How far in advance should you book flights to get the best fares? In the case of no-frills airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair, the answer is simple: as early as possible. As soon as blocks of flights go sale, the cheapest fares start to get snapped up. If you leave it too late, you’ll be left with the most expensive tickets.
With full service airlines and flag-carriers, it’s more complicated, as airlines are known to move prices up and down – whether manually or by computer program – in order to maximise ticket sales at the highest possible prices. That means that prices can come down at certain times, including at particular times of the day and week.
An economist, Makoto Watanabe, claims to have calculated that 8 weeks beforehand is the best time to book. Writing in the Economic Journal, he also said that airline tickets are cheaper when bought in the afternoon, rather than in the morning. He suggested this may be because airlines have found that high-spending business travellers book their tickets at work in the morning on the company account, while leisure travellers tend to book from home in the afternoon or evening.
This might not hold true for a Ryanair flight to Malaga, but it can be true if you are flying long haul to America, Australia or Asia, particularly to big hubs such as New York, Sydney and Singapore.
There are other factors to consider. Airlines usually release fare discounts at certain times of year, such as early January. This means that a fare that might cost £550 in December could now be on sale at £449.
Airlines also experiment with price movements. They might release some cancelled seats into the market at a high price. If they don’t sell at that price, they may slash the fare.
All this means that if you want to save money, it’s worth checking and re-checking flights at different times of day, and on different days of the week. But don’t get greedy: if you find a good fare then you may want to snap it up before it disappears.
You should also remember that if you are flying at a peak time of year, such as August or over Christmas, it is unlikely that the fare will drop significantly as the airline knows it can sell that seat. With these tickets you should usually book as early as possible.