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Do Flight Tickets Actually Get Cheaper Closer to the Travel Date?

do flight tickets get cheaper closer to the date

One of the most common beliefs among travelers is that airline tickets will get cheaper if you wait until the last minute to book your flight. The logic seems sound - airlines want to fill their planes, so they should lower fares at the last minute to attract stragglers and sell any remaining seats, right?

The truth is, it's a bit more complicated than that. While this conventional wisdom used to hold some truth back in the day, the reality is that most cheap last-minute flight deals are now the exception rather than the rule thanks to the way airline systems work nowadays. Let's take a closer look at what to expect with airfare prices as your travel date approaches.

When Do Flight Prices Decrease?

First, it's important to understand that airlines have gotten extremely sophisticated with their pricing strategies in recent years. With dynamic pricing models and demand-based price fluctuations, there is no longer a simple, predictable pattern around when flights will be cheapest.

That said, there are still some general guidelines about airfare price changes in the last few months and weeks leading up to the departure date:

3-4 months out: This is the "sweet spot" for finding the cheapest fares on most routes according to travel experts. Prices tend to be lower earlier in the booking window.
6-8 weeks out: You can sometimes find good deals in this window, but prices also start inching up as flights fill up.
3-4 weeks out: This tends to be when prices rise more sharply as planes get closer to full capacity.
2 weeks out: You'll likely find only expensive last-minute fare options at this point.
1 week out A few sporadic deals may come back at the very last minute, but availability is extremely limited.

As this general timeline shows, there is no guarantee that flights will get cheaper as you get closer to the travel date. The opposite is usually true - flights become more expensive closer to departure, not less!

The Exceptions to Airfare Pricing Patterns
While future flight price drops are unlikely these days, there are always a few exceptions when you can find a deal at the last minute:

Flights with Business/First Class availability only: Airlines may offer cheaper premium fares for unsold premium seats
Holiday travel periods: Increased capacity can sometimes lead to last-minute deals for holidays like Christmas
Unpopular routes or destinations: Flights with very low demand may see fire-sale cheap fares at the end
Repositioning flights: Airlines make strange 1-way deals to reposition planes - often a hidden gem
Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska fares: These airlines publish fares differently, creating late opportunities
Airfare sales/promotions: Airlines can launch sales at any time, even weeks out
Using miles/points at the last minute: Available award seats may get you a deal

While possible, the reality is that true last-minute deals like this are fairly rare. Airlines have simply gotten too sophisticated in their pricing models and predictions of consumer demand. You can't bank on prices plummeting in those final days before a flight.

How to Increase Your Odds of Booking a Cheap Flight
Since last-minute fares tend to follow the laws of supply and demand, your best bet is to be flexible whenever possible. Try to:

Watch for price alerts and act quickly on potential deals
Search one-way fares as well as round-trip
Depart/return on off-peak days or times
Consider slightly different airports or connections
Use tools like Google Flights to track price fluctuations

The key is monitoring fares and being ready to pounce when a bargain crops up. Just don't naively wait until the last minute expecting prices to always go down. In 2024 and beyond, that simply won't be the norm for most flights. Being proactive about your airfare search is essential to scoring the best deal on plane tickets.

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