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How far ahead do you buy airline tickets?

I just booked Best of Switzerland for September 2020. I read on the Rick Steves' FAQ Tour Account Page that he recommends buying airline tickets several months in advance. I'm not trying to use frequent flier miles or card points, but I do like to book Delta One (Delta's first class) for overnight transatlantic flights and Delta Comfort+ on my return so availability may become an issue if I wait to a few months before. I was just wondering what the frequent travelers on this board generally do when it comes to airline tickets.

Posted by
3829 posts

I tend to buy about 3-4 mos out - by then I have my schedule pretty much firmed up and have probably started booking accommodations.

Posted by
667 posts

Your going to get a lot of differing views on this so I will take the plunge and get things started. If you travel frequently then most people have a system that works for them. I have traveled to Europe every year for the past ten years and I have found that most airlines open up their flights for sale approximately 220 days before the flight occurs, so I go on the internet and start pricing flights the moment they are available. I have found that during the first 24-48 hrs that a flight is open for reservations that I can get the best prices (I fly Delta 85% & United 15%). I have obtained business class fares for less than half of what they cost closer to departure, and also very good prices on Comfort economy plus seats. One benefit of buying early is picking your seat, especially if your traveling in pairs or with a family. Seat guru is a great resource for picking the best seat, an example is when my daughter waited till only a few seats were available and she ended up with a seat over a heating vent and was very uncomfortable the entire 8.5 hour flight!

Probably the best advice is to monitor the prices for the class of ticket you want and be ready to buy the moment the price is right (prices can change significantly within a couple of hours), you have to be quick sometimes! Most importantly, always purchase from the airline itself not a travel website (Expedia, kayak, etc) you will be much happier with your travel experience, trust me on this.

My wife and I took the best of Switzerland tour this last July and it was a wonderful experience that we will never forget. Be sure to get to Lucerne a few days early so you can go up Mt. Pilatus and all the other wonderful things to do along the lake.

Posted by
1217 posts

Also keep an eye on code shares from Air France/KLM when you check prices. Occasionally you can get a better price on a Delta flight using an alliance partner than you can booking on the 'native' airline.

Posted by
6223 posts

I start tracking prices up to 8-9 months out using a comparison site like Kayak (I'm not loyal to any airline so I want to see prices across different airlines). I only buy when the price is in my comfort zone (that's a subjective range that everyone has to set for themselves). By tracking fares a few months, I have a decent feel of the range I can expect.

Posted by
6422 posts

For my next trip starting December 26 returning 2 weeks later I started looking and bought tickets 3 months in advance. The fare for 2 seats on the same flight is now $2000 more.

Posted by
2981 posts

I’m going to risk making a big assumption that most of the people on this board do not purchase first class airline tickets, so our experience for your specific situation may be a little limited. You should get some good information on how to track prices.

Sometimes some specific markets will have sales. United and BA recently had San Francisco -Paris round trip on Business for $2000 RT for next August.

Posted by
3142 posts

For me it varies. Sometimes I get them almost a year in advance so I can do the entire trip with miles (those seats are few and far between); other times I'll see a deal and buy within 3 months. I avoid peak travel time (aka summer) because the expense is the highest and the mobs of North American tourists are the most numerous so that gives me more opportunities to find deals on flights. Most often, when I get an email from Delta with promotional fares, that is when I tend to purchase tickets.

For the past few months, Delta has had some compelling airfares for Delta Comfort between JFK & ZRH but you might want to bypass that and opt for Premium Select which is only maybe $60 more than Delta Comfort. There is not much difference between the economy seats and Delta Comfort (same cabin, same seats, 3 inches more pitch) but there is a difference with Premium Select so you may want to choose Premium Select on your flight home if it is offered.

Posted by
7736 posts

I was just watching Good Morning America which had a segment on "Travel Tuesday" which is now a "thing". It's of course the day after CyberMonday and the Tuesday after Black Friday. I'd research your routes and see what fares are going for now. THEN, I'd clear your cookies and be ready on TravelTuesday to see if there are better deals.

I hope you will be able to arrive a day or two ahead of your tour start. I think I remember your saying you'd done one RS tour but wasn't sure if you'd arrived early for that one. I prefer at least 2 nights (but I'm retired) so I can make a start on getting over jet lag and give myself some flex time in case of travel delays.

**Oh gosh...I see you posted you DID have a travel delay for your Ireland tour! I guess I'm preaching to the choir, lol. Definitely give yourself as many days ahead as you can manage! As a solo traveler I've always found lots to do in the beginning cities for his tours.

Posted by
11681 posts

Most airlines ( including Delta) release flights 331 days in advance. Thus today one can book as far out as October 20, 2020.

I checked prices for a hypothetical round trip on Delta from Seattle to Paris ( the default setting for me) with the outbound in First and the return in Comfort Plus. For a trip at the end of the schedule ( Oct. 13-20) the price looks great: $2338. However in September it is much higher: $4285.

In this instance it would have been beneficial to book soon as the flights were released, but the results may be different for your origin (Florida) and destination (Zurich?). Or there may be a sale coming along later.

Posted by
53 posts

Thanks, Pam! That's a good tip! I have already checked out fares for the dates I want. It is interesting that the fare is $100 less if I fly out on a Friday versus a Saturday. I've already learned something!

Posted by
53 posts

To Continental,
Delta seems to only offer the Premium Select if I go through JFK. I avoid JFK like the plague.

Posted by
7736 posts

That's interesting Lori....sometimes Saturday flights are cheaper than Friday flights. If you have the time to spend, also take a look at flights on Wed or Thursday. Mid-week sometimes works out as the cheapest.

And....it's not that I want everyone to go to Paris BUT if you get a cheaper fare in to Paris there is a fast train from Paris to Zurich called TGV-Lyria that is about a 4-hour journey.

https://www.tgv-lyria.com/fr/en/booking/destinations/paris-zurich

You could fly in to Paris, spend several nights, then take the train to Zurich a day or two before your tour starts. I always give myself flex time with French trains as there are sometimes strikes.

Posted by
53 posts

Well, Pam, as they say, “Paris is always a good idea!”

Posted by
4029 posts

I can’t comment on transatlantic flights, but if you want to fly within Europe as part of your trip, then these flights are best booked as soon as they are released, so between 6 and 11 months before your travel date.

I am currently on holiday in Spain (airline tickets were purchased back in the spring) and we paid £170 total for 2 seats including 1 checked bag. A month before we travelled when I looked, the same seats would have cost nearly £600.

Posted by
7180 posts

If money is no object then you buy them whenever you want. If price is a deciding factor then you buy when you know (from your research) that a good price is available.

Posted by
1530 posts

I like to research fares early so that I know what a "good deal" would be for my route. I started researching my May, 2020 trip in early November, when I booked my first RS tour. I found (what I consider) a "great deal" on a flight to London and jumped on it. Otherwise, I wouldn't normally buy that early.

I also find that having flexibility in terms of routing helps a lot. If I'm planning a trip into a geography, I will research flights into several hubs. In this case, I researched flying (first) into London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris, to find the best combination of flights to my destination.

Posted by
5017 posts

Technical correction/clarification:

Donald said:

I have found that most airlines open up their flights for sale approximately 220 days before the flight occurs

That is not correct.

Lola got it (about) right:

Most airlines ( including Delta) release flights 331 days in advance.

Almost all airlines load their schedules 330 or 331 days in advance (taking into account the time zone where they are based).
A handful of airlines (examples include Southwest and Jetblue) have rolling schedule windows that are significantly shorter (90-to-180 days out or 6-10 months out, respectively). Some low cost carriers do similar things.

For almost all long-haul transatlantic flights, it's generally true that 330/331 days out is when schedules load.

For low-cost carriers, it's usually true that the earlier you book, the lower the fair you will get. For long-haul, transatlantic flights - especially on major "legacy" airlines - things are somewhat less predictable (they have "flash sales", and their pricing generally is determined by computer algorithms which no human can predict)...a few exceptions to the unpredictability being:
- With times/routes that are in high demand, prices go sky high (anywhere around Thanksgiving, spring break holidays, peak summer on routes to popular European destinations)
- Prices go up up up (eventually the price graph goes nearly vertical) as the date of the flight approachs

There's no magic and no tricks, and I think best practices are to start monitoring the routes you want many months in advance, learn the range within which prices tend to fluctuate, watch for a fare you can live with, then when you see one, jump on it, then don't look back and don't beat yourself up because you could have saved 50 bucks if only you found the magic low-ball price. Move on and invest that time in planning your trip.

Posted by
215 posts

We typically travel every year in April/May and I always buy my tickets Aug/Sept. I have been lucky and have never paid more than $750.00 and the lowest I’ve paid was $400.00 to Paris. My flight to Scotland for May 2020 was only $1188.00 RT for two people on Delta. Same flights since I purchased have been averaging $1100.00 pp. I use the cheap flight app to scope out my fares and then purchase direct with the airline.

Posted by
964 posts

I usually buy air tickets 4-6 months prior to the trip, and start looking 7-8 months prior.

In 2020 we are traveling in September instead of the usual April - May timeframe. I will start to look for fares in January.

Posted by
3142 posts

To Continental, Delta seems to only offer the Premium Select if I go
through JFK. I avoid JFK like the plague.

It sounds like the plague might be returning for you as you asked about transiting at JFK in another thread! LOL

Premium Select just started a few weeks ago out of JFK for some flights. The Delta app sells seats at all cabins; all airlines oversell tickets. Even when I've flown last minute (buying 48 hours in advance), Delta sells seats in multiple cabins.

Posted by
53 posts

To Continental,
I have heard horror stories about JFK, but in searching for flights from Rome to Tampa, it looks like connecting through JFK may be necessary. Oh well. I will make sure I allow more than enough time between flights.

Posted by
1 posts

From Kyiv to Bangkok was the longest distance for me. Now my husband is buying tickets to Paris on my BD in August. hope that will be no lockdown those days(((