Is there a magic formula for buying airline tickets?

My Vacation Lady hears it all the time…… “we’re going to wait until the price of airfare comes down before we book our flights”.

OK, sometimes that works out better than others.  Just today, we received an email from a bride who is getting married in the Riviera Maya in mid November 2014- so just about 8 months away from now.  There is 1 nonstop flight from Newark to Cancun on day that most of her guest will be traveling.  As I have always said, once that flight fills up, the airline is not going to fly another plane down to Cancun just because some people didn’t book early enough.  Those late booking guests will have to drive to a different airport or take connecting flights if the one nonstop flight is sold out by the time they get to booking their airline tickets.  Considering also, how many seats are being held over by the airline for the economy plus seats, the longer  you wait, the harder it is to even assign seats on flights.

united seats




Suzie Strutner wrote an article for the Huffington Post that gave the ‘secret’ formula on when to by airline tickets.  According to a study made by CheapAir after analyzing a zillion or so flights in 2013, there is a magic formula to buying airline tickets at the best price.

Fifty-four days before takeoff is, on average, when domestic airline tickets are at their absolute lowest price. And if you don’t hit 54 days on the head, you should usually book between 104 to 29 days before your trip — within the “prime booking window” — for the lowest possible prices. In this window, ticket prices typically hover within $10 of the lowest price they’ll ever reach.

But is this a hard and fast rule?  Also what if you aren’t flying within the U.S.?

If you’re going somewhere incredibly popular at an incredibly popular time — like spring break in Florida, for example — you should book well before the “prime booking window” begins. When there’s constant, strong demand for a flight, the researchers explain, airlines have no incentive to lower ticket prices as time goes on. The same principle holds true for flights to hard-to-reach airports in small cities: there’s little airline competition here, so ticket prices don’t drop nearly as much over their lifespan.

Foreign countries are incredibly popular destinations with hard-to-reach airports, so the researchers suggest booking much earlier than the 54 days recommended for domestic flights.

Here are the “magic numbers” for some common international destinations:

Europe: 151 days before your flight
Asia: 129 days before your flight
The Caribbean: 101 days before your flight
Mexico: 89 days before your flight
Latin America: 80 days before your flight

So My Vacation Lady thought we should check out their magic numbers and checked flights to Cancun 89 days from today, which falls in June 2014.  First of all, there are 3 nonstop flights traveling from Newark to Cancun on United on that day (2 more than on the days my destination wedding group has to choose from).  Prices are about $100 per person less and there are still a good number of seats available.  But if Danielle’s wedding guests wait until 3 months out to buy their tickets, will there be any seats left on the flight they need?

I guess the moral of the story is—— if you have flexibility with dates, wait until the Prime Booking Window.  If you don’t, for instance, you are going on your honeymoon right after the wedding, or you are going to a destination wedding or you only have set vacation days, My Vacation Lady will always recommend booking earlier rather than later.


About the Author:

Mindy Gilbert of My Vacation Lady has been helping clients, just like you, plan their dream vacations, cruises and honeymoons since 1994.