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Will I Get a Cheaper Flight by Waiting to Book?

SmarterTravel

Dear Jessica,

Will I get a better deal by waiting to purchase my tickets near my travel date, or should I purchase several months in advance?

—M.M.

Dear M.M.,

We receive this question frequently as the summer travel season approaches. We consulted travel experts at online travel suppliers Hotwire and Orbitz to get the scoop on when you should book to get the best deal.

Summer is the busy travel season for many popular destinations, including Europe, U.S. national parks, and beach destinations. The increased demand for seats causes ticket prices to skyrocket, and planes to fill up earlier than during other seasons.

Because airlines (and hotels) are moving away from last-minute discounting, Orbitz recommends booking in advance, particularly if you have specific requirements (e.g., set dates or flight times, preferred hotel location). However, Orbitz also notes that if your travel plans are flexible, you can sometimes take advantage of low last-minute prices on “distressed inventory” (i.e., empty seats and open rooms).

Hotwire’s consumer travel expert Amy Bohutinsky also suggests booking in advance, and says that because planes are filling up earlier than in past years, you are likely to get a more expensive ticket if you wait to book. If you’re traveling around peak summer travel dates and holidays, you might not get a seat at all if you wait until the last minute.

Bohutinsky says that if you’re traveling to an off-peak destination on an off-peak date, you could get lucky with a cheap last-minute airfare, but in general, she advocates booking well in advance.

Most airlines’ sales will specify an advance booking requirement, but because fares quickly sell out, it’s best to book as soon as you find the fare, preferably at least three weeks before departure.

RELATED: When to Book, Fly, and More: Tips for Perfect Travel Timing

Memorial Day is the unofficial start to the summer travel season, which runs until Labor Day. Fares tend to jump after June 15, so your best bet for finding low airfare is in early June.

As always, you can save by traveling midweek (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays), keeping your dates flexible, and by avoiding travel on or around major holiday weekends (Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day).

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Last updated: August 17, 2015

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