Airlines seem to surprise us with random airfare deals and price hikes, but there’s good news. We dug through America’s top airlines’ sites, social media pages, and newsletters from the past couple of years to determine the best times to book flights.
You’ll learn all about sales patterns for individual airlines, but before we get into those there’s one “rule of thumb” you should know. . .
First: Tuesdays around 3 p.m. ET are the best times to buy tickets from pretty much any airline.
Why? Well, most airlines launch new ticket prices on Monday nights; then they all start scrambling to make their prices more competitive. By mid-afternoon Tuesday, they’ve all tried to match or beat each other, which means you can really see the best prices! We’ll call this the “3 p.m. Tuesday rule.” It’s not a guarantee, but it’s a great place to start with any airline you’re looking at.
When you’re booking, try to get early morning/late night flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Those are the least common times and days for people to travel, so airlines generally offer lower prices to try and fill seats.
With those patterns in mind, here’s what I’ve found:
1. The best times to book Southwest Airlines flights is. . .
Spring, Fall, and Winter Sales
Over the past two years, Southwest Airlines has offered their famed low price sales in the spring, fall, and winter. You can check for these sales at the Southwest Special Offers page. Here are the dates the sales were offered:
- 2021 – Aug 10-12, Sep. 13-27, Nov. 9-11, Nov 20-25
- 2020 – Jan. 17-23, June 23-25 & Dec. 10-13
Southwest’s ticket sales prices usually start at $39 or $49 but do vary depending on destinations and dates. In January 2021 we even saw a Southwest spring break sale with flights as low as $29 to encourage travel… but who knows if we’ll ever see tickets that cheap again.
Check the Southwest Low Fare Calendar to see the most up-to-date sales and prices, and make sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter to catch the sales as soon as they start!
Tuesdays at 3 p.m.
Yup, here’s that rule of thumb! Every week Southwest sends special fares out via email to all their Click ‘N Save subscribers on Monday evening, and by Tuesday afternoon, they’ve mostly price matched other airlines. In other words, they check to see if anyone else is offering any cheaper tickets to see if they need to drop their prices even more.
Joining the email list is free, and you can expect to receive weekly deals that typically run for three days, usually ending on Thursday of that week.
Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday and/or Travel Tuesday
Over the last few years, Southwest has consistently held a big Black Friday sale that lasts for either 24 hours or several days surrounding Black Friday.
In the past couple of years, they’ve been offering up to $250 off one-way tickets to select destinations.
You can save year-round on Southwest flights if you use our 30 Southwest Hacks That Will Save You Serious Cash.
2. The best time to book JetBlue Airlines flights is. . .
September-November Flash Sales
In 2020 and 2021, JetBlue offered a two-day sale in early September with fares starting at $39 and in late October had another two-day sale where we found flights as low as $31.
JetBlue’s “Dash Away Sale” was pretty great in 2020.
They offered one-way ticket prices in the country as low as $49, and some flights plus 2 nights at a hotel from $149. The catch was you had to travel between Jan. 5 and June 17, excluding Fridays, Saturdays, and some blackout dates in February, March, and April. Some of the deals included were:
- Newark to Austin – $59
- Newark to Boston – $49
- Newark to Cancun – $99
Use the JetBlue best fare finder year-round to see what deals are available.
3. The best time to book Alaska Airlines flights is. . .
Alaska Airlines’ Black Friday sale is a big deal. In 2019, 2020, and 2021, we saw one-way prices starting at $29 for Saver fare and $39 for Main cabin. Prior to the pandemic, this sale lasted only one day (Black Friday). But in 2020 and 2021, Alaska extended their Black Friday sale through the Sunday after.
Alaska’s Cyber Monday sale is the biggest all year, meaning that it has discounts for more destinations than its Black Friday sale. Prior to the pandemic, their Cyber Monday sale only ran one day. But in 2020, Alaska extended their Cyber Monday sale through Dec. 4, giving shoppers more opportunities to save — we predict the same will happen in 2021. Prices start as low as $29 one way. Every year they’ve had steep discounts on popular routes throughout North America, including Hawaii and Mexico. Here are some deals we’ve seen:
- 2019: Coast to coast for $89 one way
- 2019: California to Hawaii: $129 one way
- 2020: Coast to coast $177 round-trip nonstop
- 2020: Oregon to Mexico $332 round-trip nonstop
Just be sure to read all the fine print. The blackout dates change yearly.
Mondays & Tuesdays
Every Monday go to AlaskaAir.com to view new Web specials. They’ll show fares as low as $49 one way.
The “3 p.m. Tuesday rule” also applies to Alaska Airlines because the sales are launched Monday evenings, so come Tuesday airlines are competing to offer the best deal.
Sign up for emails to get exclusive Alaska Airlines promo codes and deals.
4. The best time to book American Airlines flights is. . .
In 2021, American Airlines took a different approach to Black Friday sales. Instead of offering discounts up front, they offered up to 45% off purchases of AAdvantage miles, good for future flight purchases.
They’ve been doing Black Friday differently for years; in 2020, shoppers who bought flights on Black Friday got a percentage of their base fare cost back as electronic travel funds to be used for future flights. The more you paid, the larger the percentage back.
5. The best time to book Delta Airlines flights is. . .
Unfortunately, Delta Airlines hasn’t done any special annual sales since 2018.
But the “3 p.m. Tuesday rule” still applies! Use their Current Flight Deals page to find specific ticket deals year-round. You can choose your departure airport from a select list (that changes) and leave your destination blank if you want to see their cheapest flights to anywhere. You’ll get a list of fares that are valid for travel between specific dates. Sometimes they’re pretty good — other times they’re meh.
6. The best time to book Frontier Airlines is. . .
Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Since 2018, Frontier has offered up to over 90% off round-trip domestic flights with some exclusions. In 2020 Frontier had a Black Friday promo code that could save you up to 99% off flights.
Around Black Friday 2021, we saw one-way fares as low as $15, but no special promo codes. For Cyber Monday 2021, you could use the Frontier Airlines promo code CYBER to get up to 91% off tickets purchased through Nov. 30 for flights until March 9, 2022.
Frontier is another company that likes to give random flash sales and offers up to 90% off basic fares, like their winter 2021 sale that started Thanksgiving week with flights as low as $15. To find out when these deals are, like their Facebook page.
7. The best time to book Hawaiian Airlines flights is. . .
Winter Sales from Black Friday through January
Hawaiian Airlines’ biggest sale is their Cyber Monday sale, which usually starts on Black Friday… but in 2021 the sale started on Nov. 16 with prices as low as $198 round trip between Los Angeles and Honolulu.
These prices continue to rise through January, but they remain sale prices compared to the rest of the year. In January 2020 we saw round-trip tickets from San Francisco to Honolulu starting at $273.
Once the winter passes, prices return to normal.