Hi, it’s Caren. I’m the world’s biggest planner. In the past when we have traveled, we booked our flights really early – even as soon as the airfares become available, which can be nearly a year before we travel. I assumed – apparently incorrectly – that airfares were a “first come, first served” sort of thing. We have noticed that some of our friends have booked similar itineraries, much later than us but with much better deals. So that begs the question – when is the best time to book a flight?
When buying airfares, here are a few tips that we have found.
- Don’t book your flights too early. FareComparison.com advises that the optimal time to book a flight is six weeks prior to your trip for domestic travel and two to three months for international travel. Be sure to have booked your tickets at least two weeks prior to a trip, since prices go up for those last minute business travelers. Also, if you are traveling using airline points, you should monitor when the airline issues the frequent flyer travel. If you are traveling during a holiday period, you may need to book earlier.
- Be flexible with your dates and, if you are in a metropolitan area, your airport. Midweek travel tends to be less expensive, and some airports have lower fares than others. For example, our airport, Newark Liberty, just seems to be more expensive than Laguardia or JFK. Of course you will need to balance that with higher parking or cab fees to get to the other airports, and with additional travel time if that airport is significantly farther away. Also be careful to make sure that if you drive to the airport, you are flying from and returning to the same airport.
- Buy your tickets on a Monday or Tuesday. According to LifeHacker.com, airlines offer sales on Sunday night to Monday night. These fares are grabbed up early in the week.
- Sign up for fare alerts. We really like Google Flights. There is a graph that you can see the expected prices for a flight. Another great tool is a phone app called Hopper. Based on historical data, it recommends whether you should buy your ticket now or wait. Both Google and Hopper can be configured to notify you when the airfares are lowered.
- Understand the airline’s policy regarding baggage – especially for tandem bikes. If you have a coupled bike that fits into two standard sized suitcases, then you should research how many bags the airlines lets you check and what they charge for additional luggage. You may need to check more than just the bike and how much the airline charges could make a difference in what airfare is really the cheapest. If you are like us, and have an oversized and greater than 50 pound loaded bike bag, then you need to research how an airline charges for a tandem bicycle. Sometimes traveling Premium Economy may be worthwhile since luggage limits are higher. Last year when we flew Virgin Australia to and from Sydney, they did not charge us anything for our tandem! Some airlines charge a lower fee for sporting equipment like a tandem, while others will assess overweight and oversized luggage charges. In addition, some airlines require you to pre-clear your bike with them before the flight. It is important to know the rules regarding your flight.