How to find cheap flights and the best time to book with Google Flights

Inflation and high gasoline prices are squeeze travelers’ budgets these days. When booking your next trip, you’re probably hoping to get the best deal on flights. With a little planning, you probably can.

Using tools such as Google Flights or Hopper when planning your vacation can help you determine the best time to buy that plane ticket.

“Google Flights is my go-to for finding and comparing flight prices,” said Jenita Lawal, owner of Legal travel services, told USA TODAY, calling it one of its research tools when planning a vacation. In particular, she loves price tracking and explore features to find great deals to new destinations she’s never heard of, like Mérida, Mexico.

The Google Flights team recently analyzed five years of data – from August 2017 to August 2022 – to determine the best time to book a flight and other times when airfare deals are the best. (The team also debunked the idea that flights are cheaper on Tuesdays.)

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Keep in mind, however, that your specific itinerary may not always follow these price patterns, especially during these hectic travel times.

“Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason with flight prices lately,” Lawal said. “There have been times when I’ve seen great last minute flight deals, which is great if you’re flexible. For my clients, I recommend booking eight to six months in advance.”

Also consider a vacation package, she said, that has it all in one price, often including charter flights.

Here’s what Google Flights data found on booking the cheapest flights, plus some expert advice from travel advisors.

“Google Flights brings a lot of useful information to your fingertips, making it easy to track prices, filter your exact preferences, or browse destinations around the world that fit your budget,” said James Byers, chief executive. group product at Google Flights.

How far in advance should I book a flight?

For domestic travel, the lowest prices tend to be between three weeks and three months before your departure date, according to Byers. The lowest prices are on average over 44 days, or about 1.5 months, before,

International travel will require a bit more time and planning. For travel from the US to Europe, you’ll want to err on the early side – 129 days, or almost five months, in advance will provide the best deals. Try not to book less than 50 days before your trip.

Flights to Mexico or the Caribbean offer a little more flexibility when it comes to planning: the best prices are 59 days away, or almost two months.

April Cheng, travel consultant and owner of TravelChicrecommends even longer – six to eight months for international flights and four to five months for domestic flights – so you can choose from the most flight options.

“Too soon or too late, you won’t have a ton of times to fly,” she said.

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What day of the week is the cheapest to fly?

Flights that depart on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday are historically the cheapest days of the week to fly, especially if you are going overseas. According to Byers’ analysis, you could save up to 12% on airfare if you book a flight for these days rather than the weekend.

Lawal agrees that Tuesday and Wednesday flights tend to have the lowest fares, likely because most people fly Thursday to Sunday or Friday to Monday, she said.

“I find that most American travelers try to book their trip to include the weekend,” Lawal said.

The most expensive day to fly is Sunday.

Is it more expensive to fly non-stop?

Time is money when it comes to flying, it seems. Data from Google Flights showed that those willing to layover could save around 20% on fares.

If you decide to take the layover route, Lawal said there are a few options you can do to make the most of the extra time, maybe even include some sightseeing.

  • For layovers longer than two hours, she suggests going to an airport lounge.
  • For layovers longer than five hours, she said you can probably fit an activity into your schedule. “On my first trip to Mexico, I purposely booked a flight with a five-hour layover in Mexico City,” she said. “That was enough time to take a taxi to the historic center and grab a bite to eat before heading back to the airport.”
  • Consider an overnight layover or more than seven hours and book a hotel (with airport shuttle and breakfast, she recommends.) “In the UK, I had a nine-hour layover at Heathrow, so I bought a Tube ticket and enjoyed a few hours in London – even popped into Wolseley’s for an authentic English tea,” she said.

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Is it true that flight fares are cheapest on Tuesday?

Unfortunately, waiting until Tuesday to book your flight won’t save you money. In fact, postponing it even a few more days can cost you dearly.

Over the past five years, flights booked on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays have only been around 1.9% cheaper than those booked on weekends.

“So if your trip is only a few weeks away, don’t wait until Tuesday to arrive – book your flight now in case the price goes up,” Google’s Byers said.

When should you start booking flights for the holidays?

For domestic Thanksgiving travel, the best airfare deals are 36 to 74 days before the travel date, with a price floor, on average, 52 days, or just under two months, excluding, according to data from Google Flights.

Domestic travel over Christmas is usually low around 22 days, or around three weeks, before departure, but low prices tend to be available up to 88 days – or almost three months – before.

To obtain this data, Byers looked at five- to nine-day trips and 13- to 16-day trips with departure dates before the holidays and return dates after the holidays.

Cheng predicts holiday travel will be as busy as it was today summer and suggests its customers book more time in advance for vacations, such as at least six months for international travel and four months for domestic travel, she said.

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What about buying flights for summer vacation?

If your trip is domestic and takes place in July or August, aim for three weeks before the scheduled departure date to get the best deals.

Other Ways to Use Google Flights to Find a Great Airfare Deal

  • Google Flights will show you if today’s prices are low, typical, or high – which it calculates based on similar flights over the past 12 months – so you can determine if the current price is a bargain.

  • When you turn on price tracking for your destination and travel dates, you’ll get an email if prices change significantly, so you know whether to book as soon as possible or wait, according to Byers. Those with more flexible schedules can also track all dates for the next few months for a destination.

  • When planning, check the Google Flights calendar view, date grid, and price chart to see how fares change by date.

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