Searching for the best flight deals can often feel like a gamble. With airlines’ dynamic pricing, what seems like a great price one day can feel like a rip-off the next. To help prevent buyer’s remorse, Google Flights just launched a new feature that provides insight on the cheapest window of time to purchase airline tickets.
Starting today, flight searches on the platform will include new information about when the lowest time to book usually occurs will (that is, where reliable trends data is available for that route and dates). The feature will help travelers decide if it’s better to wait, or to book that ticket immediately.
“This feature uses several years of historical pricing data to aggregate how airfares for various route and date combinations have changed over time and identify when prices have typically been lowest, relative to the departure date,” Google Flights’ Group Product Manager James Byers says. He notes that 2020 pricing data is excluded because the period was “significantly impacted” by the pandemic, and “not necessarily a good indicator of what to expect going forward.”
When I tested the new feature this morning on a Christmas season flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to Los Angeles, for December 18 to December 28, a box popped up at the top of the page to announce that “the cheapest time to book is usually later, August 30 through November 28.” When I clicked for more details, the box expanded to say that similar trips to L.A. usually have the lowest prices one to four months before departure, and can be $40 less on average. However, when I switched the destination to San Francisco for the same period, the cheapest time to book data didn’t pop up—only some usually available data on whether the current prices are low, typical, or high—because the new booking insights aren’t available for that route.
Byers says that a booking window will only be provided “when we have enough consistent, historical pricing data to identify a meaningful trend. For some routes, prices fluctuate year to year so much that there isn’t a consistent cheapest time to book.”
And while the new tool provides useful information, travelers should still take their own specific circumstances into mind—such as booking for large families that need adjacent seats, or those who need an exact flight for timing purposes—since there’s always a risk of it selling out, Byers adds. The right booking window “can vary depending on how specific or complicated your plans might be, and ultimately waiting for those lower prices may not always be advisable,” he says.
Byers also says travelers should take the typical price range (which now appears in the same box as any available cheapest time to book data) into account since the amount of savings may not be worth waiting for. “And of course, you should always keep in mind that the trends we identify with these insights are for similar trips and may not necessarily apply to the fares for the exact flight you want to take,” he cautions.