Usually, the cheapest days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. However, this is not an exact science, as most flight prices fluctuate hourly. While it may be time consuming, we recommend comparing multiple airline ticket prices at various times to find the cheapest flights possible.
Often when you travel, there are certain days you need to depart and return. For a family wedding on Saturday, for instance, it makes sense to fly out on Friday and return on Sunday. While you can sometimes find flight deals, the cheapest flights are not going to be found on those travel days—in fact, those are two of the more expensive days to fly.
So, you decide to use up some vacation days and turn this obligatory trip into a mini vacation. Rather than just taking the weekend, you opt to fly in on Wednesday night and leave the following Monday. The money you save from skipping those expensive weekend flights could be enough to finance the rest of your trip. Let’s take a closer look at the cheapest days to fly and other ways to save money when you’re traveling by plane.
What are the cheapest days to fly?
The basic laws of supply and demand will tell you that airline ticket prices will be higher on days when everyone wants to fly. Therefore, cheap flights are more plentiful when travelers are less likely to take to the air.
Vacationers often want to maximize their time away by sandwiching their paid time off between weekends. Thus, they are more likely to leave on a Friday and come home on Sunday. Frequent business travelers, on the other hand, will usually fly out on a Monday (or sometimes Sunday night) and head home on Thursday or Friday. Conversely, not as many travelers take midweek flights.
What does that leave you with? Process of elimination tells us that Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are usually the cheapest days of the week to fly.
Example of flight fluctuations by days of the week
Jose wants to visit New York City in May for four nights, but he is flexible on dates. He plans to book flights from his home airport of O’Hare in Chicago to LaGuardia in NYC. He logs onto both the American and Delta airline websites and decides to compare prices on several different dates to find the cheapest days to fly. Here’s what he finds:
- Tuesday, May 17 through Saturday, May 21, his plane ticket will cost $193.
- If he flies in on Monday and leaves Friday, the price is $268.
- If he decides to spend the whole weekend and stays from Wednesday to Sunday, the cost zooms up to $332.
- From Tuesday to Saturday, the flight cost is $238.
- Monday to Friday will set him back $297 for the trip.
- A ticket for Wednesday through Sunday goes back to $238.
As you can see, the prices fluctuate drastically when only adjusting for a day or two. Though the differences don’t make sense 100% of the time, these fluctuations generally follow the weekly pattern. The demand for particular flights, flights per day the carrier has, or limited flight schedules can also impact flight prices.
Impact of time of day on flight deals
Another factor to look at when searching for cheap airline tickets is the time of day you travel. The “rules” that govern the cheapest days to travel are a little more reliable than for the time of day, but there are still savings to be had if you are flexible on when your flight departs.
One general rule is that you can get the best deals for the cheapest tickets if you don’t mind traveling in the early morning or taking late-night flights (like a red-eye). Sometimes, you can get better deals if you book tickets for midday, as opposed to mid-morning or late afternoon.
Again, remember the supply and demand concept: the cheapest times to fly are typically not when most people choose to. Not everyone wants to get up in the dark to make a 6 a.m. flight or sleep overnight on a plane. Having said that, however, when finding cheap flights for international travel (and you don’t mind sleeping on an airplane), a red-eye could be a great deal for you.
Examples of time of day impact
Sticking with Jose’s trip from Chicago to New York, let’s see what happens when he adjusts his travel dates to more favorable flight times.
He decides to work a full day on Wednesday before his trip, so he picks a 7:00 p.m. flight on Delta. Immediately his ticket jumps from $238 to $310. He can keep the $310 price only if he’s willing to leave at 8:45 a.m. on Sunday. If he wants to enjoy more of the day in New York before flying home, the next cheapest flight is $384. On American, with similar flight times, his ticket goes from $332 to $424.
Clearly, flexibility is necessary to pin down the cheapest flight on the cheapest day at the cheapest time. Consider not only when you will arrive at and depart from your destination but also what you will spend to get there. One trade-off is to arrive at your preferred time, but be more flexible on the return flight.
Seasonal effects on cheap airline tickets
In the quest to find the best deals, you also want to keep an eye on the calendar to get a better picture of the cheapest dates to fly. There are certain times of the year that almost never line up with great flight prices. Spring break, for one, can be a terrible time to fly south, as college students and families make a mad dash for the beaches.
- Winter holidays. Holiday travel is a classic example of a poor time to fly. Aside from crowded planes and packed airports, you’d be hard-pressed to find a cheap flight in mid- to late-December, for example. The caveat to that “rule” is if you decide to fly somewhere on the exact date of a holiday. If you fly on Christmas Day or Thanksgiving Day, for instance, those are likely the cheapest dates to fly around the holidays.
- Summer. Summer is the busiest time of year to travel. Most family vacations happen when the kids are out of school, between June and August. Other leisure travelers are also more likely to go on vacation during the warmer months.
- Shoulder season. On the other hand, “shoulder season” can be a great time to get cheap flights for popular destinations. The term shoulder season refers to the time of year between peak and off-peak seasons for particular locations. Oftentimes, in the Western hemisphere, that applies to spring and fall. It’s still a nice time to travel because the weather is relatively warm and other costs are reduced because you’re not visiting during a high season.
Side benefits of nontraditional travel dates
Having more flexibility around your travel days can present a number of other benefits to your travel experience. Again, these are not hard and fast rules, but the possibilities are there to save significant money—money that could better be spent on dining out or exploring the place you’re visiting.
- Emptier airplanes. Obviously, airlines try to fill up their planes. However, if you’re taking the red-eye on Tuesday, your chances of being on a less crowded airplane are much higher than a 4:00 p.m. flight on Sunday.
- Smoother airport experience. If you’ve ever traveled on the day before Thanksgiving, you know what a hassle a busy airport is. Just getting through security can be a nightmare, and crowded airports often lead to missed connections and delayed flights.
- Fewer crowds at destinations. For example, if you’re going to Disney World at an off-peak time, there will be fewer tourists, which could make your vacation that much more enjoyable.
- Lower costs. If you’re choosing to travel on nontraditional days, you might also save on other aspects of travel. Hotels usually charge much lower rates for midweek versus weekends, unless there is a conference or major sporting event going on. You might also score cheaper tickets to area attractions. Many museums have discounted or free weekday rates.
Other ways to save on flight travel
As discussed, flexibility when making your flight arrangements is a great way to save money on your vacation, but there are other issues to keep in mind before you book those tickets.
Book flights far in advance
Flights normally get more expensive the closer you get to the travel dates. To purchase the cheapest flights, plan to book your trip at least 30-60 days ahead of time—even longer for international travel.
Conventional wisdom says that you’ll find better prices by booking flights through third-party travel sites because of the competition between airlines. While that’s not always true, they do provide a bigger picture of prices across multiple carriers.
However, before buying your tickets from a third-party site, first check the airline’s website to see what their price is. If it’s the same, which happens, you’re probably better off buying your tickets directly. There could be improved customer service and other protections you forfeit when buying from an independent travel site.
Consider budget carriers
You can often get even cheaper flights through budget carriers such as Southwest or JetBlue, but they’re not without some drawbacks.
For one thing, there is less flexibility on when and where you can fly, combined with fewer flights overall to choose from. You also usually can’t pick your seat and they have less space and amenities than the bigger airlines. Still, if you don’t mind the inconveniences, it’s an option to consider.
Check your frequent flyer miles
If you have some miles saved up, you might be able to book your next vacation for free. However, the number of miles needed to travel varies a lot.
You may find that a trip that cost you 25,000 miles a year ago will now set you back 50,000 miles or more. Also, dates on when you can use your reward points are restricted, and seats are limited. If you want to fly home for Thanksgiving using miles, you might be out of luck.
Beware of extra charges
Sometimes an airline ticket price can seem too good to pass up. Before you book the flight, be sure to check the fine print. For instance, some flights might charge extra fees for baggage or preferred seat assignments.
Travel credit cards
If you don’t have a travel credit card already, you might want to get one before your next vacation. Nowadays, most airlines charge for even one checked bag—reason enough to get an airline credit card. Two travelers, each with one checked bag, could spend a minimum of $100 just on baggage fees.
There are other perks associated with travel cards. You can earn miles toward future travel (often you get free miles just for signing up), and receive priority boarding, to name a few. Plus, if you book your own business trips and get reimbursed by your company, you can earn rewards from the cards without picking up the tab.
What is the cheapest day of the week to buy tickets?
While there is definitely solid reasoning to support flying on certain days to find cheap flights, there doesn’t appear to be much agreement on whether booking flights on particular days of the week will guarantee cheap flight deals. Opinions expressed by sources with a vested interest, for example, aren’t necessarily reliable.
Similarly, there probably isn’t an optimum time of day to purchase airline tickets. Prices don’t just fluctuate by the week or day, they can move hourly as well, so rates will change whether you’re looking at noon or midnight.
Your best bet to locate the cheapest flights on the cheapest days is to always allow as much time as possible before you’re planning to fly. Conduct your searches on different days of the week and at different times of the day.
What day of the week do flight prices change?
It depends on whom you ask. Some say prices take a dip on Mondays or Tuesdays and start to rise again toward the end of the week. But again, this is not an exact science—the only guarantee is that flight prices constantly fluctuate. Flight prices are also influenced by numerous factors, including consumer demand, fuel prices, and world events.
- Typically, the cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
- The cheapest times to fly are often early mornings, midday, or very late at night.
- If you’re flexible about your travel days, you can book flights at the lowest prices.
- Always book your tickets well in advance of traveling to get the cheapest flights for both domestic and international travel.
View Article Sources
- Getting the Best Airline Fares — U.S. Department of Transportation
- Air Fares — Bureau of Transportation Statistics
- Can You Purchase Airline Tickets With a Debit Card? — SuperMoney
- 60+ Travel Hacks Everyone Needs To Know — SuperMoney
- 23 Clever Ways To Save Money & Time On Holiday Travel — SuperMoney
- Can You Book a Hotel with a Debit Card? — SuperMoney
- What are the Different Types of Credit Cards? — SuperMoney