The post was originally posted on the Hipmunk’s Tailwind Blog on April 12, 2016.
Gas prices are down, the temperature is heating up, and travelers are inevitably looking to take advantage of both this summer.
In fact, with all the sunny news about oil prices you may be itching to plan an escape of your own. But summer is three whole months long, airfare is usually priced at a premium, and there tends to be a lot of confusion for travelers around the optimal purchase date to obtain the best deal. Indeed, the most asked travel advice question posed to Hipmunk Navigators concerns the best time to purchase a ticket.
As of March 31, 2016, overall domestic summer airfare (flights departing and returning during June, July, or August), is down from a median price of $330 to $286.
Similarly, flights from the US to major European countries – Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, Austria and Ireland – follow the same trend: travelers this summer are paying about 15 percent less than last year, from a median price of $1331 to $1129.
And those savings seem to translate into a higher proportion of people planning longer getaways: In 2015, 46 percent of summer vacations that involved flights lasted four days or fewer, while just 33 percent lasted between seven and 10 days.
In 2016, however, 40 percent are four days or fewer, while 38 percent are between seven and 10 days, indicating a shift towards longer vacations.
To ensure that the hardest decision you’ll have to make this summer season is which umbrella drink you’ll order, Hipmunk analyzed its historical booking data to find the best time to buy summer flights on a monthly and holiday basis. Further, you can find an an interactive guide to summer airfare that show the best times to book flights book flights from the top US cities to trending destinations for summer 2016, as well as Memorial Day, Labor Day and July 4th here.
Let’s dive in.
When to Buy: Summer Holiday
An analysis of Hipmunk’s historical data found that flights booked at least five to seven weeks in advance of major summer holidays—Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day—generally lock in better airfares.
Memorial Day: 5 weeks prior
The kick-off summer holiday weekend is also the second most popular travel time of the season and flight prices rise rapidly. The optimal time to buy according to historical data is five weeks prior to the holiday. (31 percent less than the week-of high.)
Fourth of July: 6 weeks prior
The most popular time to travel during the summer season is the week leading up to the July 4th holiday. To avoid steep price hikes, it’s best to book six weeks prior. (21 percent less than the week-of high.)
Labor Day: 7 weeks prior
The unofficial end of the summer also has the longest lead time. A safe bet is to purchase tickets towards the end of July when prices are their lowest—about seven weeks before the holiday weekend. However, if your plans are up in the air, you might be able to secure that same price up to three weeks in advance. (60 percent less than the week-of high.)
When to Buy: Vacation Month
If your dates are more flexible and you’re trying to decide when to buy tickets to score the lowest prices for a particular month, our data showed that there were two times when travelers could optimize their purchasing power: two months before the beginning of summer or five to seven weeks prior to their departure month, with a vacation in August needing the least amount of lead time and a vacation in July the most.
June: Now, or mid-May
July: Now, or the first week of June
August: Next week, or the last week of July
Now that you know the best times to buy for your summer vacation, it’s time to start planning. Try Hello Hipmunk, your free personal travel agent, to get flight and hotel recommendations straight to your inbox.
Hipmunk analyzed its historical roundtrip airfare data from the top 30 US airports to determine the best times to purchase airfare.
To compare summer 2016 airfares and vacation lengths to those in summer 2015: Hipmunk calculated the median weekly round-trip flight prices for all flights booked during the first week of Jan 2015 through the last week of March 2015 for flights that departed and returned between Memorial Day and Labor Day, as well as the number of days of trip length for those flights, from the top 30 US airports (flight prices were included the week in which the flight departed). Hipmunk performed calculations with the same criteria for 2016 flights, and compared the results.
To find the best times to buy for lowest airfares: Hipmunk calculated the median weekly round-trip flight price from the top 30 US airports, for flights booked from the first week of April 2015 to the last week of August 2015 .
Hipmunk considered a flight for a holiday weekend one that departs up to three days prior to a holiday and returns up to two days after.