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The less you spend on airfare when you travel, the more you can spend on things that really matter, like sightseeing and dining out. There are many ways to save on airfare, and one of the simplest methods if you can manage it is to adjust the timing of your trip.
So, when can you get the lowest airfare? The cheapest days of the week to fly are typically in the middle of the week, while Fridays and Sundays tend to be more expensive. However, due to the pandemic's effect on travel, pent-up demand to fly means the conventional wisdom about fares isn't always so wise.
These Are the Cheapest Days of the Week to Fly
Generally, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are the cheapest days to fly, while Fridays and Sundays are pricier, according to travel deal site FareCompare. Leisure travelers tend to fly on the weekends, either starting their vacations on Friday or taking a long weekend Friday to Sunday. Business travelers often return on Fridays and head out on business trips on Sunday evenings. Mid-week flights are cheaper because there's generally less demand from both business and leisure travelers.
For example, compare prices for a nonstop, one-way, 7 a.m. Delta flight from New York City's JFK Airport to Los Angeles International Airport in early September. On Sunday, the cheapest fare is $199. Monday, the lowest price drops to $169. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the flight costs $119, but on Friday, it jumps to $169. On Saturday, it drops back to $119.
What's the Cheapest Time of Day to Fly?
Early morning and late-night flights tend to be cheaper than midday flights. For example, the aforementioned September Delta flight costs $119 at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, but a 1:57 p.m. flight the same day costs $263—more than double the cost of the early morning flight.
However, guidelines about the cheapest days and times to fly aren't foolproof, especially in the current travel environment. For example, a nonstop, one-way 2:40 p.m. Delta flight from New York City's JFK Airport to Los Angeles International Airport in late August costs $150 Monday through Thursday and $169 on Sunday. Friday, which should be a more expensive day, boasts the lowest price of the week ($146), while a 7 a.m. flight (which should be cheaper) costs $199.
How to Save Money on Flights
You may save money shifting your travel time and flying out at dawn on Tuesday, but there are other tactics you can use to save on airfare.
- Do some comparison shopping. Start with third-party travel price comparison sites like Google Flights, Kayak or Skyscanner. Most let you set price alerts on desired routes or see price forecasts. Before buying, check prices on airline websites. Buying direct may save you money and make it easier to change your itinerary if need be.
- Be flexible with dates. Arriving a few days early or leaving a few days later than planned could save money.
- Avoid popular dates and seasons. Airfares are higher in the middle of summer, when most people vacation, and right before and after Thanksgiving and Christmas. For instance, Google Flights estimates a one-way, nonstop flight from New York City's JFK airport to Los Angeles International Airport starts at $119 for most of November. The day before Thanksgiving, however, the cheapest price more than doubles to $269; the Sunday after, flights start at $435.
- Consider connecting flights. Connecting flights are often cheaper than nonstop. Weigh the savings against the inconvenience of the extra travel time, greater odds of losing your luggage and the risk of missing a connecting flight.
- Shop early. Airfare prediction app Hopper says the best time to get a low fare is 25 to 150 days before traveling. If you're heading to a popular destination—say, Hawaii in July—start searching ASAP.
- Join airline frequent flyer programs. Members can get fare discounts and earn points toward future travel.
- Get an airline rewards credit card. Look for one with an introductory sign-up bonus that awards points or miles for spending a set amount on the card within a certain time frame. You could earn enough to pay for a ticket. Airline rewards cardholders often get perks like free checked baggage, travel credits, upgrades and preferred boarding. Use Experian CreditMatch™ to get personalized offers for travel rewards cards.
- Watch out for the extras. Check the fine print of airfare offers for extra charges. Fees for checked baggage or changing your flight can add up.
Travel Smart, Save Money
Carrying a few credit cards when traveling is a smart move. Using credit cards is easier and safer than carrying cash; if your card is lost or stolen, you can freeze it and quickly get a replacement. Credit cards offering trip or rental car insurance and other travel protections can provide peace of mind too. When traveling internationally, bring a card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.
Most travel rewards credit cards require good or excellent credit, so familiarize yourself with your credit before you apply. You can view your credit report from all three bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com to check for things like late payments and accounts in collection. You can also get your credit report for free directly through Experian. Importantly, you should also review your FICO® Score☉ to make sure you meet the credit card issuer's minimum requirements. If not, work on improving your credit score while you plan your trip.