[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.]
Ready, set, book a flight. The winter sale or deal zone is here and if you’ve got a destination bucket list, now is the time. Feast your eyes on these round-trip fares from New York found on my site on Jan. 3: Fort Lauderdale, $96; Albuquerque, $148; Barbados, $261; Rome, $497.
When to shop is easy: Just buy in the usual shopping windows. For domestic fares that’s about three months to two to four weeks before departure; for international, five months to one month before take-off. Now all you need are dates to fly, and here is what my airfare analysis of fares tells me.
Cheap Days in Winter
Cheapest days to fly from January to March: Jan. 9–March 9. During this period, both weekends and weekdays are cheap.
Days to Avoid in Winter: Presidents’ Day Weekend
Prices will be higher for travel over the Presidents' Day holiday weekend, especially on Feb. 15, 16 and 17. Fly outside these days or travel on another weekend.
Cheap Days at Spring Break
Weekdays: Monday to Friday are the cheaper days to fly for most of March and April.
Days to Avoid at Spring Break: Weekends
Airlines know spring travelers like to make the most of a week in the sun or on the slopes, preferring to take off and return on weekends so they raise fares on weekend flights. Watch for weekend hikes to begin on March 10/11 and continue through April 22.
Cheaper Days for Summer
May 1–16: No summer travel is truly cheap but these pre-summer dates are relative bargains compared to the peak-pricing to come, and these early to mid-May deals are available on weekdays and weekends alike. Then fares jump on average 20% or more for travel May 17 through Jun 22.
Days to Avoid for Summer: Most of It
Or, to be precise: June 23–Aug. 27. This is when most of us want to fly and the airlines know it so they slap on their peak summer prices. If you can hold off on a trip for one more day, fares generally drop on Aug. 28 and stay low through mid-November. Then they rev up again in time for Thanksgiving.
Flights from the U.S. to Europe
Cheapest times to fly: You’ll see some very low prices from Jan. 9 through March 16 – an excellent time to fly to Europe.
Rising fares: Prices begin a slow rise beginning March 17 and continue to increase from May 29 to June 15.
Peak summer fares: June 16–July 15, followed by a slight drop through Sept. 9.
Fall price drop: Cheaper fall fares kick in starting Sept. 10 and continue until a significant hike for the December holidays.
Flying to the Rest of the World
Some parts of the world will mimic U.S. and European fare patterns, but there is a wide variation by country, region, even continent. One often-useful rule of thumb: Prices generally drop when children return to school and rise during school vacations. When in doubt, compare fares month by month to determine the cheapest periods where you live or plan to fly.
For more help with getting a good deal: Get a More Comfortable Seat in Coach, The Cheapest Way to Buy Two or More Airline Tickets and, if the weather turns dicey, Weather Waivers: Your Bad-Weather Airfare Escape Clause