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Why and when do flight prices drop?

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When do flight prices drop? Of all the world’s great mysteries — how did ancient Egyptians build the Pyramids? Why do washing machines eat socks? — perhaps the greatest is flight prices. Check airfare one day, it might be $150; buy that same ticket a few days later and it could cost much, much more. But why?

Well, this is one mystery we can solve.

In return, if anyone has an answer to the sock thing, please let us know.

When do flight prices drop?

Below, we’ll explain how airlines figure out their flight fares — and, thanks to our data nerds, we’ve found some general pricing patterns that may help you find the cheapest tickets based on historical data.

Woman searching on a tablet computer while holding a credit card.

How do airlines price tickets?

It’s in airlines’ best interest to make sure people can afford to fly with them, so they want to offer good prices. But they also need to find the right balance between (a) making sure they fill up a flight and (b) earning enough money to justify all the costs that go into operating the journey.

For this reason, ticket prices will drop and rise very regularly, depending on many different factors that are specific to that particular flight. Those things can include:

  • Whether the route is typically used by business or leisure travelers. If it’s a route that’s used a lot by business travelers, airlines might start by selling tickets at lower prices to tempt leisure travelers (so they can fill up the plane). They may then raise prices as the flight date nears, because business travelers usually book at the last minute (and on their corporate credit card).
  • How booked up the flight is. If it isn’t selling well, the airline might be tempted to sell off more seats at lower prices, so they can fill up the plane. They’ll save the high fares for last-minute buyers, as those people probably really need to be on that flight, no matter the price — and those high fares help the airline to cover the costs of the journey.  
  • Real-time bookings and cancellations. These days, airlines use complex computer software and algorithms to adjust their prices, so they can respond to supply and demand in real time. For example, if some bookings get canceled close to the flight date, the software might automatically offer those seats at a very low price to make sure they get filled. That’s why you’ll see prices constantly dipping and climbing as you search for the perfect fare.

How many days before a flight is the best price?

Of course, this depends on a ton of different and ever-changing factors, like how well that particular flight or route is selling. But here at Skyscanner, we love a bit of flight price data analysis, so we crunched some numbers and found a few patterns, which should help you find the best possible price for your trip.

  • For international flights, you get good prices booking well in advance, but you can also find some of the cheapest fares 2 weeks out. For domestic flights, the sweet spot is between 3 and 6 weeks ahead. Prices either side of that time period just aren’t as good.
  • We found that, on average, booking a domestic flight a week before the flight date costs $100 less than if you book the flight on the same day it takes off. In the same scenario for an international flight, the average price difference is $85.
  • We also found that tickets are cheaper when bought in the afternoon, and more expensive when bought in the morning.

What day of the week is the worst time to buy airline tickets?

Our analysis shows that flight prices go through a weekly cycle. Typically, the lowest prices are made available earlier in the week, and the highest prices are offered later in the week.

  • Thursday is the worst day to buy an airline ticket. This is usually when airlines start raising prices, to make up for the lower fares they offered earlier in the week.
  • Weekends are also a bad time to buy. That’s probably because it’s the airlines’ last chance to offer higher prices, before they drop back down as a new week begins.

When do flight prices drop during the week?

According to our data: Tuesday. It seems most airlines launch their discounts on Monday nights, so you can pick up the best prices on Tuesday mornings. Typically, you’ll save somewhere between 15 and 25 percent.  

What is the cheapest day of the week to fly?

According to our data: midweek. Flights that take off and land on weekends, Mondays and Fridays generally cost more.

So, when do flight prices drop?

OK, so what if you need to book closer to the flight date than we’ve suggested? Well, don’t despair. We have a solution: our Skyscanner ‘Price Alert’. And, in more good news, it’s totally free.

See, because we’re always tracking flight prices in real time with our own software, we can let you know when prices on the flights you like change.

This means that, if you’ve got your eye on a particular destination or flight, we can let you know exactly when the price rises and falls, giving you the best chance of finding a sweet deal (and avoiding a budget-busting fail).

We can text or email you these alerts, depending on what you prefer. And, seeing as we don’t want to pester you, you can turn off your Price Alert anytime you like.

Some other things to know:

  • Skyscanner doesn’t use cookies to limit the prices we show you. So, no matter how many times you search for the same flight with us, we’ll always show you the best prices available at that time.
  • Some airlines, like Southwest, offer seasonal flight sales, which means prices drop across their routes if you book within a particular time window. The catch? There’s only a limited number of seats available at these sale prices.

Happy cheap flight finding! And a quick pandemic-era reminder: please always be sure to check local government guidelines and restrictions before booking flights. Learn about flexible booking options so you can plan travel confidently, no matter where you plan to go.

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Frequently asked questions

When do airline prices drop?

Airline prices drop based on a number of factors like supply/demand, cancellations, promotions and more.

When is the cheapest day to buy a flight?

Based on past data, the cheapest day of the week to buy a flight is typically Tuesday.

When can you buy seat tickets for domestic flights?

Three months out is when you should start tracking domestic flights to see when airlines release deals on your route.

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