For decades, travelers have wondered how far in advance they should book international flights. Tickets can be expensive, often amounting to the largest expense you’ll incur on your whole trip, and nobody wants to end up paying $100 more per ticket than they could have if they’d just timed things a little differently. In recent years, however, some organizations have been able to gather enough pricing data to start taking the guesswork out of booking air travel.
The most important answer to the question of when to book an international flight is that it depends heavily on your destination. A study by Cheapair.com showed that while the best time to buy a ticket for a domestic U.S. flight was 54 days, the best time for a flight to Latin American was 80 days out, and the best time for a flight to Africa was 166 days before departure. The study’s authors postulated that the optimum booking times were due to international travel routes having a combination of high demand and low supply.
You may sometimes benefit, however, by taking a chance on waiting for your fares. Ticket prices go up and down on a regular basis, and during some parts of the year, airlines end up dropping prices at the last minute. International travel to some destinations between November and March, for instance, can sometimes be booked optimally just a month out from the flight. If you opt for that strategy, however, be sure you’re not traveling around a holiday or a winter break, when demand skyrockets, and it becomes necessary to book much farther in advance.
Finally, you should realize that the best time to book might depend more on your needs than on the ticket price. It may cost hundreds of dollars to change your ticket once it’s booked, so be sure that you’re not booking so far in advance that you may have to change your dates. Getting the cheapest ticket possible may also mean you have to be very flexible about what airline you fly and what route you take to your destination. Therefore, if you have specific travel needs, you may want to book as far in advance as possible.