Expert insight

Analysis: the best time to book flights

28 March 2018 by Laura Canto-Carrion

When should you travel and how far in advance should you book air fares to get the best deals? 

Knowing when to book flights can be a minefield, but we’ve analysed the data and discovered how many weeks in advance you should book tickets, what days are cheapest to travel on, and how holidays and events can affect air fares in the UK. Here are seven key takeaways from our analysis.

1. Book UK domestic flights six to four weeks in advance

Forty-two per cent of all UK flights are booked within one week of departure, while 24% are booked two weeks before. But the cheapest UK domestic air fares can be found between six and four weeks in advance of travelling – before steadily increasing the closer to the departure date. UK domestic flights booked six weeks in advance are on average 55% cheaper than when booked within one week, while those booked five weeks before departure are on average 52% cheaper.

UK Domestic Flights graph| Capita Travel and Events

2. European flights are also cheaper six to four weeks before departure

Like UK domestic flights, lower fares for European flights can be secured between six and four weeks prior to departure. European flights booked six weeks in advance are on average 59% cheaper than when booked one week before, while those booked five weeks before departure are on average 56% cheaper.

European Flights graph | Capita Travel and Events

3. Travelling on a Friday is expensive in both the UK and Europe

Friday is the most expensive day to start a UK domestic journey, with an ATP (advance ticket price) of 14% more than Monday to Wednesday. Thursdays and Fridays are the most expensive days to start a European journey, with a combined ATP of 7% more than Monday to Wednesday.

4. Avoid international flights on a Sunday and Monday

Sixty-one per cent of international journeys start on a Saturday, Sunday and Monday, but Sundays and Mondays are in fact the most expensive days to travel – a combined ATP of 35% more than other days.

5. Holidays can impact the cost of travel to smaller, regional destinations

In regional destinations, the increase in leisure travel during school and bank holidays has an impact on costs. UK destinations that show a noticeable variance in ATPs between school/bank holiday weeks and normal working weeks include Belfast, with a 12% variance in ATP, Bristol (16%), Leeds/Bradford (15%), Cardiff (15%), Orkney (12%) and Liverpool (32%).

6. But there is less of an impact for commercial centres…

Travelling in holiday weeks has very little impact for commercial centres such as Birmingham and Glasgow, or for larger airports. Overall, ATPs follow a very similar pattern both during busy holiday/event weeks and normal working weeks due to continuous demand from businesses.

UK Domestic Flights graph_Destination Glasgow| Capita Travel and Events

7. Air fares to London can be costly in the run-up to big events

Busy weeks in the city, such as during Wimbledon, show a continuous increase in ATPs in the six weeks prior to an event, with a small decrease five weeks before. There is a little more flexibility in normal working weeks, with a decrease in ATPs between four and three weeks prior to the date of travel.

UK Domestic Flights graph_Destination London | Capita Travel and Events

How Capita Travel and Events can help

The one consistent pattern we see again and again across UK and European destinations is that the optimum time to book your flight is six to four weeks in advance. After this window, ATPs increase week-on-week all the way up to the departure date. However, even booking two weeks in advance will still present significant savings opportunities.

The other element to consider is how busy your destination is and whether travelling in an alternate week is an option. Or perhaps consider working smarter and organise your meeting via audio/videoconferencing technology.

Why not speak to us about your travel arrangements? Get in touch with our experts at Capita Travel and Events.

*Figures based on Capita Travel and Events customers’ air data for travel/booked dates in 2017. Holiday vs working week split is based on weeks where there has been a UK school holiday (estimate) or public/bank holiday. Event weeks have been established by the most common hotel blackout dates (in week numbers) across the top UK destinations.

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