woman holding two airline tickets
Knowing when to book your flight is one of the key factors for saving major cash.
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto / mediaphotos

When to Book and Other Tips to Get the Best Travel Deals

Get the Cheapest Booking and Start Your Trip out Right

If you’ve always wondered how some people seem to manage to snag incredible deals on vacations, at least part of the reason is they not only know where to look, but when to book. Who knows, they might also have a number of other tricks up their sleeve that makes travel that much more affordable for them.

While most of us at least know to shop around on various websites to determine the best prices for flights and hotels, there is a lot more to it than that.

Book Your Flight at the Right Time

Knowing when to book your flight is one of the key factors for saving major cash. While there isn’t one particular season or time of year that is necessarily better, timing is essential.

CheapAir.com conducted a study analyzing airline ticket purchases in 2015 to determine when the best airfare deals were landed. The average number of days in advance to buy a domestic flight for travel within the United States was 54 days.

The biggest takeaway from the study is that, for domestic flights, prices are much higher when you book too late (within two weeks), or when you book more than five months in advance.

For international flights, the “sweet spot” depends on the region of the world you’re flying to. For flights to Canada and Mexico, CheapAir.com says 75 days in advance of your travel date is the optimal time. For Europe it’s 120 days, while Asian destinations are 160 days.

If you plan on flying to the Middle East or Africa, that “magic” number is 215 days, and the South Pacific is nearly a year ahead of time at 320 days.

If you plan on flying on or around a holiday or other peak periods, you’ll need to book even further advance. Unfortunately, even if you do that you’re still unlikely to get the best price.

When there is a constant high demand for a flight, the airlines have no incentive to lower ticket prices. The same holds true when flying to remote, hard-to-reach airports — if airlines have little to no competition, prices don’t fluctuate much at all.

If you’re thinking of a late-fall trip overseas, one thing to keep in mind is that while flights to domestic destinations are pricey around Thanksgiving, bargains can often be had at this time of year because other countries don’t celebrate this holiday.

Want to simplify all of this? Sometimes it can be difficult to know when to use a travel agent, but in instances where you want the best flight deals it’s often a good idea to speak with a travel agent about your trip arrangements.

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When to Go

Another important factor in how to find the cheapest flights is knowing when the best time to go is. If you can be flexible with your dates, you’ll have a much better chance for saving a bundle.

For example, many, if not most, travelers head to Europe in the summer. When traveling in the shoulder season — meaning just before or just after peak season (generally April/May and mid-September/October, depending on the destination) — you’ll not only find airfares to be lower, but often accommodation rates too.

If a Caribbean trip is what you have in mind, traveling in the winter means the highest prices, and summer brings the best deals.

Sometimes even making just a small change in dates can reap big savings, such as flying mid-week instead of on the weekend. Studies have found that flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday is usually cheapest, while Fridays and Sundays are the most expensive.

And, while flying non-stop is convenient, you’ll usually pay a lot less for flights with stops rather than direct flights.

Booking the Best Accommodation Rates

Accommodation rates also eat up a big chunk of anyone’s travel budget. After analyzing hotel bookings around the world, TripAdvisor found that in the United States in the summer it’s best to book within two months of the trip.

For European hotels, booking rooms between three to five months out is the best way to save. The biggest savings for destinations in Africa and the South Pacific can be found by booking at least five months in advance, while South America and Middle East destinations are at around four months ahead of travel dates.

Similar to airfares, specific days of the week for hotels can make a difference, too. Most of the time weekends are more expensive, while Sundays and mid-week rates are cheapest.

However, if you’re going to a major city like San Francisco, rates may be higher on weekdays at hotels that are popular for business travel.

Take the time to compare rates at various hotels and, if you can, be more flexible in your dates. The best deal is out there, you just need to find it.

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