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Calculating the cheapest time to buy airline tickets



If you’re like the staff here at the National Convergence Technology Center (CTC), then you may do quite a bit of traveling to conferences and workshops around the country.  There’s a lot of frustrated mutterings and click-clacking of keyboards and mice here when the time comes to buy airplane tickets as we hunt for just the right Goldilocks combination of day and time to get the best deal.

Which is why a recent post of Lifehacker caught our attention., one of those on-line travel bundlers, crunched numbers from over 4 million tickets (and 1.3 billion airfares) bought in 2013 to try and find a pattern.  When is the best time to buy an airplane ticket?

As you might expect with something as confusing and mercurial and arbitrary-seeming as airfares, there is no easy answer.

On one hand…

According to the data, sometime around 225 days out (7 1/2 months), on average, fares started to drop and by 104 days out (3 1/2 months) they had fallen to within $10 of their low point. From there they continued to drop, slowly but steadily, until reaching a low 54 days before departure. After 54 days, fares started to climb again, remaining within $10 of that low until 29 days out. Then, the increase began to accelerate and once you were within 14 days the fares really shot up dramatically.

But then again…

 …If you’re going to a specific destination, on a specific set of dates, general averages across the whole U.S. industry don’t matter – what really matters are prices for your exact trip. And here you’ll see that, if you look within the “prime booking window” at the individual trip level, there is a ton of volatility and fluctuation. We found that each individual trip had an average of 92 fare changes between the time fights opened for sale and the time they departed. For domestic flights, the average difference between buying a ticket on the best possible day to buy and the worst was $312!

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