Why You Should Be Shopping for Airline Tickets Soon

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Thus far, 2012 has been a year of fliers getting squeezed. Airline fares and fees have both soared, and travelers have had little choice but to pony up more money, downsize luggage and packing lists, or perhaps take the bus. As the end nears for peak vacation season and peak vacation season prices, booking a trip is probably the last thing on your mind — but that’s a main reason why you’re more likely to score airfare deals in the weeks to come.

Travel experts advise that one of the best windows to shop for bargain airline tickets is quickly approaching. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are two periods during the year that are traditionally the cheapest for booking flights. They are:

…the end of August/beginning of September and the end of December/beginning of January. At these times consumers are worn out on travel and bookings simply come to a screeching halt, says Jolee Goularte, travel manager at Align Technology Inc. In addition, corporate travel buying goes on hiatus in those two periods, especially between Christmas and New Year’s.

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The problem for many consumers, of course, is that there’s a good chance that they’ve just recently taken a vacation when the summer comes to a close. Back-to-school shopping is probably top of mind. But booking a new trip? Not so much.

But if you can get organized enough to nail down the next vacation—and if your vacation budget isn’t entirely depleted—it’ll soon be an ideal time to book flights. And the annual fall-off in fares may be more substantial than usual this autumn. Softening demand among consumers caused airlines to backtrack on the most recent attempt at jacking up flight prices, reports the New York Times, giving some indication that carriers may have more trouble than usual selling tickets in the slow post-summer period. The result could be major markdowns, although these would be discounts on what have admittedly been pricey airfares — by some account, record high airfares actually.

Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare, told the Los Angeles Times that he expects airfares to drop between 10% and 20% starting around August 21:

“Demand appears to be slightly down this summer from what had been expected,” Seaney said. “And the airlines are not pushing their luck with further price increase attempts — at least for now.”

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In terms of flight prices, however, when you actually travel has as much impact, if not more, as when you book. In his blog, Seaney suggests that even though it’s smart to shop for flights for the Thanksgiving weekend during the late-August to mid-October window when bookings are slow, it’ll still cost way more to fly on the holiday’s peak travel days (the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the Sunday after) than on days that aren’t in quite as much demand, including Thanksgiving itself.

Regardless of when you fly, for peak travel periods like Thanksgiving, it’s wise to start scoping out flight prices months in advance — and actually book at least one month ahead. By procrastinating, you’re all but guaranteed to pay more.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.
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