“Getting the cheapest flight to Barcelona couldn’t be easier: simply buy your ticket at precisely 11.23pm on a Wednesday in May… while standing on one leg and reciting the alphabet backwards – in Esperanto. Also, don’t forget to make the payment in Norwegian krone from the 1990s and send a papyrus receipt to easyJet’s vault in Fort Knox. Once that’s done, start walking to Lydd Airport where your biplane awaits.”
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably read dozens of articles about “gaming” the booking systems of commercial airlines and picking up the cheapest flight tickets EVER. However, most of the methods turn out to be completely wrong – or only end up saving you a couple of pence. But there is a pinch of truth to the wild claims, especially those regarding online booking. So what’s the best time to book a flight?
Best time to book a flight: How many weeks in advance?
The rule of thumb used to be that the sooner you book your tickets, the cheaper they’ll be. The “excitement factor” also plays into this: you’ve started planning your summer holiday so it makes sense to sort out the flights six months in advance, right? Wrong.
Numerous comparison websites (including the usually excellent Skyscanner) recommend booking no sooner than seven weeks in advance for short-haul trips. As you’d expect, the window rises to 18 weeks for long-haul flights to, for example, India or Australia.
However, even this rule isn’t set in stone: prices can fluctuate wildly, vary from airline to airline and are surprisingly dependent on other factors such as the weather and a destination’s “trendiness”. Luckily, Skyscanner has put together a wallet-saving tool that shows the best time to book.
On the other hand, if you’re from Edinburgh and want to soak up the sun in Alicante, you don’t have to worry until a mere four weeks before departure. Interestingly, eager beavers who book six months in advance will be paying an extra 15% on average.
That said, and just to prove how changeable airfares can be, the best time to book a flight from London to destination-of-the-moment Reykjavik is… nearly six months in advance. In fact, as you can see from the graph below, the cost steadily rises from seven weeks before departure.
Consequently, checking Skyscanner’s tool before booking that summer getaway in, say, Cork always makes sense.
Best time to book a flight: What time of year?
If that wasn’t enough to keep in mind, Skyscanner also provides an overview of the priciest and cheapest months to book plane tickets. Simply select the “What are the cheapest and most expensive months” box beneath the bar chart to check the fares.
Again, there’s no hard and fast rule – instead, it’s a case of checking individual destinations. For instance, the worst time to book a flight to Helsinki is December, while the cheapest month to buy your tickets to Las Vegas is, on average, November.
Meanwhile, if you want to be overawed by Marrakech’s Jamaa el Fna square (something I’d thoroughly recommend – the snail stalls are a particular highlight), don’t even look the airline’s website until January.
A small disclaimer: don’t treat Skyscanner’s graphs as gospel. As I mention above, flight prices are subject to a wide range of different factors and can change very quickly. However, they, along with the website’s fare change alerts, remain a very useful tool.