How much energy do you devote to timing the market to get the best airfare when booking flights?
Ticket prices go up, ticket prices go down. That much we know. What’s less clear is the timing of those rises and falls. It’s the perennial savvy-traveler question: When is the best time to book flights, to lock in the lowest airfare?
For travel during the 2017 Thanksgiving holiday period, Skyscanner has the answer. Based on the travel-search site’s analysis of 2016 pricing data, the lowest airfares will be found between September 4 and the first week in November.
During that period, the very best airfares are expected to be on offer during the week of September 4, when Thanksgiving ticket prices should average around $300. That, according to Skyscanner, represents a saving of “up to 4%.”
Paying less always beats paying more, all things being equal. But that 4 percent figure — which, remember, is the maximum savings — leaves me wondering whether it’s enough to warrant much time and energy pursuing. If it were just me traveling, it would be the decidedly modest difference between a $312.50 ticket and a $300.00 ticket. I’d be fine with either, and I expect many others would be as well.
On the other hand, if I were booking travel for a family of four, the potential savings by buying during the lower-fare window would total $50. For that, I’d be more than willing to keep my eyes on the calendar and book 11 weeks out.
All of which is to say, the real importance of that perennial when-to-book question may be overrated. If the potential savings are significant, then it may be worthwhile setting price alerts and keeping a watchful eye on prices’ ebbs and flows. But in many cases, the savings simply aren’t worth pursuing. So book whenever you want, confident that the best price won’t be much lower than what you’re paying when buying at a day and time most convenient to you. No sophisticated data analysis (or airfare voodoo) required.
After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.
This article first appeared on SmarterTravel.com, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.