When is the best time to buy airline tickets? Summary and booking

So when should I book my ticket?

In my opinion, praying for a fare sale is wishful thinking. In addition to the airline needing to discount your specific fare, you have to be aware and quick enough to jump on the ticket before it disappears.
Knowing now how fare availability and pricing tiers work, it only follows that you need to book as far ahead in advance as possible. I know, it’s hard to schedule all of your vacation and holiday travel in advance, but there are always fixed schedules that you’re going to keep. I’m always going to go home for Christmas. Usually I know what state I’m going to live six months in advance. Book it.

Aside from the obvious, keep the basic fare searching tricks in your queue.

  • Try searching on days before and after the holiday window (leave Tuesday or return Monday for Thanksgiving). Also try searching on the day OF the holiday.
  • Leave early in the morning or late in the evening.
  • Try flying on a Low Cost Carrier (LCC) to save a few bucks; most of these carriers are not covered by the canonical search engines, so you’ll have to go to their websites to run specific searches. If you’re in Europe, try flylc.com
  • Consider flying to an alternate airport in the area (Ontario or John Wayne instead of LAX, Toledo or Flint instead of Detroit, etc).
  • Search for coupons on Ebay. Airlines don’t really like it when people sell/trade vouchers and coupons, but few have a way to track it. I myself have never done it, but I know a guy who does it all of the time and he’s never had a problem.
  • Buy frequent flyer miles off of a friend. No, the airlines don’t like this either, but if you find a ticket for 800$ online and can pay your buddy 500$ for the miles, nobody will know the difference.
  • Keep an eye on Gadling. Occasionally I post ridiculous deals ;)

Do your homework first too. Check the online tools and make sure that you aren’t paying way too much for a fare. Find an appropriate time, check with your friends and family and commit.

And I know it sounds ridiculous, but mentally prepare yourself before investing. I like to think of it this way: if the price of my ticket goes down and I can’t recoup any of my money by rebooking the ticket, I invested any extra money in peace of mind for these few weeks that the ticket has been booked. If you think about all of the time that you spend stewing at your cubicle and bitching to your friends before you book your ticket about the price fluctuations, it’s really not that bad of a payoff.