When Is the Best Time to Buy an International Flight?

High/Low Fares

Infographic courtesy of Cheapair.com

Online travel agency Cheapair.com finds that the best time to buy international fares is not a “one size fits all” approach. Instead, international flights are affected by many different variables, with data showing some destinations benefit more from long-term planning while others don’t need as much booking lead time.

Cheapair.com looked at fares for more than 1.2 million trips in 2015 from the U.S. to 74 popular international destinations. It found:

  • Central and South America show the best time to buy is 70 days out from travel dates, which is closest to the domestic 54-day average;
  • Canada and Mexico are also similar to the U.S. market, with 75 days out being the best time to buy airfare, on average;
  • The best fares to Europe can be found at 120 days out, and Asian destinations come in at 160 days from travel dates; and
  • There’s a sharp jump to nearly one year to secure the best fares for the Caribbean (320 days), the Middle East and Africa (215 days) and Australasia/South Pacific (320 days).

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    Cheapair.com’s study noted that travelers need to be aware of seasonality when booking international airfare. It notes that unlike domestic flights, international flights often have a huge disparity between the price during the low tourist season and the high tourist season, with high season flights possibly going for double the price.

    For most destinations, the high season is the U.S. summer and the low season the U.S. winter, although for certain sun destinations like the Caribbean and parts of Mexico U.S. winter is actually the peak. For example, European destinations are in high demand during the summer, when U.S. travelers typically make their international plans. For travelers wanting to go to Italy in August, you might want to start your search even earlier to get the best deal.

    Flights fill faster in the summer when demand is higher and the “best” itineraries (shorter connection times) and most desirable seats will sell out earlier. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to be able to land an amazing last-minute deal to Europe, if you are traveling during the winter when fewer people go.

    Those who decide to travel with friends and family may want to book especially early if everyone wants to sit together. You might pay a bit more, but you’re more likely to have this luxury if you get the booking in early.

    For those flying solo and have some itinerary flexibility, they might be more willing to gamble on nabbing a last-minute sale. For example, if you can fly into any European city and have some flexibility with your dates, you might snag a good deal at the last minute, especially out of larger gateway cities like New York that have many daily flights going to the region.

    As the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, approach, it will be interesting for travelers. Typically, Olympic cities see a huge surge in interest and bookings, which results in higher airfares much earlier than usual. But the Zika virus is putting a bit of a damper on plans for American travelers, who do tend to be more conservative and focused on safety when traveling abroad. Also, Turkey’s terrorism and political problems have once again made that nation a bargain for travelers, after years in which it wasn’t.

    Cheapair.com advises travelers to always do their homework and check airfares. It also offers its report, When to Buy Flight research, which covers a few thousand cities. “Although international flight prices tend to be somewhat less volatile than domestic flights, a serious bargain hunter should still be checking fares at least a few times a week to increase the odds of finding a great deal,” it said. “But we also want to point out that if you’re the traveler who cares more about your airline, times, routing, or in-flight amenities than saving a few bucks, we recommend booking even earlier, when choice is more varied.”