and savings, according to the report. Those savings amount to an average of about 10%. Last year, the recommendation was closer to 6 months before departure.
As in previous years, the best day of the week to purchase airfare is Sunday, the data analysis found. Travelers who buy tickets on that day can evidently expect to pay 6% less on domestic flights and 13% less on international flights than those who buy tickets on Friday—the most expensive day.
Sunday is the priciest day to actually fly, however. The study advises starting your trip on Thursday to save around 16% compared to Sunday travelers.
To reduce your chances of running into cancellations, book a flight departing before 3pm. Year-to-date flight status data reveals late-afternoon departures have a 50% higher chance of being canceled than earlier flights.
Overall, ARC's global airline sales data found that average ticket prices have gone down by about 3% compared to 2022, and cancellations have improved from more than 4% of all flights last year to under 2% of total flights so far in 2023.
Now if we could just all agree on in-flight armrest allocation, we'd have cause for optimism all around.