The cheapest days to plan flights for winter, spring, summer and fall

If you do nothing else when planning your vacation, please compare airfares instead of going to one or two airline sites; it’s the easiest and most reliable way to save on tickets.

But you can save lots more by keeping this in mind: Summer isn't the only season for travel. I know because I analyzed millions of flight combinations to find cheapest average days to fly; I then took what I learned and put it a handy, seasonal vacation planner.

Winter

Since Jan. 3, flights are generally at bargain prices — and it’ll stay that way through early March when weekend fares start to rise. January and February are also cheap periods for trips to Europe.

  • Tip: Tickets are cheap now, but you still have to buy them in advance, from about two weeks to a month before takeoff for domestic travel, and a little longer for Europe. If you shop for tickets now to fly in the next day or so, you’ll pay the steep prices business travelers are charged.

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Spring

The latter part of March will see weekend tickets costing about 30 percent more than Tuesday/Wednesday flights. Weekend fares rise even more in April, and May fares overall are getting higher, especially toward the end of the month. For European travel, try to fly by May 21 — the last day before the more expensive, pre-summer prices kick in.

  • Tip: Spring is cheaper than summer, so if you can fly before June, do so.
Plan ahead, and chances are good you'll save at least something.

Plan ahead, and chances are good you'll save at least something. (iStock)

Summer

For U.S. flights, June 13 is the start of higher pre-summer fares, and peak season prices begin June 23. These high prices will generally remain in effect for U.S. travel through July. For Europe travel, the highest prices will be charged for flights in late June; fares actually drop a bit for July.

  • Tip: Fares drop for fall travel in the U.S. starting Aug. 20; Europe prices are expected to drop soon afterward.

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Fall

Unfortunately, we can’t get specific about autumn dates because airlines don’t actively manage prices beyond nine months out. Yes, some airlines will sell you tickets for travel after this point, but such tickets tend to be mid-range prices and not the best deals. Here is some general guidance to help you map out fall travel plans.

  • Fly: In the U.S., September, October and especially early November are very cheap; early December is a bargain travel period, too. Europe flights are generally cheap from late September to mid-December.
  • Don’t fly: The days immediately surrounding major holidays, especially Thanksgiving (Nov. 28); this is almost always the most expensive time of the year to fly within the U.S.

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Remember: If you do nothing else, compare fares with other airlines, and chances are good you'll save at least something.