Your sister swears by shopping on Tuesdays. Your co-worker is vehement that the day after Christmas is as cheap as a candy bar. Your best friend won’t even let you consider booking a flight until two weeks before you leave. Who’s got it right? We waded into the fare jungle to find the answers for you.

First, the Bad News

w10_1_Crystal BallNo travel expert has a crystal ball.

Don’t get us wrong: We’d love the ability to see into the future, but without those Harry Potter-worthy powers, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint with total accuracy how fares will behave on a given day. We use detailed data and industry guidelines to help us predict what could happen, but it’s never certain what will happen.

That said, there are definitely a few buying times that are almost always expensive enough to leave you wondering whether the flight includes an in-air performance by Kanye West. Unless you’re dealing with a major emergency – in which case you probably don’t care about anything but getting there fast – avoid buying tickets the day before you travel. It’s unequivocally the worst time to purchase airfare, and the picture doesn’t get much less grim until about 12 days pre-flight. Sorry, impulsive vacationers: If you want to jet off on a whim, you’ll have to pony up the coin.

Now, the Sweet Spot

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What industry-wide studies have been able to pinpoint, however, is the most common golden period for inexpensive airfare. As it turns out, that old chestnut about scoring the cheapest rates 21 days before your trip holds roughly one thimbleful of water. Experts say that the best deals usually crop up between seven and eight weeks out for domestic flights and 10 to 12 weeks out for international. Those times periods are typically the lowest prices will go.

You might also find some sweet fare relief during specific times of year. August and September are generally good times to grab a flight – kids are back in school, and families are taking fewer vacations across the board – and loads of airlines offer killer deals immediately after major holidays. Post-Christmas, Black Friday, and New Year’s Day sales are especially prime, so keep your eyes peeled while you’re noshing on those leftovers.

The Amazing Tuesday (and Wednesday) Myth

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According to pretty much everyone on the planet, all you have to do is wait until Tuesday evening or Wednesday afternoon to score the most oh-my-gosh amazing deals in the history of existence. We’ve got to give this legend credit – it’s got some major staying power – but the truth is that the Tuesday tactic has become more myth than reality. Do airlines roll out sales early in the week? Yes. Do they do so with alarming consistency? Unfortunately, not anymore. You should absolutely pay attention to what the fares are doing mid-week, but don’t expect a clockwork-like price plummet. It won’t always happen, and focusing exclusively on Tuesdays and Wednesdays could make you to miss some jaw-dropping sales at other times.

When to Buy…or When to Fly?

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Hold up, you might be thinking. Are we even asking the right questions here? After all, the actual travel time is just as influential on price as the purchasing period.

You’re completely right about that with one caveat: It only applies sometimes.

Think about it this way: If you absolutely have to fly three days before Christmas or on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, nearly no amount of pre-purchase wheeling and dealing is going to save your budget. Due to massive demand, those are just expensive times to travel. In that case, your best bet for finding a fare that doesn’t terrify your wallet is to abide by the rules set out above.

If your dates are flexible, however, that’s when this aspect of the great fare game really starts to play in your favor. Autumn is typically the least expensive time to travel across the board, and super-early mornings on Wednesdays and Sundays often offer the best rates you’ll see all week. Stick to those general guidelines, and you’ll be working your way through the price-hike jungle like a champ.