How did we not know this?!
Do you have wanderlust and need to travel for your peace of mind, or do you have a lot of family and friends who don't live near you and you must schedule visits to them throughout the year?
Whatever the case is, most of us have to take a plane trip from time to time. And most of the time, plane tickets aren't cheap, no matter how many tricks you have up your sleeve.
Lucky for you (and me), the good people at CheapAir looked at 1,336,030,117 air fares (that's about 1.3 billion) last year as part of their annual air fare study and found that the magical number of days before a flight that's the best time to book a cheap ticket is 54 days before takeoff
They said, "While 54 days in advance might have been the average best time to buy based on everybody's trips last year, that doesn't mean it will be the best time to buy for your trip this year."
In their study, CheapAir looked at 2,926,668 trips (a bit under three million). They defined a trip as going from Point A to Point B on a specific date with a specific return date — a roundtrip ticket. For each trip, they looked at the lowest fare offered for that trip every day from 320 days in advance until one day in advance.
When the researchers looked at all three million itineraries, the best times to buy varied greatly. For many of them (approximately 13,000 in total), 54 days out was the best time to buy, but for almost as many, the best time to buy was 53 days out, or 52 days, or 45 days or 60 days.
For almost 30,000 trips, the best time to book was the day the flight went on sale. And for a tiny number of them, the best time to book was at the last minute.
CheapAir explained, "As you move from the time a flight initially opens for sale to the day the flight departs, we see a pattern of how fares change — typically starting off high, slowly coming down, and then a few weeks before flight time starting to climb, with a particularly sharp increase once you're inside 14 days."
In other words, the urban legend may be that the best fares are last minute, but that's not the case at all. In the end, your flight's best price window is dependent on specifics: where you're going and when.
If you're going to Las Vegas for New Year's, for example, you need to book your flight well before the prime booking window even begins. Airlines aren't going to offer lower fares if they have no incentive to lower them. This same principal is true for flights to hard-to-reach airports in small cities: if there's no competition for your business, the ticket prices have a tendency to stay the same.
Airline tickets are similar to stocks — they rise and fall depending on a number of factors. Still, the 54-day rule is as good as any, except if you're going to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break then you just take your chances. However, some people swear that the best day to book your ticket is on a Tuesday.