Study: The Best Time to Buy Cheap Airline Tickets is 6 Weeks Before a Flight

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People often think that the sooner you buy your airline tickets, the better. Flying home for the holidays this year? Start looking now! But according to a new study, you’ll find the cheapest tickets six weeks before your trip – not more, not less.

Airlines Reporting Corp., which acts as a middle man on ticketing transactions between airlines and travel agents, recently looked at millions of airline ticket transactions since 2008 — $82 billion worth, in fact — and found that tickets were generally at their low point about six weeks in advance of a flight.

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“The data showed that at about 100 days out, flights start to have lower-priced seats sold,” says Chuck Thackston, managing director of data and analytics at ARC. That’s when airlines start offering deals to stimulate demand. But as those deals start to expire and seats get bought up prior to a trip, those prices tend to bottom out right around 42 days before that flight, explains Thackston.

Last year, tickets six weeks prior to takeoff were 5.8% lower than the year’s average fare of $358.30. And the last several years have shown similar trends. In 2009, tickets about seven weeks before a flight were 26% lower, and in 2010, tickets were almost 20% cheaper six weeks out.

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The idea that you should get airline tickets as soon as possible just doesn’t seem to hold. Still, snagging the cheapest tickets isn’t an exact science, and if you find a low-priced flight outside the six-week timeframe, go for it. But the next time you start looking for tickets, you may want to keep that window in mind.