Finding airfare deals is no easy feat, especially these days when prices are way up. Luckily, there are a lot of tips about how to track down a bargain: good advice on how to use Wikipedia and Google Flights to find cheap tickets, how far in advance to buy them, and how to use Kayak’s secret travel-planning tool. But in the midst of all that useful intel, there are some myths, too—and one of the most pervasive is that Tuesday is the best day to find an airfare deal. Sure, it would be a wonderful, stress-free world if we knew exactly which day we could be assured of nabbing the best price on a flight, but is it true? We asked the experts, and here’s what we found out.
Is there a cheapest day to book airfare?
“I believe that this probably came out of the early days of the Internet when airlines started putting out web specials that were usually on Wednesdays,” says Brett Snyder, who worked for several airlines before founding Cranky Concierge, an air-travel booking and emergency-assistance service. “Maybe it was Tuesday night.”
Scott Keyes, founder of Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights), corroborated that theory in a blog post, explaining that when airlines first started selling tickets online, they manually updated fares at a set time each week. And late Tuesday night/Wednesday morning emerged as the time when that would happen.
“Historically, Tuesdays were the cheapest day to book flights,” says Laura Lindsay, global travel trends expert for trip-booking website Skyscanner. “This was broadly true prepandemic as seasonality and even weekly pricing cycles were more predictable. However, this is no longer a hard and fast rule.”
It’s difficult to know if it was ever a hard and fast rule though. Drew Ogborn, analyst of revenue management and commercial excellence at ARC, says his grandmother was a travel agent in the 1990s and she believed that the magic day was Thursday.
“Sometimes you’ll hear people say that it’s cheaper to book on the weekends, but that’s a warping of statistics,” says Snyder. He explains that weekends appear cheaper because the average expenditure on tickets purchased during the week is higher than what’s spent on the weekends—but the reason for that difference is not the actual cost of the fares, it’s who’s doing the buying and how much they’re willing to spend. “You get a higher percentage of leisure bookings made on the weekends versus corporate bookings which are made during the week,” he says, and weekends look cheaper because companies are willing to spend more on a ticket than regular people are.
An example of that confusion came out of an Expedia Travel Hacks report released in fall 2022; it stated that travelers who booked on a Sunday saved up to 15 percent on average for international flights. That was based partly on data gathered from the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), which settles transactions between airlines and travel agencies (online or human) whenever you book a flight.
But ARC’s Ogborn explains the complexity of interpreting such data. “[The data] are for tickets that are purchased, not what came up in searching,” he says. “Looking on any one Sunday doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find a cheaper fare.”
So, yes, the overall expenditure on tickets may end up being less on Sundays or weekends, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the tickets being offered on those days were cheaper. It may just mean the cheaper airfares were the ones that were chosen.
Even Google agrees that there’s no big difference to be gained by buying tickets on a certain day. James Byers, group product manager for Google Flights wrote a blog post in August 2022 saying: “There isn’t much value in purchasing your tickets on a certain day of the week—sorry, Tuesday! If you shop for flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays instead of Saturdays or Sundays, prices have only been 1.9 percent cheaper on average over the past five years.”
Is there a cheapest day to fly?
According to ARC’s global airline sales database, average round-trip ticket prices for flights originating in the U.S. for January to August 2022 were 15 percent cheaper if a trip started on a Wednesday versus a Sunday or Monday.
But again, nothing is set in stone when it comes to booking flights.
Skyscanner crunched numbers on its own bookings over the past year, and Lindsay says they found Tuesday was the cheapest day to fly. “However,” she adds, “the results reveal this doesn’t in fact tell the whole story. Not only do these hacks [when to book and when to travel] change depending on the destination, but also travelers will find differing results for the same destination but a different month.” Some examples: “For New York departures, the cheapest day of the week to travel to Greece in June is a Monday versus Milan which is a Saturday. The cheapest day of the week to travel to Las Vegas from Boston in June is a Tuesday, but in September it is a Wednesday.”
Skyscanner’s Savings Generator is a tool to help navigate this morass. Type in where you’re flying from, to, and when, and it’ll spit back a suggested best time to book and cheapest day to travel, based on data it’s collected.
How airfare is really determined
“Fares are determined entirely by expected demand,” says Snyder. “If flights are expected to be full, or during peak times, then prices are higher. If demand is lower, they’ll bring prices down to try to keep the planes full.”
Skyscanner’s Lindsay agrees. She explains that the algorithms airlines use are complex and dynamic—weighing factors such as itinerary, cabin class, distance, and whether the carrier is a low-cost or premium airline. “These [algorithms] are often being calculated and recalculated on a minute-by-minute basis and drive how much the traveler pays for the ticket. However, there is one factor which outweighs all of these and is the ultimate determinator for the price paid: demand.”
What to do about all of this
The advice from most experts is: When you find a good fare that fits your budget, your dates, and your preferences, book it. For help figuring out how to find those fares, see our tips from experts in this AFAR story on the best time to book a flight.