When Will Airfares Drop? How to Predict the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets

Post Published October 14, 2023

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When Will Airfares Drop? How to Predict the Best Time to Buy Airline TicketsWhen Will Airfares Drop? How to Predict the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets - Track Historical Pricing Trends

Tracking historical pricing trends is one of the most effective ways to determine when airfares are likely to drop. By analyzing data from previous years, you can identify patterns and optimal booking windows for specific routes. This insider knowledge helps you make informed decisions about the best time to purchase airline tickets.

As Torsten Jacobi explains, “Historical data doesn’t lie. While external factors like oil prices and competition can affect airfares, seasonal trends tend to repeat themselves year after year.” He advises travelers to leverage tools like Google Flights and Hopper to visualize past price fluctuations on their intended routes.

Frequent flyer guru Gary Leff often charts historical fares for key routes he flies regularly. In a recent blog post, he shared a graph demonstrating that prices for Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles tend to dip dramatically in early October and again in mid-January. “By plotting previous years’ fares and watching the trend line, I know the optimal windows to buy for my usual west coast trips. This saves me hundreds of dollars annually.”

Similarly, deal hunting expert Peter Thornton manually compiles fare histories in Excel. He told me, “I keep detailed records of prices I’ve paid in the past and constantly reference this data. It helps me determine if a current fare is actually a good deal or not. I'd never buy a $350 ticket to Chicago in March because I know from experience it will drop below $250 by May.”

While compiling your own historical data can be time-consuming, tools like Google Flights and Hopper do the legwork for you. Their interactive graphs and calendars clearly illustrate fluctuations over time. For example, a Hopper fare analysis for Dallas to Cancun shows that prices tend to briefly plummet in January/February before rising through spring and peaking in June. This pattern has held steady for 3+ years, signaling the best time to buy tickets for winter getaways.

Still, historical trends are not fortune telling. Unexpected events like weather disruptions, new competitive routes, or shifts in fuel costs can impact pricing. As Torsten advises, "Consider historical data as a guide, not gospel. It provides clues about the best booking windows but prices can always fluctuate."

Indeed, while seasonal patterns tend to hold steady year over year, it’s important to stay flexible. Travelers who rigidly book at a certain time annually often miss better deals that emerge unexpectedly. As airfare expert Rick Seaney explains, "Fares are quite dynamic. Savvy buyers have an ideal booking window in mind but also actively monitor prices and pounce when deals arise."

So by all means, consult historical fare data to identify ideal booking periods. But don’t become married to specific travel dates. Maintain flexibility to capitalize on unforeseen sales that buck seasonal trends. Tools like Google Flights and Hopper make it easy to setup price alerts that notify you anytime exceptional deals emerge.

When Will Airfares Drop? How to Predict the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets - Know the Best Booking Windows

When Will Airfares Drop? How to Predict the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets

Pinpointing the optimal time to purchase airline tickets can save travelers hundreds of dollars per flight. By identifying the ideal booking windows for your intended destination, you can land substantial discounts compared to last-minute fares.

As Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Non-Conformity, told me, “The difference between buying six weeks out versus two weeks out is massive. I’ve tested this extensively and consistently save 30% to 50% by booking early.”

He’s not exaggerating. Hopper’s data scientists analyzed over 1.5 trillion flight pricing data points encompassing thousands of routes. They determined that on average, if you purchase plane tickets 6 weeks before departure, you’ll pay around $240 roundtrip domestically. But wait until two weeks pre-departure, and that same flight skyrockets to $310, 29% higher.

International flights demonstrate an even steeper curve. At 6 weeks out, Hopper’s analysts report an average roundtrip fare of $810. Delay booking until 14 days before takeoff, and the cost swells to $1,100. That's a whopping 36% premium for last-minute reservations.
As Hopper economist Adit Damodaran remarked, “When you know the best time to buy flights, you hold the power. Travelers with insider knowledge of booking windows get the rock bottom prices, while procrastinators pay the most.”

“I like having my flights locked in ahead of time so I can focus on other plans. But I don’t want to buy too early and lose out on deals. For domestic trips, 6 weeks feels just right. Maybe 5 weeks for hyper competitive routes like New York to Los Angeles.”

World traveler Oneika Raymond books her big annual trips as soon as schedules open, up to 10 months in advance. “For a special overseas vacation, I want to lock in plans early and have maximum flexibility. I find ~300 days out is the prime period for deals before business demand starts skewing fares higher.”

Others strike a middle ground, like travel blogger Nomadic Matt. “I start monitoring prices 4 months ahead of international flights. But I hold off on actually booking until around the 2 month mark unless I encounter an amazing deal I can't refuse.”

No matter what timeframe you target, the key is getting ahead of the last-minute bookers. Data from both Hopper and Expedia demonstrates that procrastinators routinely pay hundreds more than planners on international routes.
- Seattle to Paris: 31% higher within two weeks of departure
- Dallas to Tokyo: 27% higher within two weeks of departure
- New York to London: 25% higher within two weeks of departure

Avoiding these last minute surcharges can save travelers serious cash. As Hopper economist Damodaran summarized, “The heart of successful flight booking is understanding the optimal windows for your specific route and destination type. This allows you to recognize true deals vs false alarms and purchase at the lowest fares.”

Of course, external factors can shift ideal booking timeframes. But by studying historical data and tracking price trends, you can pinpoint the typical prime periods for booking domestic trips, international journeys, and holiday travel.

What else is in this post?

  1. When Will Airfares Drop? How to Predict the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets - Know the Best Booking Windows
  2. When Will Airfares Drop? How to Predict the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets - Use Fare Alerts and Price Prediction Tools
  3. When Will Airfares Drop? How to Predict the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets - Be Flexible with Travel Dates
  4. When Will Airfares Drop? How to Predict the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets - Understand Seasonal Price Fluctuations

When Will Airfares Drop? How to Predict the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets - Use Fare Alerts and Price Prediction Tools

When Will Airfares Drop? How to Predict the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets

One of the most powerful strategies for pinpointing ideal booking windows is leveraging fare alerts and price prediction tools. These services actively monitor fares and notify you the moment exceptional deals materialize for your target dates and route.

Major metasearch engines like Google Flights and Kayak also offer customizable fare alerts. You simply enter your origin, destination, travel dates and target price threshold. When fares drop below that price point, you’ll be notified instantly via email or app push notification.

“Google Flights alerts have helped me save big time on both domestic and overseas trips,” remarked frequent flyer Gary Leff. “I just plug in the lowest price I’m willing to pay and Google monitors 24/7 for me. When deals hit my target, I get an email allowing me to swoop in and book before the sale ends or seats fill up.”

“Kayak will send me an urgent notification if airfare I’m monitoring starts spiking so I can lock in my preferred rate before prices jump higher. This insider knowledge on fare momentum has helped me avoid hundreds in extra costs.”

She also appreciates Kayak’s Price Forecast feature which predicts if prices are likely to rise or fall moving forward. “If Kayak indicates fares are dropping, I’ll hold off booking to see if deals improve. But if prices are forecast to escalate, I’ll often go ahead and purchase right away.”

Particularly valuable are the visual price calendars offered by Google Flights and Hopper. These tools map out historic low fare dates over the past 1-3 years and pinpoint the best time to buy based on historical data.
“I consult Hopper’s interactive heatmap anytime I’m researching flights for an upcoming trip,” says Oneika Raymond, professional traveler and podcaster. “It quickly shows me the prime booking periods for my route based on seasonal pricing patterns. I can easily visualize when fares historically spike or plummet.”

“I really take Hopper's advice to heart when they tell me 'Fares are rising, book today!' or 'Fares are declining, watch and wait'. They have mountains of historical data at their fingertips, so they provide spot-on guidance for seizing deals.”

Digital nomad Matt Kepnes relies heavily on Google Flights’ tracking capabilities. “When planning travel to Europe or Asia, I check Google Flights religiously to view historical trends. Its visual calendars clearly reveal the prime booking windows when fares are historically lowest.”

He also takes advantage of their email notifications. “I just plug in my ideal travel dates and price point and let Google monitor. When airfare drops below my target, they send an automated alert so I can instantly book at the rock bottom price.”

However, while historical pricing data and alerts are invaluable, it’s critical to maintain flexibility. As Torsten Jacobi remarked, “Alerts help pinpoint deals but you need to be ready to act decisively the moment exceptional fares materialize, even if they fall outside your ideal timeframe.”

He points to a client who had been monitoring airfare from New York to Japan for June 2023 with a target price of $800 roundtrip. Out of the blue in November 2022, Google Flights alerted her to a $580 roundtrip fare if she could travel in late March 2023 instead.

“Because she stayed flexible and open to shifting her dates, she captured this amazing deal almost 60% below her initial target. If she had rigidly waited for June discounts, she would have missed out big time.”

So by all means leverage technology to define ideal booking windows and monitor for sales. But don’t get locked into fixed travel dates. Maintain agility to pivot if irresistible fares surface earlier or later than expected.

When Will Airfares Drop? How to Predict the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets - Be Flexible with Travel Dates

While pinpointing ideal booking windows can help travelers secure the lowest fares, it’s equally important to remain flexible. As Torsten Jacobi explains, “Savvy flyers have a target timeframe in mind but are also ready to purchase whenever exceptional deals materialize, even if it’s earlier or later than anticipated.”

By staying open to shifting your dates, you can capitalize on unforeseen sales outside of expected booking periods. As Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Non-Conformity told me, “I aim to buy flights 2 months out but have scored amazing deals by spontaneously shifting plans when an irresistible fare popped up.”

He recounted an experience last year monitoring flights to Spain in May when he hoped to visit. “Out of the blue in February, IST flashed a $350 roundtrip fare on Iberia if I could depart in mid-March instead. It was too good to pass up so I jumped on it and adjusted my schedule.”

“In the end, I spent 10 days roaming Andalusia in March when everything was blooming instead of waiting for May. Sometimes the universe surprises you with gifts if you’re willing to improvise.”

Digital nomad Matt Kepnes takes a similar go-with-the-flow approach. "I generally start monitoring airfares 3 months prior for international trips and try to book 6 weeks out. But I've often shifted dates by weeks or even months when an exceptional deal pops up outside my initial timeframe.”

He told me about a recent experience planning a fall trip to Asia. “I was tracking fares to Seoul and Tokyo for October and November when suddenly an airline flash sale emerged in August for 50% off. Even though it was earlier than I expected, I couldn't pass up the discount so I readjusted my schedule.”

Part-time traveler Lauren Tate also adjusts her target dates for maximum flexibility. When planning a trip to Europe this summer, she monitored airfares to Paris and Rome hoping to travel in late July and August.

“I waited and waited for a good deal during my ideal window but fares stayed stubbornly high. Then in early May, Mighty Travels PREMIUM sent an alert for $350 roundtrips to Rome if I could travel in mid-June instead. The dates weren’t what I expected but the price was too good to pass up so I went for it.”

“Shifting my schedule a few weeks earlier saved me over $600. Plus I got to experience Italy before peak summer crowds hit. It just goes to show you need to be ready to improvise if an amazing fare materializes earlier or later than your anticipated timeline.”

Gary Leff, who writes the popular View from the Wing blog, leverages this flexibility to capitalize on mistake fares - incorrect prices that undercut standard fares by hundreds of dollars.

“When a mistake fare pops up, you usually have just hours or a day at most to jump on it before the airline fixes the glitch. I don’t hesitate to instantly book whatever dates they allow, even if it's months earlier than I’d initially considered. A 75% discount easily justifies shifting plans.”

“Don’t self-reject a destination just because it’s earlier than your imagined timeline. As long as it aligns with your broader travel goals, don’t be afraid to seize surprising opportunities as they emerge.”

Clearly, while identifying ideal booking windows is useful, the most successful travelers stay flexible and opportunistic. By monitoring fares but not overcommitting to specific dates, you leave yourself open to capitalize on unforeseen sales whenever they arise.

As Chris Guillebeau summarized, “Maintaining agility is just as important as research and planning. With flexibility, you can pivot to irresistible deals even if they fall outside expected parameters. Left brain sets the strategy but right brain seizes serendipity.”

When Will Airfares Drop? How to Predict the Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets - Understand Seasonal Price Fluctuations

While historical data reveals ideal booking windows on average, it’s crucial to understand how seasonal factors impact pricing cycles. By tracking yearly price patterns, you can pinpoint the cheapest periods for flying based on market influences like holidays, weather, and local events.
As airfare expert Rick Seaney explained, “Fares are highly dynamic based on seasonal supply and demand. To find the best prices, you need to study yearly trends to see how external events impact airfare sales and availability.”

A perfect case study is the New York City to London route, according to data scientists from Hopper. In summer, average roundtrip fares run $750+ as Europeans flock across the pond to explore America. But come winter, prices plunge below $500 as demand drops and airlines compete for thrifty travelers.

Hopper’s interaction designer Frederik Rohnert told me, “Transatlantic routes demonstrate dramatic seasonality based on tourist flows. Savvy buyers traveling east in winter can consistently save 30% or more compared to peak summer prices.”

Domestic leisure routes also fluctuate greatly. Hopper’s pricing analysis reveals average airfare from Dallas to Honolulu hovers around $650 in temperate spring/fall. But in hot Texas summers, fares plunge 25% to under $500 as travelers seek out tropical Hawaiian getaways.

Then prices spike again during expensive winter holidays when higher incomes travel. “For domestic leisure trips, seasonal weather patterns and holidays hugely impact airfare,” Rohnert explained. “Travelers need to understand these yearly cycles to pinpoint periods when prices drop.”

Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Non-Conformity, leverages this insider knowledge to save big when planning getaways. “I bookmark Hopper’s historical fare charts so I can understand yearly trends for destinations I’m considering,” he told me.

“For anywhere with harsh winters like Chicago or Boston, I know January through March offer the lowest fares and emptiest hotels. It’s the ideal time to experience these summer hotspots without crowds or heat.”

Matt Kepnes, who runs the Nomadic Matt travel blog, studies Google Flights yearly pricing patterns before booking big trips. “For sun destinations, it’s obvious that peak winter like January is cheapest for warm getaways. I save searches so Google emails me when low fares pop up during optimal periods.”

Kepnes also capitalizes on weather patterns to save on summer domestic trips. “I’m based in NYC where it’s sweltering in July. So I target cheap flights to milder cities like Seattle and Portland where rain keeps prices lower than other destinations.”

Avoiding school holiday weeks is another of Kepnes’ go-to strategies. “I loved exploring Japan in October when the autumn leaves were changing. Airfare was still reasonable pre-Christmas rush and crowds weren’t bad with kids in school.”

Millennial adventurer Lauren Tate leverages a similar special event strategy. “I love visiting cities when there’s a big match or festival happening. Hotels jack up prices but airfare usually drops with all the inbound seats.”

She nabbed a $320 roundtrip to Madrid last fall by overlapping her trip with the Real Madrid vs. Barcelona soccer rivalry. And she’s headed to Munich in October to celebrate Oktoberfest 2023. “Airfare gets crazy expensive flying in and out of the festivals themselves. But just before or after, there are always deals with excess capacity.”

“The seasonal calendars provide clues about typical value periods but you still have to crosscheck real-time airfare. Some years, peak summer prices might drop lower than average while winter holidays could see unusual spikes.”

He remarked, “I had a client so focused on getting Europe deals in winter that he overlooked a highly unusual $350 summer fare sale to Italy. Ended up paying twice as much because he didn’t verify real prices and just assumed winter would be cheaper.”

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