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January 30, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Fellow cheapskates: Here’s when to book your airfare

If you fly a lot, and you’re as cheap as I am, you’re probably always wondering, “How far in advance should I book a flight, to get the best fare?”

The ticket counter isn’t the place to get the best airfare. Depending on who you ask, you should book your seat 3 to 7 weeks ahead for a domestic flight. (photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Assuming you’re not Stephen Hawking’s smarter cousin, I won’t delve too deeply into the weird science that is airfare pricing. But I can tell you the latest word from other cheapskates in the trade. And what better authority than CheapAir.com?

CheapAir.com CEO Jeff Klee says the best time to buy is 49 days — seven weeks — in advance of flying.

That’s followed up with all sorts of qualifiers and caveats, such as “on average,” taking into consideration a year’s worth of dates in more than 11,000 domestic markets. But if you want a short answer and short number, 49 days is the best they can say, based on analysis of 560 million airfare searches.

When’s the worst, most expensive day to buy a ticket? The day before a flight. Two days in advance was second worst, third day in advance the third worst, and so on until you get 11 days out. After that, the next worst was a tie between 208, 209 and 210 days (about seven months) in advance — the furthest they went with the analysis.

So really late or really early are both bad, apparently.

Another giant caveat: Not all experts agree. Just last October, another web search outfit, Kayak, issued its own advice: Buy 21 days ahead.

That was the advice for domestic flights, anyway. For international flights, buy 34 days ahead of flying, Kayak advised.

Kayak found that over a six-month period before departure, the average fare for a domestic flight was $370. But that average domestic fare dropped to its lowest level — $342 — when booked 21 days before departure.

So is it 21 days or 49 days? Maybe the best strategy is to split the difference and buy 35 days ahead? Like I said, it’s hard to nail down the science.

Other tips that might help:

  • For a quick domestic trip, Kayak says you can save as much as 16 percent on airfare by departing on a Saturday and returning Monday. For trips more than a week long, you can save as much as 10 percent by leaving on a Tuesday and returning on a Wednesday.
  • For a quick international trip, you can save 21 percent if you leave on a Tuesday and return the following Wednesday. For longer overseas trips, save 9 percent by leaving on a Saturday and returning on a Sunday.

Personally, based on a sampling of one: I’ve found that booking departures on Tuesdays seems to net lower fares. What’s your experience?

Comments | More in Tips & deals | Topics: airfare advice, airfares, cheap flights

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