It's the classic traveler's dilemma. When is the best time to book a flight for the cheapest deal? Do you bag a flight as early as possible or risk leaving it until the last minute? The answer, according to flight comparison website Skyscanner, is to wait, but not for too long.
Filip Filipov of Skyscanner advises that while five weeks is the average, the optimum time to book your flight can vary significantly between destinations. “Price patterns can vary by type of airline and between short and long haul travel, so is very much destination dependent.”
The best time for flights to Turkey, for example, is 13 weeks before departure, while a trip between the U.S. and the U.K. should be booked five months (21 weeks) ahead.
Skyscanner's research covers scheduled and low-cost flights (charter flights represented less than 1.5%), and is contrary to the advice given by most industry experts who say, when it comes to full-service scheduled flights, the golden rule is the earlier the better.
“Generally flight prices go up rather than down the closer you get to travel, so the earlier flights are booked, the better,” says Andy Washington, managing director of Expedia.
Washington's advice is that if you have a specific destination and specific dates in mind, the safest option is to book as soon as possible after seats go on sale, which for most scheduled airlines is between 10 and 12 months in advance (see the examples below). Most scheduled airlines hold at least one major sale in a year, usually in January, so now is also a good time to look for bargains outside of peak travel times.
Charter airlines, by contrast, may reduce their prices closer to departure if they are struggling to sell seats, so it can be worth waiting to book – but only if you don't have a specific destination in mind as there is no guarantee that they will be discounting the place you have your heart set on.
Below is a selection of airlines with details of when fares go on sale, and the best time to pick up a bargain.
Air New Zealand
Seats released for sale up to 11 months in advance.
Sale periods January and September.
Seats released for sale 11 months in advance
Sale period January
Seats released for sale up to 12 months in advance.
Sale period started 20 December 2013 and runs until 28 February.
Seats released for sale 353 days in advance
Sale period year-round apart from peak travel times of July/August and December/January.
Seats released for sale between 350 and 355 days in advance.
Sale period January and September.
Seats released for sale up to 14 months in advance.
Sale period occasional flash sales.
Seats released for sale Up to 20 months in advance.
Sale period Depends how well seats are selling but there are promotions throughout the year. The current sale runs January until 21.
Seats released for sale 8-12 months in advance.
Sale period weekly.
Seats released for sale six to nine months in advance.
Sale period January, with other promotions throughout the year.