Anyone who has booked a last-minute flight knows you pay more when you wait. But you also pay more if you book too early. What's too early? What's too late?
Pity the poor fare geek trying to hit that elusive sweet spot.
Discount travel site Cheapair.com has crunched a year's worth of booking data and found some answers to these and other eternal travel questions, including:
— Best time to book a domestic flight? Seven weeks in advance.
— Best time to book an international flight? Eleven to 12 weeks out.
— Best day to search for flights? Not necessarily Tuesday or Wednesday, despite the conventional wisdom.
And, probably most surprising of all, the study found that booking too early can be almost as expensive as booking too late.
"The 'earlier the better' is not the case in booking either domestic or international flights," Jeff Klee, chief executive of Cheapair, said of his company's analysis.
Klee's computers compiled 560 million fare-search records from 2012, giving him a full year's worth of data from 11,000 domestic markets.
As any traveler would expect, the study found that the worst day to buy a ticket was the day before the flight. Two days in advance was the second worst and so on.
That trend continued until Klee's study reached 11 days out. After that, he found, the next worst day to buy was actually a tie between 208, 209, and 210 days in advance — which is the farthest out the company went with its analysis.
For years, travel experts have claimed that Tuesdays and Wednesdays were the best days to shop for deals, because that's when airlines release their published fares. But the study found that there are so many specials released in a week that a bargain could pop up any day. Klee thinks the Tuesday-Wednesday window "proves to be pretty much an urban myth."
Klee said that the study gives some excellent guiding principles but noted that there are always exceptions, especially given the variations of travel markets.
For any given flight, the best time to buy might vary, depending on the market, the time of year, the day of week or whether the flight dates include a holiday period.
The conventional wisdom on what day to fly did survive Klee's computers. He found Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays usually were the least expensive for domestic trips.
Leisure travelers looking to avoid lines and logjams would do best to avoid Mondays and Fridays, traditionally very heavy business travel days. Klee said Sundays are overwhelmingly the most popular day for leisure travel, with some business travel mixed in late in the day. Hence, it can be a very expensive day to fly.