The Best Time to Buy Summer Flights
It’s no secret, airfare goes up in summer which can put a dent in your bank account when planning that special trip. But a little bit of preparation, timing and luck can help you score a cheap flight. It’s 65 days until the start of summer. Let’s start planning!
Why Does Airfare Go Up in Summer?
Thirty-five percent of airline costs in 2012 went to jet fuel, an all-time high, says John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist for Airlines for America, a trade organization for the U.S. airline industry.
Already in 2013, the price of jet fuel is running 3 cents per gallon higher than in 2012, says Heimlich. Due to the rising temperatures associated with the summer season, butane and other cheap and popular gasoline additives evaporate at a faster rate, causing smog and challenging air quality regulations. Airlines simply spend more money on fuel and flights during the summer months and that affects our pocketbooks.
According to Brian Ek of Priceline.com:
The average domestic airfare for June 2013 is $375, or 1.4 percent higher than last year. Average domestic airfare for July 2013 is $388, or 0.1 percent higher than last year. Average domestic airfare for August is $377, or 1.5 percent lower than last year.
The average international airfare for June 2013 is $971, which is 4.3 percent higher than last year. Average international airfare for July 2013 is $929, which is 3.9 percent higher than last year. Average international airfare for August 2013 is $883, which is 1.8 percent higher than last year.
When Should I Book My Tickets?
Advice is to plan ahead…but not too far ahead.
“Unless you are booking July 4 or Labor Day travel, looking for better airfares is all about knowing when airlines will lower fares…and they won’t do it any further out than 45 days before your desired flight. The sweet spot will be in a small window between 45 and 35 days ahead of your departure date,” he says.
If you don’t have a 45-day window and need to book a flight last minute, watch for flight sale alerts through online travel agencies (OTAs), airline websites, or the bible of airfare price alerts, Airfare Watchdog.
“The best answer is that there is no best time to book summer airfares, other than when there happens to be an unadvertised sale,” says George Hobica, founder of Airfare Watchdog which alerts travelers of special deals and provides email alerts on your specific routes.
“We’ve already seen some spot sales this year for summer travel on various routes where the fares were no higher than in winter,” says Hobica.
Is there a day that’s better than others to book airfare?
Early Tuesday morning is usually a good time to check rates. That’s when low-cost carriers such as Southwest, AirTran and JetBlue generally announce their new sales. Then the infamous “fare-wars” begin, as legacy carriers then try to match the lower-cost carrier prices on specific route sales.
“There are unadvertised fare wars that can drop fares quite a bit, usually on connecting flights, that are sometimes valid for year-round travel, a 330-day travel period,” says Peter Thornton, senior airfare analyst at Smarter Travel Media, parent company of AirfareWatchdog, BookingBuddy.com and other travel resources.
Thornton explains that those sales are often referred to as “flash sales” because they only last a few hours to a day. “They can pop-up any day of the week and disappear without notice, so when you see them, you have to act fast.”
How flexible do you have to be?
Very! Being flexible on your travel dates and even about your destination will help you get a better price in peak summer travel season.
“Consumers will do best if they’re flexible in where they’ll go–wherever happens to be cheapest rather than having their hearts set on a particular destination, but that’s not always possible,” says Hobica.
Of course, that logic mostly applies to optional leisure travel. There is a sector of of “obligation travel,” i.e. weddings or family reunions, in which there is little choice on the dates and locations. In fact, a recent Hotwire.com survey revealed that 21 percent of American adults spend as much as $197 billion on obligation travel.
What if you haven’t booked your summer trip yet?
Start looking now. If you’re looking at specific dates and routes, check daily. After some research, you’ll decide on a figure that you’re comfortable with spending and if the price comes near that, jump on it.
Bing Travel has a helpful flight-prediction tool that suggests whether prices are expected to go up, down or remain the same, based on historical data.
If you do score a deal, pay attention to the fine print in terms of blackout dates and cancellation policies.
Look into major airline hubs. Often times, airlines will provide discounted rates when you connect through their hubs or fly directly to them. Working with online travel agency Vayama, this is especially true when trying to book international travel. Using the example of flying from Wichita, Kansas to Vientiane, Laos, breaking the flight into three separate pieces to purposely hit major airline hubs, Vayama shows a savings of $263.