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The Secret to Booking Cheaper Airline Tickets

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Hint: It’s not booking on a Tuesday.

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Booking on weekends at least three weeks before the date of travel puts you in the best position to score cheaper airplane tickets—at least according to a study released this week by Expedia and Airlines Reporting Corp. 

The study, titled “New Heights for Air Travel,” leveraged reams of data from both coauthoring agencies and added that itineraries with Saturday night stays tend to be cheapest. 

Perhaps the biggest takeaway: Purchasing airplane tickets on Sundays yielded the lowest average ticket prices (the industry refers to them as ATPs) in 2016. For domestic flights in the United States, the savings was 11 percent; for flights originating in the United States and heading to Europe, the savings was about 16 percent.

Even flights between the United States and Asia cost less if you book them on Sunday—10 percent less. 

In terms of when to book for the biggest savings, the study indicated the magic number is three weeks. A recent fare search on Expedia.com (and quoted in the study) indicated that a ticket between Europe and the United States cost $1,962 when booked less than 21 days before departure but cost around $1,293 when booked more than three weeks in advance—a savings of $669. 

Finally, according to ARC data from 2016, itineraries with Saturday night stayovers have tended to be less expensive—up to 57 percent less in some regions. Although the Saturday night rule doesn’t apply across the board, the takeaway is that booking a trip with a Saturday night likely will drive the price down.

In related news, the Expedia/ARC study noted that ATPs for economy round-trip and one-way tickets within the United States dropped by about 4 percent overall in 2016, meaning that right now ticket prices are at their lowest point since 2013.  It also means that certain travelers on specific routes can enjoy price drops of even more, since the 4 percent number is just an average.

Prices for specific flights from one international region to another have fallen, too. The three itineraries with the biggest drops include South America to Southeast Asia (31 percent decline), South America to Southern Europe (15 percent), and China to Southern Europe (also 15 percent). 

In addition, the study featured data from the International Air Transport Association in a section that noted air capacity (i.e., the total number of planes in the sky at any given time) is up about 5 percent globally: More airlines are flying more planes to more destinations. Among the biggest destinations for 2017: Havana, Mexico City, India, and parts of China. Also on the list of destinations that have seen spikes in capacity: Cusco, Peru.

[Disclaimer: The writer is a contributor to Expedia’s blog.]

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Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.