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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Friday, April 4, 2014

Best Time and Website for Buying Airline Tickets

Booking the cheapest fare is easy if you follow these guidelines

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By Clark Howard

Every day I'm asked, "What's the best time to buy an airline ticket, and what's the best website to do it on?" I've got some new answers to share with you.

The Airline Reporting Corporation (ARC), which is like the back office of ticket selling for the nation's airlines, has monitored data continually over the last four years and found that the magic time to buy a ticket is generally 6 weeks before you travel.

No Shortage of Opinions...

Other studies I've seen suggest booking exactly 42 days or 54 days before your departure date. I say just split the difference between all 3 studies and book somewhere 6 to 7 weeks before departure.

Now, this is a general rule; it's not true for every ticket. But overall, if you're looking for a cheap fare, why not give it a try?

If you book way in advance or too close to travel, you're likely to overpay. Yet what the ARC findings don't take into account is that at the last minute, you really have a split scenario: People can pay both the highest fares and the lowest fares. Based on demand, airlines may deeply discount their fares, particularly if the travel dates go over a weekend. Or they may slam you on price.

But for most situations, as a general rule, six weeks is the number to remember for both domestic and international travel. Based on my experience, I say that six-week mark can be kind of stretched out to between four and seven weeks.

The Best Website For Booking Is...

Now, where do you get best deal? A Wall Street Journal test reveals there is no one definitive website that will save you money every time. Whoever is cheapest one time may not be cheapest the next time. So shop and shop and shop on multiple websites to save the most money.

You can see my favorite websites for comparison shopping here.

And remember, the best deal flows to the opportunist. When you see a screaming deal, buy it and then figure why you want to go to the city you've booked!


4 Gateway Cities For Cheap European Fares

If you are going to Europe, the question of when to book is important, but not nearly as much as the question of what city you depart from. I've long recommended buying one ticket to a key bargain city and then going overseas from that city.

The cheapest gateway cities to Europe include New York, Orlando's Sanford Field, Ft. Lauderdale, and San Francisco/Oakland.

If you're frustrated with European fares, start with those gateways and you may wind up saving a substantial amount. But remember, don't buy way early because you'll probably later regret it.

As just one example of a discounter that flies out of those cities, Norwegian Air Shuttle is flying New York to Oslo for about $500 RT (roundtrip); NY to London at $384 RT; NY to Copenhagen at $474 RT; and San Francisco to Oslo at $596 RT.

For further reading:

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