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When Should I Buy Airline Tickets?

SmarterTravel

Q: When Should I Buy Airline Tickets?

A: The very best time to buy tickets is when they’re on sale. In early June, for example, Southwest ran a nationwide sale that major lines matched on many routes. And you could buy fall transatlantic round-trips in the $350-$450 range or a round-trip New York-Hong Kong for $534.

But sale fares are iffy:

  • You never know in advance when some line will kick off a sale, and you never know whether other lines will match.
  • You never know in advance whether a sale will apply to a trip you’re considering.
  • Sale fare purchase windows are typically short, often only a few days.
  • Travel at the lowest sale fares may apply only to limited dates and times.
  • Tracking sale fares can require a lot of effort.

Waiting until a month or so before you travel doesn’t entail a big risk. Yes, airfares may increase by a few dollars following a low point that may be months before departure, but the really steep increases don’t start until about a month in advance. You aren’t risking many dollars if you wait, and if you buy too early, you could miss out on a really great deal.

You can track sales by signing up for a handful of airfare bulletins, starting with those we offer at SmarterTravel and at affiliate AirfareWatchdog. Most big online travel agencies offer some sort of airfare bulletin. And you can sign up for notifications from individual airlines, such as Southwest’s Ding. The only downside is maybe more clutter in your inbox.

But don’t hold off too long in the hopes of finding something a bit cheaper. As AirfareWatchdog’s George Hobica puts it, “When you see a good deal, pounce!”

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