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But sophisticated computers can also be a force for good, with a number of websites now offering decision making tools to help you decide when is best to buy your tickets.

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When is the Best Time to Buy an Airline Ticket?

Part 3 :  Web Sites to Help You Make the Best Choice

Bing Travel Screen Shot

This screen shot shows the premise and promise of Bing's website airfare predictor service.

Part three of a three part article on When is the Best Time to Buy an Airline Ticket - please also visit

1.  Theoretical Considerations
2.  Theory Put Into Practice
3.  Web Services to Help You



It is usually unwise to buy the first fare you find, on the first day you start looking for them (assuming your travel is reasonably far in the future).

But at some point, the wisdom of delaying until something better comes along switches to where delaying further starts reducing your options and increasing your likely fare cost.

Where is that crossover point?

It varies from city pair to city pair, from season to season, and no-one really knows for sure.  But there are some websites that do a reasonably good job of predicting if the airfare choices you  see on any given day are likely to get better or worse if you wait.

In this third part of our three part series, we look at some of these websites and the help they can provide you.

Internet Assistance

There are a wide range of internet sites to help you with your travel research, but only a very few that can help you guess the future.

The most useful site for predicting future airfare pricing is the site formerly known as Farecast, and now a part of the Microsoft/Bing search engine (this is the first site reviewed below).

Several other sites give oblique information that might be of assistance, and then there's an excellent site with a novel service.  Unlike sites that will track the airfare for your travels before you choose to buy your ticket, Yapta will track your fare after you've bought your fare.  The reason for this - to help you claim a refund if the airfare subsequently drops.

Bing Travel

Bing Travel Screen shot
Click image to open a larger image of complete screen shot in a new window
Microsoft's Bing search engine has a travel feature which selectively provides airfare predictions in terms of whether the fares it displays for any given travel might go up or down or stay the same.

Bing says its predictions are right about 75% of the time, and that the average person can save about $50 on a typical fare by making use of their predictions.

The service only applies to select city pairs in the US and to/from Canada, and a limited number of international destinations in Europe and the Caribbean.

For domestic travel in the US, if the city pairs are featured in the service, it will provide predictions for trips from 1 night to three weeks, and for travel periods up to six months in advance.

For trips to or from Canada, it will work between selected city pairs on travel ranging from 1 to 7 nights, and booked up to 90 days in advance.

For travel to Europe or the Caribbean, it works on trips up to two weeks long, and booked up to 120 days in advance.

Bing provides a helpful table showing you the possible upside and downside to air fare movements, and also a historical chart showing airfare pricing for the last almost 90 days.

The prediction is useful, but note the historical chart information can be misleading, because airfare increases (or decreases) can change the base levels of fares dramatically.

Just because you are seemingly paying top dollar, based on historical data, doesn't also mean that, based on today's actual data, it isn't also the lowest rate for today, so treat that information with care.

This website - - provides interesting historical market data for some domestic city pairs, telling you the average fare, the number of passengers flying the route each day, the airline with the largest market share and the airline with the lowest fare.

This is however historical information rather than predictive information for the future, and is culled from information submitted quarterly by the airlines to the DoT, with fares on some 6,000 different routes (sounds like a lot, but it is equivalent to a table with just under 80 cities in it).

Kayak Screen shot
Click image to open a larger image of complete screen shot in a new window
This is a great travel aggregator site, and has a fascinating section that gives information on what are becoming more or less popular destinations.

It is unclear how you can use this information for direct benefit in booking your flights, but it certainly looks impressive and can cause one to spend a lot of time browsing and daydreaming of places one would like to visit.

 But there are sometimes some fascinating nuggets of data - like the best time to book Memorial Weekend travel is about 21 days prior to travel dates.  (That was surprising - many experts say that busy holidays weekends need to be booked further in advance.)

It also has an option on many flight searches, on the left side, to bring a pop-up window up that shows a historical trend for the airfare price on the days you want to travel, and also an across the month view of pricing in case your dates are flexible.

Again, you are on your own when it comes to predicting the future based on the past analysis Kayak provides.


Yapta has made a name for itself with a wonderful extra service.  In addition to a fairly typical airfare search engine (it is actually a repackaged version of Kayak) it offers a service that will watch the fare for your flights, and if the fare drops after you have bought the ticket, it will help you to secure a refund for the difference between what you originally paid for the ticket and what it subsequently is reduced in price to.

Does that sound too good to be true?  Well, once upon a time, this was exactly the way the system worked - if an airfare sale came out, people who had already bought their tickets at higher prices could get them reissued for free at the lower price and get a refund of the difference.

Imagine if you could go in to your local supermarket and discover that steaks were on sale, and if you could say 'Hey, I bought steaks a couple of days ago, can I get a refund now' and be told 'Yes, of course'.

The airlines have tightened up on this - quite understandably - and now it is typical for airlines to charge a fee in such cases (although according to Yapta, Alaska Airlines and Jet Blue will give you full refunds for any price drops).

The airline fee ranges from $75 up to $150, so unless there's a huge difference in price, or you're flying on AS or B6, don't expect this to save you a huge amount of money.

But Yapta's service is free, and they say they save the average person $334 a year.  You may as well sign up for it and take advantage of it.

Note that it is not usually sufficient merely for the airfare to drop, in order to get a refund.  Not only must the fare drop, but there must also be available space, at the new lower fare, on the same flights you are currently holding a ticket on.


Knowing when the exactly best time is to buy your airfare is close to impossible.  But using the information on Bing's site tilts the odds substantially in your favor, and using the information on Yapta's site slightly covers your bet for if the fare drops subsequent to purchase.

There are many urban legends about when to buy a ticket, but few of them apply, across the board, to all markets and itineraries.  For example, this NY Times article starts off by quoting a claim that the best time to buy a ticket is six weeks in advance, then ends up rebutting that claim and pointing out all sorts of different 'best times' that applied last year, depending on where and when you wanted to travel.

As for the best times this year or next, who really knows - perhaps even the airlines themselves aren't exactly sure what their future plans may be.

Lastly, the best time to buy an airfare - in the context of which day of the week/hour of the day?  One study, by, suggests 3pm Eastern time on a Tuesday.

That study also says never to buy tickets more than 3.5 months prior to departure - advice that contradicts the study reported in the NY Times article.  Ooops!

Read more in the rest of this series

This is part three of a three part article on When is the Best Time to Buy an Airline Ticket - please also visit

1.  Theoretical Considerations
2.  Theory Put Into Practice
3.  Web Services to Help You

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Originally published 20 Apr 2012, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.


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