When is the best time to book a flight for your trip?

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Courtesy megstanton/myBudgetTravel

“I was magnificently fortunate enough to get a window seat on our flight from Chicago to Málaga—and to be conscious when we were directly above the beautiful country as the sun came up.”

So often these days, travelers feel captive to the whims of the airlines. Flight prices, what’s included with your ticket, what’s considered an add-on, even whether or not you can bring a carry-on – it can be confusing and frustrating. Qtrip aims to simplify this process for travelers, and one way we can help is to be transparent and provide insights into the best time to buy an airline ticket.

The Qtrip Airfare Study analyzed more than 917 million airfares across 8,000 markets to uncover insights and provide advice so that travelers can make informed choices when they plan.

How far in advance should you book a flight?

Based on data from the past year, Qtrip found that the average best day to buy a flight is 77 days in advance of your travel date (for domestic U.S. travel). This is an average finding, so it’s best to think of a range of dates.

Qtrip classified the range of dates in which you can buy an airline ticket, called Booking Zones. There are 6 Airfare Booking Zones:

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First Dibs

315 to 202 days in advance(Approximately 10 to 6.5 months)

If you are a traveler who appreciates having the most options, you’ll likely find the First Dibs zone ideal. The most choice in seats, specific flight times, and even classes of service occur when you buy early. If you buy in this early bird zone, you’ll spend around $50 more than if you wait to buy in the “Prime Booking Window.” It’s money well spent, if you prefer to have all the choices.

Peace of Mind

201 to 128 days in advance (Approximately 6.5 to 4 months)

The Peace of Mind zone is best for travelers who like to keep a balance between choice and value. It’s early enough that you’ll still have options, and it’s not quite as expensive as First Dibs (you’ll save about $30 on average compared to First Dibs).

Prime Booking Window

127 to 21 days in advance (Approximately 4 months to 3 weeks)

This is where you want to be if budget takes precedence in your decision-making. Year over year, this prime booking zone consistently yields the lowest prices for travelers (within 5% of the lowest ticket price). You’re likely going to trade in some of that choice we mentioned earlier, but if cost is the main consideration, there is no better zone for you.

Push Your Luck

20 to 14 days in advance (Approximately 3 – 2 weeks)

Here’s where things can get dicey. Inside of 3 weeks, the odds are prices will go up, and choice gets limited. This is a zone best left to gamblers, Sometimes you can find a great deal in the Push Your Luck zone, but it’s not a sure thing.

Playing with Fire

13 to 7 days in advance (2 weeks to 1 week)

Real risk takers dwell in the Playing with Fire zone – these are travelers who can’t help but wait until nearly the last minute to buy tickets. The truth is that playing with fire will often leave singe marks on your wallet. There’s usually much less choice and the prices are even higher.

Hail Mary

6 to 0 days in advance (Less than a week)

Most people find themselves in the “Hail Mary” zone out of necessity (family emergency or unexpected trip), rather than a premeditated choice. If you hope to save money OR like choice, there’s little to recommend buying here. If you have to do so, you’ll likely pay about $200 more, on average, than you would if you shopped in the Prime Booking Window. Should you find yourself here, you do have options. Qtrip offers monthly payments for travelers.

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