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How Far in Advance to Book a Flight

When is the Best Time to Book a Flight - Key Factors to Consider in 2023

Amy Lancelotte
Written By Amy Lancelotte
14 minutes read
Last Updated: May 01, 2024

Travel is getting increasingly expensive, and as a result, everyone wants to save as much as possible on their flights. If you find yourself asking the question, “How far in advance should I book a flight?” you've come to the right place.

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Determining the ideal booking timeframe for your next flight will depend on a bunch of factors, including the timing of your trip and final destination.

Key Factors When Booking Flights

The most significant factor that will influence the price of your flight is the period in which you’re traveling. While it varies by destination, typically, summer (in July and August) is the most popular time to travel. And airlines know it. Fares will be more expensive due to the increase in demand, and the average price of a flight from the US to Europe is expected to be $1,200 in the summer of 2023.

In addition to an uptick in travel demand during the summer, other peak periods will also affect your flight cost. A good rule of thumb is that if the kids are off school (including university and college “kids”), your flight is likely to cost more. This applies to holidays like Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, as well as spring break. If you’re traveling with kids, you won’t have much choice.

Traveling with kids in 2023

If you can avoid the peak travel period at your destination, do. Book a flight for your ski holiday at the beginning or end of the season and visit Europe in the late spring or early fall to avoid crowds and save money on your flight.

Your preferences will also factor in. Since there is a limited number of seats on any given flight and a finite number of flights, if you have specific preferences, booking earlier is recommended. Early birds get access to seats in different classes and a larger selection of available flights. The red eye and very early morning flights are the least popular and, therefore, usually cheaper, but if you can’t handle flights at these times, lock in that perfect mid-morning flight ASAP.

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The bottom line: if you want to save money, be flexible, and if you’re not flexible, book early.

Knowing When to Book - How to Save on Airfare and Avoid Flight Delays

It must be stated that finding the absolutely perfect booking window isn’t an exact science. It varies by destination and airline, but once you’ve read this article, you’ll have a better idea of what to do. It’s also important to note that there are good and bad days of the week to fly, so searching for flights that fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays will also save you. In some cases, that amount is up to $100 versus flying on a Sunday, the most expensive day.

While Sunday may be the worst day of the week to fly, it’s actually the best day to book your flight. Savings from 5-15% can be expected when you click the buy button on a Sunday instead of a Friday.

We will dive into the recommended booking windows for domestic and international flights a little later on, but another component of choosing the best flight is trying to minimize flight delays.

Minimizing flight delays when booking tickets

Some of the factors that contribute to flight delays are completely outside your control, but here are a few things to consider when booking to increase your chances of arriving on time:

  • Take the first flight of the day. Planes are in the air all the time, and if you’re flying midday or later, your plane has probably already flown thousands of miles. Each flight has a risk of being delayed, and this can build up over the course of the day.
  • Choose flights that aren’t full. When airlines overbook flights, someone has to get bumped. Remove this factor by flying outside of peak times when flights are less full, which decreases the chances of you being denied boarding due to overselling.
  • Choose your airline and airport carefully. Check our list of the top 10 worldwide airports, and you’ll see that every airport is not equal when it comes to punctuality. The same goes for the airlines. 
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Has your flight been oversold, resulting in you being denied boarding? If so, you could be entitled to denied boarding compensation of up to $650.

How Far in Advance Can You Book a Flight?

Not everyone can adhere to the recommended booking window. If you’re a planner and don’t want to risk losing out on your preferred flight, you’ll want to know how far in advance to book a flight.

For US-based airlines, on average, the booking window opens 330 days prior to the departure day. This is roughly 11 months, and if you want your pick of options and don’t mind paying a bit more, book as soon as the seats become available.

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Airlines like Alaska Airlines, AmericanDeltaUnited, JetBlue, and Hawaiian all typically adhere to the 330 days. Others, like Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit, and Southwest, vary but are often around the 6 to 9-month mark.

Here is a summary of when you can expect the first seats on a flight to become available:

Airline

Booking Window Opening Time
Prior to Departure Day

American Airlines, Delta Airlines,
and JetBlue Airways

331 days

Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines,
and United Airlines

330 days

Southwest Airlines and Allegiant Air

6 to 9 months

Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines

Varies based on route and time of year

When do Airlines Release Award Availability?

For anyone unfamiliar with the term, award availability refers to the seats on a flight that are bookable using points or miles. It doesn’t make economic sense for airlines to have entire planes full of passengers who paid in points, so they limit it. 

Every airline has its own policy on this, but a good rule of thumb is to try to book your award seats as soon as the booking window for cash purchases opens.

The most common release patterns for this type of booking are:

  1. When the booking window opens.
  2. 14 days before the flight.
  3. Periodically between numbers 1 and 2.
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Airlines tend to open up more seats randomly, but if you can wait until 14 days prior to departure, it’s common for them to release more seats if there are a bunch available this close to the actual flight.

How Far Out Should You Book a Domestic Flight?

In the US alone, there were 751 million domestic and 102 million international enplanements (the act of boarding a plane) in 2022. Domestic flights are by far the most common form of air travel in the country, so it’s crucial to know how far in advance to book flights.

In general terms, the best booking window for domestic flights in the US is between 28 and 35 days prior to departure, according to Expedia. If you ask CheapAir, they suggest that the ideal time is 76 days before the flight, and anywhere between 46 to 146 days is considered the prime booking window.

To hedge your bets, you should at least start looking for your flight during the prime booking window and don’t leave it any later than 28 days in advance. Depending on when you book, you can expect to save up to 10% on your flight.

How far in advance to book international flights

How Far in Advance to Book International Flights

Compared to domestic flights, international flights from the US are generally cheaper when booked further in advance. Each destination is different, but the average international ideal booking window is between 2.5 and 10 months before departure. While this is quite a large timeframe, it’s actually good news in that as long as you plan ahead, you should get a decent price on your flight.

Based on a CheapAir.com study, the 2023 prime booking windows are as follows: 

Destination

Prime Booking Window

Recommendation

Canada

3 to 10 months

More than 87 days in advance

Mexico

1.5 to 10 months

More than 42 days in advance

Caribbean

2 to 10 months

More than 56 days in advance

Central America

3 to 10 months

More than 91 days in advance

South America

2.5 to 10 months

More than 77 days in advance

Middle East

2.5 to 10 months

More than 79 days in advance

Asia

4.5 to 10 months

More than 144 days in advance

Oceania /
South Pacific

1.5 to 10 months

More than 49 days in advance

Africa

2.5 to 10 months

More than 80 days in advance

Europe

1.5 to 10 months

More than 45 days in advance

As you can see, it is never recommended to book more than 10 months in advance, so don’t book too early, or you’ll definitely end up paying more.

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If you have experienced a delay on an international flight, it may be possible to claim up to $650 in compensation. We can help you get exactly what you’re owed.

Timeframe for Booking Flights to Popular Destinations

Two of the most popular international routes from the US include Los Angeles Airport (LAX) to London Heathrow and any of the New York airports to London Heathrow. Domestically, routes to and from New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Honolulu, and Las Vegas are always well-traveled.

Here is some guidance on when it is typically ideal to book flights and the best times to visit these destinations to save money. Just remember that each airline is different, and your starting point will also impact prices:

Destination

Ideal Booking Window

Best Time to Visit to Save

London

6 to 8 months from departure

October and November

New York

4 to 8 weeks

January

Atlanta

4 to 8 weeks

January and February

Los Angeles

4 to 6 months

January, February, and September

Honolulu

3 weeks to 4 months

April to June and August to October

Las Vegas

1 to 6 months

June to August

***According to data from Skyscanner

When to book for Summer 2023 Travel

Any travelers who want to fly internationally, ideally, should have already purchased their tickets. But all is not lost. Booking no later than early July for mid-to-late August and early September travel still puts you within the prime booking window for destinations like Mexico, Canada, Europe, and Oceania. Just get on it ASAP.

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Domestic destinations don’t require as much advanced planning, so booking in June for travel in July and August should be fine. The only issue here is that because domestic summer travel is so popular, flights may already be full. Aim for the recommended minimum of 28 days, and book as early as possible if you’re worried about getting a seat.

Travel planning for Thanksgiving 2023

Planning for the Holidays in 2023 - The Best Time to Book

Stats from the US Bureau of Transportation indicate that the 6-day period around Thanksgiving is among the busiest of the year. But if you need to take a flight during this time, don’t worry too much. Most of this holiday travel (9 out of 10 people) travel by land. Although that doesn’t mean the airports won’t be crowded, it’s good to keep in mind that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after the holiday are still very popular.

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The period around Christmas also increases travel numbers, and in 2022, December 22 and 23 were the worst days to depart.

When you need to know how far in advance to book flights during these periods, earlier is better. Since many passengers need to visit family during these times, flights quickly fill up, so adding at least a month to the usual guidelines is preferred. Prices for flights during these times are always higher than average, but if you avoid the most common travel days, you can likely save some cash for Christmas presents.

Using 2022 data, here is a list of what were the best and worst days to fly around the holidays and the recommended booking window:

Thanksgiving

  • Best departure days: November 21, 22, and Thanksgiving Day.
  • Worst departure day: November 23.
  • Best return days: Black Friday, November 28, and 29th.
  • Worst return day: November 27.
  • Booking window: 2 to 3 months before your travel day. Definitely book before Halloween. Since Thanksgiving is a US-only holiday, traveling internationally doesn’t require any more advanced planning than usual.

Christmas

  • Best departure days: December 18, 19, 20, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day.
  • Worst departure days: December 22 and 23.
  • Best return days: December 28 and 29.
  • Worst return days: December 26 and 27.
  • Booking window: 1 to 2 months before your travel day. Definitely book before Thanksgiving. Add at least two months for international travel.

We can extrapolate the 2022 data to figure out the best and worst travel days for 2023. Generally speaking, you want to fly out as early as you can during the week before Christmas and return after the 27th. For Thanksgiving, avoid the Wednesday before and the Sunday after. If you’re willing to travel on the actual holidays, you can save even more.

Ways to Avoid Flight Disruptions

There’s nothing worse than getting all keyed up for a trip only to find that your flight has been delayed or canceled. Aside from the tips mentioned above, here are some recommendations to minimize the chances of a disrupted flight: 

  • Choose popular routes. That way, if your flight gets canceled, there are more flights available to the same destination.
  • Fly direct. Aside from it being easier, flying non-stop eliminates the possibility of missing your connecting flight due to a cancellation or delay.
  • Book flexible flights. Avoid the basic economy class flights if you can afford it. Most airlines offer free or low-cost changes if you upgrade to a slightly higher bracket. Then, if you’re worried about missing your flight, you can change it without breaking the bank.
  • Get to the airport early. Leave yourself ample time to get to the airport in case of traffic and consider adding time to account for long security lines and other unforeseen events. Check out our post on how early to get to the airport for guidelines.
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Remember that we specialize in fighting for passengers’ rights, so if you experience a disruption in the form of a delayed flight, let our experts handle the claim for you. Your chances of success are much higher, and you can avoid a lot of stress.

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Early claims have an 72% higher chance of payout

Act now before your claim expires

Useful Tools and Services for Flight Booking

When searching for flights, it’s best to see every available option in one place. Avoid checking individual airlines and instead, use a service like Skyscanner that amalgamates all the data for you. Skyscanner will even let you search by the entire month and change search criteria easily.

Another useful tool with sites like Skyscanner is the price alert function. You put in your travel requirements, create an account, and the system will notify you about price changes. This will definitely save you time.

Using Skyscanner price alert to book flights

Source: https://www.skyscanner.net

Tips to Save Money on Every Trip

  1. Follow the prime booking window recommendations.
  2. Avoid peak travel days around the holidays.
  3. Travel in the off-season.
  4. Use websites that offer price alerts.
  5. Be flexible with the time of your flight.
  6. Search for smaller nearby airports that may have more reasonable fees.

The Bottom Line

Persistence, planning, and flexibility are the keys to booking the best and cheapest flight possible. Buying your flight within the prime booking window is ideal, but if you’ve already missed it, it’s still possible to find a reasonably-priced flight.

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If you can avoid traveling during the school holidays and actual holidays, do. Depending on your destination, plan ahead because it’s best to start looking at flights from 1.5 to 10 months out. Don’t overthink it too much; shop around, and have a great time on your trip!

FAQ

Do flights get cheaper at the last minute? 

No. While this used to be the case, airlines typically increase the price of flights the closer you are to the departure day.

Can you book a flight more than a year in advance?

Generally, no. In the US, most airlines open up a flight’s booking window no more than 331 days before the flight.

When can I book award tickets?

Airlines are mysterious about when they release award tickets to buy with points/rewards. It’s a good idea to check as soon as the cash booking window for the flight opens, periodically before the flight leaves, and again 14 days before the flight. That’s when airlines are more likely to want to offload unsold seats.

Do I have to reserve my flight when bookings open?

No, and in fact, it’s best not to unless you have strict preferences on flight times, availability, and seat/class selection. Depending on your destination, the ideal booking timeframe is 1 to 10 months before departure.

How far in advance should I book an international flight?

That depends. Generally speaking, from the US, international flights are best booked anywhere from 1.5 to 10 months in advance. Don’t book last minute if you can help it!

 

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