[Rick Seaney is the CEO and cofounder of FareCompare, and columnist for Investopedia. The views expressed by columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Investopedia.]
Want more money to spend on summer vacation? If you haven’t purchased airline tickets yet (or haven’t purchased them for every trip), please read this. It’ll help you plan summer travel more economically by showing you the season’s cheapest days to fly.
Peak Summer Season: June 23 to Aug. 27
These are dates you try to avoid if possible because this is the peak summer season, with prices to match. Fortunately, there are cheaper alternatives.
Cheapest Summer Date: Aug. 28 (and Beyond)
My analysis of millions of 2018 airfares indicates Aug. 28 will be the cheapest day to fly for domestic trips. True, there could be a day or so of wiggle room – the date could be the day before or after, depending on where you live and where you’ll fly – but for most of us, Aug. 28 is the start of summer’s cheap season.
Actually, airlines don’t consider it summer at all; to them, fall begins on Aug. 28. Kids are back in school, demand takes a dive, and prices do, too. Fares keep right on dropping until Thanksgiving. But back to summer: Here’s an example of a peak season price vs. an early fall fare for Los Angeles-Rapid City, SD. Both are for the same major airline.
- Fly Aug. 14-21 – $530
- Fly Aug. 28-Sept. 4 – $400
Bottom line: If you can wait on your vacation, a trip to Rapid City to see nearby Mt. Rushmore can be cheaper than you thought.
Cheaper Summer Date: June 22 (and Earlier If You Act Quickly)
Fly by June 22, and you’ll see find some cheaper spring or pre-summer fares. Remember, June 23 is the start of summer and prices will rise. Here’s another airfare example; both are the cheapest non-stop prices for New York-Orlando:
- Fly June 13-18 – $113
- Fly June 23-28 – $248
If you can arrange your schedule to visit Disney World and Universal before peak season gets underway, you will generally save money and maybe find shorter lines at attractions.
Dates for Cheaper Flights to Europe
We’ve been seeing so many good deals to Europe this year (check out London, Paris, Rome: Shockingly Cheap Summer Fares) that it may not surprise you to learn there even deals in peak season. However, if you can wait until after the first week in September – starting around Sept. 10 – you can save more. Here are itineraries and prices for three trips between New York and London. All flights depart on Tuesdays and all routes are non-stop:
- Fly Aug. 14-21 – $638
- Fly Sept. 4-10 – $506
- Fly Sept. 11-18 – $396
How to Save Something, Even in Peak Season
If you must travel at the height of the summer season – June 23 to Aug. 27 – there are still ways to save. Some are obvious, some less so, but give them a try because they work for many travelers.
- Always compare airfares: Your favorite discount carrier may often have the best price, but not always. You won’t know this unless you compare fares.
- Fly cheaper days: In the U.S., flights on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday can be significantly cheaper than on other days. For transatlantic travel, weekdays are usually cheaper than weekends.
- Accept some annoyances: Are you on a connecting flight instead of a non-stop? Did you take off at dawn instead of a more civilized hour? Are you lugging a carry-on instead of a big suitcase? Congratulations, because all these annoyances typically mean cheaper tickets.
Next time you book, see if you can fly around the fringes of peak season; it may be a bit of a hassle, but the difference in ticket prices might make the inconvenience more than worthwhile.
For more on saving this summer, see Plan Now for Cheap Mini-Vacations to Stretch Out Your Summer.