The average price of a domestic flight was $396 in the third quarter of 2014, the most recent data available, according to the Department of Transportation. Despite plummeting oil and fuel prices last year, airlines haven’t shared their savings with customers.
But travelers can save on flights in other ways. In a recent report, travel web site Momondo analyzed 7.5 billion flights on the 100 most popular global routes to figure out when flights tend to be cheapest. They considered numerous factors, including when the flight departs, what day of the week to fly and how far in advance to book.
Here’s what they found:
Book early. In general, flight prices start to increase 53 days in advance of departure, though this can vary by route. For example, flights between New York and San Francisco are cheapest 46 days out; 45 days out they start increasing, spiking on the day of take-off. Momondo estimates travelers can save 29% by booking this way.
According to Momondo spokesman Lasse Hansen, this type of last-minute increase is normal. Flights typically peak three days before departure. But fluctuations can be more common on routes frequented by business travelers because of supply and demand, says Hansen. When there’s a lot of business to be done, professionals drive prices up. Other times, you can find great deals.
Take off in the evening, between 6 p.m. and midnight. In general, that’s when flights are the cheapest. Afternoons, on the other hand, are the most expensive. Using this trick saves travelers about 13% on average, according to Hansen.
Fly on a Tuesday. For whatever reason, Tuesdays tend to be the cheapest day of the week to fly. Fridays are most expensive. That said, this strategy will save you the least amount of money of them all - 6%.
Hanson also cautions that these aren’t hard and fast rules. Booking a flight 53 days out that leaves on a Tuesday evening doesn’t necessarily translate to the cheapest flight. What’s more, each route is different.
If you’ve got your heart set on a particular destination, look at their individual analysis to find out when it’s cheapest and what time of day is best to leave. In addition to Momondo, sites like HipMunk, Google Flights (GOOGL) and others offer similar analytical data.
Travel sites like Expedia (EXPE) and its newly acquired Travelocity offer some comparison features as well, though keep in mind those sites are travel agencies that take a cut of the ticket price, as opposed to a travel aggregators, like the examples above.
Good luck, and have a cheap flight!