When it comes to traveling on a budget, timing is everything. Most people know flying to Grandma’s for Christmas usually comes with overpriced airline tickets, crowded airports and delayed flights—and it can make you want to scream as loud as the baby across the aisle.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the holidays that are jacking up prices these days. Two years after the initial COVID-19 lockdown, travel is back in a big way, and airlines are capitalizing on that mad dash to the skies. And because they’re also dealing with rising fuel costs, it’s one big fat recipe for expensive airfare. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, airline ticket costs rose 18.6% in April 2022, after rising 10.7% in March 2022.1
Don’t let all that talk of skyrocketing airfare get you down. There’s hope! How? There are still ways to score cheap flight deals in 2022. You just have to put your savvy-shopper hat on. So, how do you find the cheapest days to fly and get yourself a great deal? Check out these answers to some of the most-asked travel questions.
What Are the Cheapest Days to Fly?
The day of the week you choose to fly will make a big difference in ticket cost. If you can swing it, fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday—those are usually the cheapest days to travel no matter where you’re heading. In fact, a recent airfare study found that you’ll save an average of $57 flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday compared to flying on a Sunday (the most expensive travel day).2 That might not seem like huge savings, but if you’re buying for a family of four, that’s an extra $228 in your pocket just for picking a different day of the week!
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Take a look at the cost differences of these round-trip flights found on Google Flights for mid-September 2022:
Nashville to Los Angeles:
Fly Tuesday to Tuesday: $309
Fly Sunday to Sunday: $398
Miami to Boston
Fly Tuesday to Tuesday: $124
Fly Sunday to Sunday: $192
Denver to Rome, Italy
Fly Tuesday to Tuesday: $922
Fly Sunday to Sunday: $978
If you can’t fly midweek, you may be able to find a deal on Saturday flights. Just avoid traveling on a Friday or Sunday—those are typically the most popular days to fly, making them the worst flight options when it comes to your wallet (and your sanity).
Bonus tip: Choose more inconvenient flight times—like early morning, late night or overnight flights. Tickets are typically cheaper for less desirable flight times, and airports are less crowded!
What Are the Cheapest Months to Fly?
Fall and winter months tend to be the cheapest times to fly because those aren’t popular vacation months—except around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, of course. The most recent data shows that February is the cheapest month for airfare, followed by January and April.3 A good rule of thumb is to avoid traveling during the summer or around spring break (March) to get the best flight deals. Airlines tend to jack up the prices just in time for school vacations. How convenient.
Most seasoned travelers know you’re more likely to get a bargain if you vacation in the off-season. But it’s important to note: The off-season looks different depending on your destination. For example, Florida is a popular spot for Northerners wanting to escape the cold winter, so it’s actually more expensive to fly there in the winter and cheaper to fly there in May. And if you’re planning a trip to Munich, you’re probably not going to find cheap flights there in September or October because that’s when the city hosts its world-famous Oktoberfest.
Doing a little research to discover your destination’s off-season can help you find the best deals for flights (and hotels and activities). And if you’re just looking for a getaway but don’t have your heart set on a destination, check out the cheapest places to travel in 2022.
What’s the Best Time to Buy an Airline Ticket?
There are a ton of budget travel bloggers who claim that Tuesday is not only a cheap day to fly but also the cheapest day of the week to book a flight. There’s this age-old legend that the best flight deals drop on Tuesday afternoons because that’s when airlines put up their sale seats.
The legend of the Tuesday flight sale may have been true at some point, but recent flight data says otherwise. According to a study done by CheapAir, the day of the week you book doesn’t matter. It found that the average low fare only varies by about $1, no matter which day of the week you book.4
So, there may not be a specific day of the week that’s best when it comes to booking a flight, but there is a best time to buy in relation to your departure. That same CheapAir study found that travelers who booked their ticket 127 to 21 days before departure scored the cheapest flights.5
But like all travel hacks, the best time to buy also depends on the season. Here’s where travelers got the best price on their seat based on 2021 flight data:6
- Winter: Book 110 days before takeoff.
- Spring: Book 76 days before takeoff.
- Summer: Book 42 before takeoff.
- Fall: Book 77 before takeoff.
Is It Cheaper to Buy a Plane Ticket at the Last Minute?
For as often as it happens in the movies, you might think there’s a benefit to rushing up to the counter at an airport and begging for a ticket on the next flight out. And that might have been the case in the past . . . but times have changed.
According to flight trackers at Scott’s Cheap Flights, airlines have done away with last-call price drops because they realized they can make much more money taking advantage of business travelers who will pay full price for last-minute deals.7 Can’t miss that investor meeting in L.A.! It’s sad for people who have real last-minute emergencies, but that’s business, baby.
You’re much more likely to get a cheap flight ticket if you plan ahead and do your homework. Data shows that you’ll pay an extra $150 on average if you book your flight less than a week before takeoff.8
What Are the Best Flight Booking Tools?
When it comes to traveling, everyone is looking for a bargain. Luckily, that means there are a lot of great resources out there for finding cheap flights! Here are some of our favorite budget-friendly travel tools:
- Google Flights
- Scott’s Cheap Flights
Notice that we didn’t mention credit card rewards (ick!). That’s because the whole idea that you’re getting free flights and discounts is a huge scam. Don’t believe us? Listen to The Fine Print to hear the surprising information we learned about rewards from a former executive at Capital One.
And despite what your friends will try to tell you, it’s just as easy to travel with a debit card as it is to travel with a credit card. Actually, it’s easier. Because you won’t bring your vacation expenses home with you as a souvenir.
What’s the Best Way to Budget for a Vacation?
You can score cheap flights by being flexible with your travel dates and working the system. But knowing the cheapest days to fly won’t help you if you don’t have money in the bank!
Let’s say you’re planning a trip to Cabo. Use the tips above to figure out the best time to buy tickets and a rough estimate of how much they’ll cost you. Then, plan to set aside a certain amount of money every month. It should be enough to cover you when it’s time to book flights and enough to cover your whole trip when it’s time for takeoff. Here’s an example:
August 2022: Start saving $200/month for Cabo vacation in April 2023
Estimated flight cost: $500 round trip
Estimated booking window for best deal: 1 to 4.5 months before departure
If you set aside $200 a month starting in August, you’d have $1,400 ready to spend by February. Which is perfect, because the best day to buy a flight from the U.S. to Mexico in 2022 is 70 days before departure (according to CheapAir’s International Flights report).9
Here’s an important side note: If you’re still in debt or working on your starter emergency fund, stop looking for cheap flights. Seriously. We hate to rain on your vacation, but no trip is worth sacrificing your financial peace, even if you get a cheap flight. If you work the Baby Steps plan and stick with it, you can look forward to plenty of great vacations in the future—when you can actually afford them.
Ready to put your travel agent hat on? Get that sinking fund set up in EveryDollar—available inside a Ramsey+ membership. It’s a super easy way to keep your vacation savings goals front and center. And then when it’s time to book, you’ll know that everything is accounted for. Cheap flights? Check. Hotel? Check. And look—you’ve got money left over for great restaurants and souvenirs!