Is Tuesday actually the best day to buy plane tickets?
It’s a rumor that we’re sure you’ve seen circling around the internet or heard from family and friends for years — so why are we now hearing that Sunday is the day to buy plane tickets for cheap?
Do either of these days even matter when it’s the holiday season? What about summer vacation season? What about international flights and that sweet last-minute pricing? Is flying ever really “cheap?”
Let us start off by saying there’s no one-size-fits-all rule to cheap plane tickets — and if any article tries to tell you that, they’re lying. Long distance trips and international flights will obviously be more expensive than domestic flights, and you probably could have assumed that flying over the holidays is more expensive than usual. But aside from the obvious stats, there are a ton of other tricks to take into account, and you’re lucky if you can book a trip without having a slight panic attack.
But that doesn’t mean that planning a cost-effective trip is a crapshoot. After examining reports done by Expedia and Cheapair.com, talking with travel agents, and scouring Reddit and Quora threads, we gained a ton of insight and we’re here to share what we’ve learned.
Top tips for finding cheap flights
The day that you book tickets won’t affect much, but Tuesdays and Sundays are the days you might catch a slight discount.
The day that your flight departs matters way more: Flying out towards the end of the week (on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays) is likely to be the cheapest. But whatever, you do, don’t fly out on a Sunday.
Spring requires booking the furthest in advance, but December and June see the highest average ticket prices.
Using a VPN to change your geolocation could help you find better deals.
The bottom line: Do not wait until the last minute hoping to catch plummeting prices. Book your flights ahead of time.
Best days of the week to book vs. best days of the week to fly
Each year, Expedia and ARC (Airlines Reporting Corporation) publish a big ol’ PDF file of new data on travel statistics, ATPs (average ticket prices), and how to save money on air fares for the next year. They even mention that one of the goals is myth busting. The report gets down into the nitty gritty of specifics depending on where in the world you’re flying to or from (including a massive continent and country breakdownz) time of year, and more — all put into aesthetically pleasing graphics to make it easily understandable. We’ll get into most of their findings in this story, but if you want to check out the whole thing, you can find it here.
Waiting until the last minute to find plummeting prices isn’t a thing.
The 2018 report from Expedia and ARC just came out in December 2017, and backs up the 2016 report that Sunday is the cheapest day to book international and domestic economy tickets and Saturday and Sunday are the cheapest for premium air flights.
(There are some exceptions to the Sunday rule, like flying internationally from and domestically in countries like Australia, Iceland, Thailand, and China, so keep that in mind if those places are in your plans. You can find the specifics of those starting on page 23 of the report.)
The best news? They found that the average air ticket price has been slowly but steadily decreasing over the past few years, both in the United States and around the world. This is due to increased competition between airlines, larger and more efficient planes, and longer flight possibilities, all giving customers more flights to choose from and all-around lower prices.
Don’t stop checking on Tuesdays, though
Aside from looking into Expedia‘s insights, we looked at some other reports and talked with experts in the industry to see if they disagreed with the Sunday thing. They did.
Travel website CheapAir.com compared over 917 million airfares in more than 8,000 markets and released the info in its huge 2018 Airfare Study, where they said that there’s not actually a best day to book tickets. According to their findings, the average lowest fares on each day of the week only differ by a few bucks, which is clearly nothing to lose your head over. With that being said, we’d still suggest taking Expedia’s Sunday findings into account, or at least compare prices for a week. If you don’t see a price that stands out to you on Sunday, it’s probably fine to pull the trigger any day of the week.
AirFareWatchDog editor Tracy Stewart tells us that the Tuesday thing actually applies sometimes: Low-cost airlines like JetBlue and Southwest do have a history of releasing sale prices late on Monday nights and leaving the tickets cheap for Tuesday. A study by FareCompare.com also claims that Tuesday (at 3 p.m. specifically) is the best time to buy tickets.
The moral of the story: There’s always going to be a discrepancy between the best day of the week, or whether day of the week matters at all. But there’s clearly a reason Tuesday and Sunday were mentioned multiple times, so it wouldn’t hurt to keep your eye out on those days.
Your departure date is a bigger deal than your booking date
Expedia has one suggestion: No matter where you’re headed, book tickets that have you leaving on a Friday. According to their findings from 2018, the cheapest days to fly internationally in economy are Thursdays and Fridays, domestic economy flights are cheapest to start on Fridays, and flying internationally in the premium cabin is best to leave on Fridays and Saturdays.
“Weekends are when travelers paid the lowest domestic and international premium ATPs, as this is when it’s least likely for corporate/business travelers to book their travel,” the report says.
You have some leeway when it comes to choosing a day to depart, with Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays being the cheapest days for flights to depart.
CheapAir.com’s 2018 Airfare study found slightly differing information, claiming that the cheapest days to fly out are on Tuesday and Wednesday, and that the most expensive day to fly out is a Sunday (which makes sense, as people taking vacations or weekend trips are trying to make it back by work on Monday). They found that flying on a Wednesday instead of a Sunday will save an average of $76 per ticket.
If you’re flying premium, it’s a different story: Expedia found that tickets issued on Saturdays and Sundays tended to have the lowest ATPs. Departing on a Friday was cheapest for premium international and domestic flights.
Takeaways: The end of the week (Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays) are looking to be the best days to book cheap flights. Flying out on a weekend will up the cost significantly, so we’d suggest not doing a Saturday or Sunday unless you have no other choice.
What’s the best time of year for taking a trip?
Of course, time of year will factor in pretty heavily, too — but figuring this part out is way less of a mystery. There are obviously the months where everyone is traveling for the holidays, and the months when everyone is going on summer vacation, so it’s easy to predict when airlines know they can surge their prices and still get people to bite the bait.
One thing to keep in mind here is that time of year is pretty much the only factor international or domestic matters, and where exactly you’re going. Whether you’re flying economy or being fancy in premium is also a factor.
The Expedia and ARC report found that, in the US, December had the highest economy international ATPs, while June had the most costly economy domestic tickets. February had the lowest international economy cost, and September had the lowest domestic ATPs.
December is the most expensive time to fly internationally, while June is the most expensive time to fly domestically.
As for premium flights, October had the highest international ATPs, while December had the lowest (which is weird, as December was costly for economy flights). Again, June had the highest ATPs for premium domestic ATPs, and August had the lowest. For the economy international travelers in the UK, December also had the highest ATPs, while May saw the lowest. In Asia, premium prices were highest mid-year, between September and April.
CheapAir.com’s report dove into how far in advance you should book tickets depending on the season.Their suggestions are as follows:
Flying out in winter: Book 62 days in advance, with the prime booking window being 21 to 110 days from travel
Flying out in spring: Book 90 days in advance, with the prime booking window being 46 to 122 days in advance
Flying out in summer: 47 days in advance, with the prime booking window being 14 to 160 days in advance
Flying out in fall: 69 days in advance, with the prime booking window being 21 to 100 days from travel
Aside from the week surrounding Thanksgiving, fall is good for leisure travel as most people have gotten their big trips out of the way over summer. Winter holidays are obviously popular travel times, so it’s kind of hard to get out of that if you’re visiting family — or trying to go to Disney World for Christmas. If you can put off going on a winter trip until January or February, the lower cost will be worth the wait.
In summer, they suggest booking even farther ahead of time than the average suggests, especially in July. Summer’s best priced tickets and worst priced tickets apparently have a difference of $203 — so don’t procrastinate. If you need cheap flights for summer vacation, you’ll find the best deals in August and September.
Spring actually turned out to be the trickiest time to buy, and it’s the season that requires the most planning ahead. It’s not a huge travel season, but discrepancies with spring break causes some serious fluctuation. The difference between the best and worst priced tickets was apparently $263, which was an even bigger discrepancy than summer. Yikes.
The biggest thing: Book ahead of time, for crying out loud
And then there’s the discussion between buying ahead of time or waiting until the last minute. It would make sense to be on top of things and purchase in advance, but then you may think “If I wait until the last minute, they’ll be wanting to get rid of tickets quickly and will lower the price.”
Heads up: Waiting until the last minute to find plummeting prices isn’t a thing. Unless you find out last minute that you have to go somewhere, just don’t put yourself in this situation.
The Expedia and ARC report from 2018 officially debunked the last minute myth: “For both economy and premium air travel leaving from North America, Europe, and Asia, Expedia suggests that booking more than 30 days ahead of time should result in lower ATPs.”
Only leaving a month in between still sounds pretty last minute to me, though — CheapAir.com’s study found that 70 days in advance may actually the sweet spot.
Natalie Arney, SEO manager at an online flights-only travel agency called Alternative Airlines, mentions that the window of time before purchasing (AKA planning at least a month in advance) is the more important factor when finding good prices rather than banking on a specific day of the week. She also stresses the fact that finding the cheapest airline tickets isn’t the only factor to consider — because it doesn’t really matter if you spend next to nothing on airline tickets if your flight time requires you to pay for a hotel the night before, or if you have to fork over a hefty Uber fee with a surged price because the cheap airport was in the middle of nowhere. Looking for low priced tickets isn’t a bad thing by any means, but those prices should just be taken with a grain of salt.
Another thing to note: While comparison sites like Expedia and Kayak make weighing your options significantly easier, we’d also suggest taking the extra time to go to the actual websites of airlines to make sure you’re seeing all of the prices. Low-cost airlines like Southwest may not allow their lowest prices to be shared on comparison sites as they want you to buy tickets directly from their site.
How to use a VPN to get cheaper flights
VPNs have been a hot topic in the past year or two as disappearing Net Neutrality laws and talks of compromised internet privacy kinda freaked people out. A solution comes in the form of a VPN, or virtual private networks, which is an internet security subscription that can change your geolocation, take you off the company-owned server, and basically allow you to make up your own internet rules. They’re cheap, too— one of our favorites, NordVPN goes for just $3.29/month with a two-year plan. (To learn more and see Mashable’s top-ranked VPNs, go here.)
A VPN’s ability to virtually slingshot you to another location has numerous perks to trick the system, and one that comes in handy for this topic is the possibility to get better plane ticket deals by spoofing your location. According to Pete Zaborszky, founder of BestVPN.com, this works best when your journey has multiple international destinations. Theoretically, you could use a VPN to purchase plane (or train, or bus) tickets in each of the countries that you’ll be visiting instead of getting US prices, potentially helping you save big time.
While the VPN will get you an IP address in another country, cookies could throw a wrench into the system as they can still track your online activity and location. You’ll want to make sure you’re continuously clearing your cookies each time you go to a new airline site and use your web browser in private mode. Many airline sites will ask for a local billing address as well — but a virtual debit card (like the prepaid ones from Visa that your grandma gets you for your birthday) is a way to get around this.
For the best results, thevpn.guru suggests “teleporting” yourself to a country where a large majority of the population are low income, and then using an international website like Expedia.co.uk instead of the US based website. They also suggest switching up your IP address a few times: “If you have been noticing price hikes on a travel website, delete your cookies, change your IP and then check the prices again – you’ll notice that they have now dropped to their original rates.”
Reddit user emmaw9278 writes:
“I did it. I wanted a flight from Malaysia to L.A and rates were CRAZY. So asked one of by friend he told me to follow these steps:
1. Connect to PureVPN and use U.S (in most cases U.S have the cheapest tickets)
2. Clear your browser cookies and open incognito window and go to Expedia.no and check the price by changing your i.p.
3. Always follow the same sets while looking for cheap ticket
It was like above $2000 when i was connected to Malaysia and when I was connected to Detroit it was under $600.”
“Yes – VPN can save you 10% and more depending on the flight. I used India and Mexico for the US – UK international flights. Change the location to a low-income country. Your location must not be the city of departure or arrival.”
So yeah, I guess this is a thing. Using a VPN obviously isn’t a guaranteed method every time, but it’s definitely worth a shot.
To keep things organized (and to reduce your own anxiety), using flight alert services like Google Flights, AirFareWatchDog, or Kayak will notify you of a price drop so you don’t have to be constantly checking — it could even show you a pattern of when prices are lowest to use for future reference.