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How Early Do You Buy Airfare?

artnbarb

1000+ Posts
I thought I had posted this, but can't find it, so I'll ask again: do an6 of the pre-Covid 'rules' about airfare still apply? With gas prices and demand up, I don't want to miss the best fares by buying too early or too late.

We need round-trip air from TPA to DUB at the end of April, and I have no idea what's a 'reasonable' price. I'd prefer to use AA, but their lower fares arrive in Dublin before 6 a.m., so no thanks. I've been told to wait until January to buy.

In years past I tended to book flights as soon as I knew our itinerary, but I'm not sure that was always the best price. Any advice?
 

Karen Frerichs

10+ Posts
I like to check Google Flights, and track flights/prices for a few days to see the trend.
You can also get alerts from them to see how prices are going.
 

Andrew

500+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Google Flights might say on the screen "Prices are typical (or high) for this route," but I'm not sure if their algorithm considers things that throw off long-term trends, such as post-COVID demand or the Ukraine war. Similarly and with the same caution, Kayak gives Buy or Wait advice if they have enough history on that route. My gut feeling is that you might as well wait for January to book a late April trip, but I can't know.
 

NoSpin

100+ Posts
I always buy my flight tickets as soon as I know the dates, and that is usually at least 6 months in advance and more likely 9 months which is usually the earliest you can book a flight. I have found that I get the best price and seat selection by buying early.

For example, we are flying to Vienna for Christmas and New Year's. I booked the flights on May 2nd for departure on December 19th. I got two first class (Delta One) tickets for $6,910.94. I just now went on Delta's website and priced the identical flights, the cost is now $13,759.36, almost double!

The other advantage of booking early is getting first choice of seats. I looked at the seat map for the overseas Delta flights and the selection was limited. My wife and I like to sit next to each other and that wouldn't be possible now.

When we flew to Italy this past August 24th, our business class fare (American is discontinuing first class) was $6,238.94. I booked the flights on December 28, 2021. I don't remember exactly, but I checked the price early in the summer and it was about $3,000 more for the same flights.

It has never happened, but I suppose if I booked the Delta flight for $13,700 and it went down to $7,000, I'd just cancel and rebook.
 

joe

1000+ Posts
In years past I tended to book flights as soon as I knew our itinerary, but I'm not sure that was always the best price.
I tend to do the opposite - wait til I find what appears to be a reasonable price for a flight, book the flight, and then book all the accommodations and seal the itinerary. I like to do this as early as possible, and here I agree with NoSpin - about 9-10 months before the trip. If I see that the accommodations might be hard to get if I wait, then I'll book them before I've booked flights, and cancel if things change. I will cancel many months ahead (at least six months) in order to be "fair" to the accommodation (always small places). Most accommodations have reasonable cancellation policies, unlike airlines.
So this way of planning allows me flexibility in choosing flight dates, which in turn enables me to choose flights based on price.

What's a "reasonable" price? I, too, rely on Google Flights' recommendation - plus I track prices myself the year before. For example, if I am planning for October 2023 to Italy, I will have started to look at prices for October 2022 in the summer of 2022. Also, because prices for October 2023 will not be available yet, I track prices for March 2023, which I tend to look at as a "parallel" month to October - March is just before a major tourist season, and October is right after. March 2023 is enough in the distance from summer 2022, that it can serve as a comparison to October 2023. I may be wrong about that, but so far the comparison seems reasonable.
Yes, a bit of homework - but these days you have the relevant sites sending you tracking info, so it's not as much work as it sounds.

Bottom line - around 9-10 months before the flight, I have a fairly good idea what a reasonable price could be. It won't necessarily be the lowest - for that I'd have to play a waiting game that I don't like, as there are always sudden bargains that appear at some point - but it will certainly be a price that will be on the typically lower side. Having the whole trip booked around 9 months in advance (both flights and accommodations) gives me quiet - which I suppose is also worth something, at least for me.

No use in buyer's remorse here - global fluctuations have become so unpredictable, that I consider myself lucky if I will actually be able to make a trip next autumn, even at a "reasonable" price. You have to count your blessings.
 

Kathy (Trekcapri)

100+ Posts
There are several factors that drive my decision on when I buy my tickets:
  • Prices
  • Optimal Flight Itinerary (I prefer no more than 1 stop if possible, flying non-stop from LA to Europe, then a short flight to the final European Destination)
  • Optimal times of arrival/departure & layover time of at least 2 hours (2-4 hours)
  • Optimal Seat Preferences (I typically book Premium Economy, which has limited seating and I need to get 3 seats together).
Once I have my trip dates set, I like to start checking prices six months prior to my trip. For example, my trip is also in April so I’ve already begun looking at airlines & prices. I check the available flights that meets my preferences & once I find 2-3 best flight options, I start to track these flights hoping that I’ll find that “sweet spot” on when I’ll purchase the tickets that meets all my preferences.

It’s tricky finding that sweet spot on when to purchase tickets. I fear that if I wait too long for prices to go down, I may not have my preferred flight itinerary or optimal flight & seat preferences. I’m willing to pay a little extra for my tickets if it means securing my other flight criteria. I’ve also noticed that there’s not as many flight options as there were pre-covid days. I’m hoping that will change soon as more people travel. I also keep updated on any travel news that may affect prices or flight changes (good or bad).

I tend to typically purchase my tickets 3-4 months in advance. If seat preferences start filling up, I may think about purchasing my tickets sooner on the flights I’m tracking. Seat and flight preferences are important to me and it can dictate when I buy my tickets.
 

Andrew

500+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
We've managed to do most of our transatlantic trips on awards and book early for those, but often find that, if we like the schedule, there's a good chance it will change. We recently returned from Amsterdam to Boston in a long-delayed use of Iberia points: one week we found that Madrid-BOS was taken off the schedule for that day and we changed the trip by a day; the next week the early AMS-MAD was removed, and we had to rebook with an overnight in Madrid, keeping our hard-to-find Business awards across the pond.

Some years ago we booked an American reward Kansas City-Milan via Miami way in advance; the KC-MIA route hadn't been started yet, and they removed it for our day of travel, booking us with an overnight in Dallas. We changed that to go through Washington and on to LaGuardia to connect to JFK; I think we had the Miami connection back and removed for a time, then they announced KC-LGA non-stop service, which is what we finally took with plenty of time to get to JFK.
 

Ian Sutton

1000+ Posts
Likewise, I have no insight to current trends, but if a price looks attractive, then I'm less likely to wait in hope of better.

Like Joe, the bookings for flights and accommodation are invariably done together, typically within an hour of each other. I think that's mostly for the peace of mind of not having one booked, and then seeing the other become impractically expensive / unavailable.

We've tended to book 3-6 months before going, perhaps down to it being a historically 'sweetspot' for flight prices, but more likely these days as a practical timeline linked to certainty of other things in our lives and leaving enough time for prep.
 

artnbarb

1000+ Posts
I just found this on a FB travel page:

"It's interesting to note that so many purchase their tickets months in advance (albeit for a good reason to get the best deal) and are then upset/disappointed at the changes/cancellation to their flight schedule. Most of the time this is due to confirmation of slot availability at the airport of departure or arrival. If booking 6+ months in advance, please bear in mind the following:

Airlines attend the IATA Slots Conference twice a year - in November for the following Summer season and in March/April for the following Winter season. For Summer 2023, the Slots Conference finished only last week. Airlines will now review their Summer 2023 schedule to see what changes must be made to reflect the slots they received in each airport they operate to. They will continue to negotiate to obtain their preferred slots and it might take several months (late January, airlines are supposed to return unwanted slots so they can be used by another airline). Thereafter they will decide what changes to flight schedules must be made and advise passengers accordingly of said changes. These changes maybe just 15mins to 2hrs - the bigger the change, the greater risk of the MCT being lost. But if new slots requested (to operate additional flight) were refused, then the decision may be to not operate the flight that season and quite often this decision is taken 4-6weeks before its supposed to operate. It's very frustrating and yes have several times been a victim. I have found in most cases the airline has done all possible to assist in re-accomodating me."
 

Christine

10+ Posts
I schedule around airfare. Received an email from Air France in January with some great business class fares. So I booked immediately. Paid $3500 total for two of us, flying from Vancouver to Rome, returning from Venice to Vancouver. They haven't changed our itinerary - yet - although it's happened in the past.
 

joe

1000+ Posts
Thereafter they will decide what changes to flight schedules must be made and advise passengers accordingly of said changes. These changes maybe just 15mins to 2hrs - the bigger the change, the greater risk of the MCT being lost. But if new slots requested (to operate additional flight) were refused, then the decision may be to not operate the flight that season and quite often this decision is taken 4-6weeks before its supposed to operate. It's very frustrating
Good to know, thanks for the post. Another thing to worry about, even though I have assumed that when a flight is booked - it's booked. I guess I haven't traveled enough to be in the statistics of those having their flights cancelled out of the blue by the airline....
 

Kathy (Trekcapri)

100+ Posts
I just found this on a FB travel page:

"... in November for the following Summer season and in March/April for the following Winter season. For Summer 2023, the Slots Conference finished only last week . . ."

Hi Barb, this was very interesting information. Thank you for sharing.
 

berliej

10+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Seeing this is a thread about buying tickets, thought I would ask, what is the preferred way of booking airline tickets these day. Google Flights was mentioned, and of course booking directly with an airline. Does anyone use a travel agent anymore?
 

artnbarb

1000+ Posts
Seeing this is a thread about buying tickets, thought I would ask, what is the preferred way of booking airline tickets these day. Google Flights was mentioned, and of course booking directly with an airline. Does anyone use a travel agent anymore?
I use Google Flights to monitor prices but always buy through the airline website. With Google Flights you have a bunch of options, at different prices. Our Dublin itinerary is avaialable from a lot of consolidator sites, but also directly from United and Lufthansa. And Lufthansa is CONSIDERABLY cheaper than United.
 

NoSpin

100+ Posts
Seeing this is a thread about buying tickets, thought I would ask, what is the preferred way of booking airline tickets these day.
I always book directly with the airline, and also with the hotel. I have read horror stories where people book with a third party and then have a problem with the airline or the hotel. The response of the provider is "go deal with whoever you booked with". I think the provider's attitude is they paid a fee to the third party, so they have to deal with it.
. Does anyone use a travel agent anymore?
I do all my own travel arrangements, but in 2018 I had to use a travel agent to book a river cruise as that was the only way the cruise company took reservations.. We took a second river cruise this summer and although the company now accepted direct bookings, I still went through the same travel agent. It was a good thing because she got me a $150 credit with a hotel that I would never have received if I booked on my own.
 

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