Gas and other oil product prices have come down and stabilized in 2023, a welcomed relief after the price volatility in 2022. In June of 2022, the average price per gallon of regular gas hit a high of $5.01, while this year it’s sitting around $3.50.
Even as gas prices drop, you may still consider cutting down on road trips and taking a flight to one of your favorite destinations for your summer travel plans. If you are, here’s a closer look at why flight prices fluctuate and four insider secrets that can help you book cheap airfare.
Why Do Flight Prices Fluctuate?
Flight prices are determined by a complex algorithm that includes factors such as oil prices, the global economic outlook, internal projections, competitor rates and historical data, according to Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights and author of “Take More Vacations.”
“Airfare is one of the most uniquely volatile things we purchase,” Keyes says. While it can be frustrating for a consumer, he says, “… it can present an opportunity. Today’s expensive flight might be tomorrow’s cheap flight.”
Try these strategies to get cheap flights this year:
- Timing matters: Not too early, not too late.
- Set alerts and do your research.
- Be flexible in price, destination and timing.
- Consider seasonality before booking.
Timing Matters: Not Too Early, Not Too Late
Old guidelines on the cheapest day to book flights, or even specific recommendations such as booking airfare Tuesdays at 1 p.m. or exactly 50 days from the flight date are outdated.
“Airfare is unpredictable,” Keyes says. “The best way to time it is to think in terms of ‘Goldilocks’ windows: Not too early, not too late, in the middle, just right.”
The general rule is that for domestic flights, travelers should start searching for flight tickets one to three months in advance. For international flights, the best prices are typically available from two to eight months in advance.
“A lot of people like to plan a year in advance. But guess what: In mid-April if you’re planning for Memorial Day, that’s OK,” says Joe Brancatelli, publisher of the travel website JoeSentMe.com. “If you delay your planning for Memorial weekend until April, you may pay more but you may pay less”
Prices can also vary widely among airlines.
“With Southwest and Spirit, you’re still going to get the cheapest fare further out,” says Edward Russell, airlines reporter at Skift. “If you’re looking to fly American or United, they’re holding inventory, so it’s a roll of the dice.”
Set Alerts and Do Your Research
To purchase at the lowest ticket price, Keyes suggests exercising patience and researching flight prices daily to get the best deal.
“Your best strategy is just to be patient and wait for those $1,000 flights to drop down to $400. More often than not, they will, so long as you’re looking far enough in advance, and you need to get alerted when those cheap flights happen – lots of people use flight trackers or search online every day,” Keyes says.
Travelers can use alert services like those offered by Google Flights or Skyscanner to keep tabs on prices for a certain route.
Be Flexible in Price, Destination and Timing
Travel experts say flexibility is king.
“Preserve your flexibility. It’s impractical not to book the nonrefundable fares from airlines because the gap between them and fully refundable fares is too large,” Brancatelli says. “But don’t prepay hotels, car rentals or most other travel components. The difference in price isn’t that great. Flexibility has great value.”
You may also have to be flexible with your destination. Choosing a bucket-list travel destination like Myrtle Beach can be costly. Instead, consider lesser-known travel spots and cities, like New York, Chicago or San Francisco.
Travelers can also try researching different days and times to travel. In addition, even after tickets are purchased, airlines may change routes or timing as they adjust flight availability to match demand.
Consider Seasonality Before Booking
Travelers can also get good flight deals during the offseason or during the shoulder months between the offseason and peak season.
Those planning a trip during a peak period, such as midsummer, Christmas or New Year’s should start looking for domestic flights two to five months in advance – while keeping in mind the unpredictability of fuel prices and their affect on flight prices this year.
“Don’t book a bad fare just to do it soon, of course. There’s almost never an excuse to overpay, but one reason people do it is they don’t believe cheap flights can actually pop up,” Keyes says.