Buy air tickets early, but not too early

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InnsbruckgirlsMany of us obsess over finding the absolute cheapest flight when we are planning a trip, and that goal seems to be getting harder and hard to achieve as time goes on. There was a day when the trick was to buy your plane tickets as early as possible, as prices almost always crept up as the flight itself approached, but that’s no longer true.

The best time to buy

The one exception to the advice below is the holiday periods, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. During these times the old strategy works best, so you should figure out your ideal dates, or the cheapest travel dates you can live with, and then buy your tickets as early as you can. Those buying tickets 6 months in advance might feel like they are paying a lot, but those buying one week in advance will certainly be paying even more.

The ideal time, according to recent computerized testing is to buy your ticket somewhere between 2 and 8 weeks before your intended departure date. This may sound strange to some, but it makes good sense if you think about it.

For one thing, airlines tend to have waves of fare sales throughout the year, but you’ll notice that they are almost always for travel beginning in the few weeks just head. The reason for this is that they want to fill up the planes that will be taking off soon, and if they offered really low fares for flights leaving in 4 months, that would insure that the upcoming flights will stay emptier, as consumers know they can save by waiting.

On the other hand, if demand is strong and the upcoming flights in the next few weeks are mostly full, then they’ll have no sale at all, or only a sale that includes selected cities where demand remains a bit weak.

So how do we deal with this?

The best thing to do is to check fares as soon as you’ve decided to go somewhere, and make a note of the best fares. Then, once you get to the point about two months away, start checking fares again daily or as often as you are able to. There’s a very good chance that you’ll see a sudden drop in prices, and this is the best time to fly.

You might have to keep checking for another week or two, or even a bit longer, but there will almost certainly be a time when fares drop. Again, during holiday periods the prices will just keep going up, but during non-holiday periods the prices do jump around, so the best time to buy is the first time you notice a drop.

If it looks like you may have waited too long and prices are rising for more flights than they are staying steady for, it’s a good idea to buy your ticket anyway. It’s very unlikely that ALL flights at the lower prices will be gone, so you might have to fly early in the morning or late at night rather than at ideal times, but you probably won’t have to pay more. If you use this strategy over 10 trips, you’ll save money at least 6 or 7 times, and maybe only once will you end up actually paying more than the price you noticed earlier.

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