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We all want to buy airfare when the prices are at their lowest, but timing that exactly right can fall somewhere between lucky guess to very challenging to impossible. There are lots of tips out there on when to buy airfare such as doing it on a Tuesday at 3PM Eastern about two months before your travel date, but only if it is also a full moon and you are paying with a credit card that ends in 777. In truth, there is no one reliably magic time to get the best deal on airfare.
There are historical trends and averages that those “when to buy airfare” tips are based upon, but you won’t know exactly when the best time is to purchase airfare for your given trip until that time has passed. However, all hope is not lost in trying to search for cheap airfare as you can use some tools to dramatically increase the likelihood that you will get at least a very good deal on your airfare without spending too much time on the searches yourself.
Since there are so many fixed value points programs that allow you to use your credit card points to purchase airfare such as with Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® and even The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN, these airfare price tracking tools are useful even if you aren’t using your own cold hard cash to purchase the airfare. A good deal on airfare can mean spending fewer points from those programs!
While there are plenty of different options out there, my two most used tools to track airfare prices come from Google Flights and Airfare Watchdog. These two free different airfare tracking tools work in two different ways.
How to Track Flight Prices for a Specific Date
First, if you know where you want to go and have specific dates in mind, the Google Flight price tracker can’t really be beat. Simply go to Google Flights, put in when/where you want to fly (and you can pick several airports in the same region), and hit “track price”. Voila. Assuming you are logged into Google, you will now get email alerts when the price changes.
You can also come back to Google Flights and view all of your tracked flights together at once, as well as view a graph showing how the price for your tracked trip has changed over time.
How to Track Airfare Prices to a Destination
If you have a particular destination in mind, but are flexible on your dates then you might want to use the tool set out by AirfareWatchdog. With this options you can simply stay in the loop on pricing for that route via email as opposed to just getting information for a specific set of travel dates. You can also get a round-up of all airfare deals from your airport if you so desire.
This type of destination specific alert is handy for those cities where you have relatives or just really enjoy visiting whenever you get the chance.
I will warn you that if you aren’t careful about your selections you can end up getting quite a bit of email from Airfarewatchdog, so just keep that in mind when making the selections for the type of notification you want to receive whether it is just for a certain route, or for your departure city in general.
When to Purchase Airfare You Are Tracking
In terms of when to actually buy the airfare you are tracking, I would say that you should buy as soon as you are happy with the price. Don’t get too obsessed with getting the absolute best price, and instead just aim to find a price you are happy with. This is especially true if your travel dates and destination are fixed.
If you have some flexibility or a long period of time before you trip, then once you have tracked the airfare for a while you will get a good sense as to what is a good deal is for your route. Also keep in mind that once you get within a couple weeks of travel the ticket price usually only increases, so try not to go within two weeks of your travel date before pressing purchase.
While this is not an airfare tracking tool per se, I have to mention that another way I love to stay in the loop on good airfare prices is by simply following @theflightdeal on Twitter. You never know what great deals they will come up with and share!
How do you track airfare prices on your preferred routes?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.