It used to be cheaper to purchase a flight at the last minute because airlines used to prioritize selling all seats.

Nowadays, airlines do the opposite: they charge more for last-minute tickets because they realize doing so increases their revenue, as most passengers who buy last-minute tickets are willing to pay more for tickets.

As a result, the best time to purchase a plane ticket in 2023 is generally between 1 and 4 months before the flight’s departure date. 

Last Minute Flights Aren’t Cheaper

Last-minute flights are generally not cheaper.

It used to be possible for last-minute travelers to occasionally get low fares, but last-minute tickets are the most expensive nowadays. 

  • Domestic Flights: Domestic flight tickets are not cheaper if you purchase them at the last minute.
  • International Flights: International flight tickets are also not cheaper if you purchase them at the last minute. 

4 Reasons Why Booking At the Last Minute is More Expensive

Last-minute plane tickets used to be the cheapest way to buy a ticket.

There also used to be many dedicated websites that provided as late as 24-hour deals for cheaper international flights.

It’s now the reverse. 

Airlines now understand that last-minute tickets are most likely to be purchased by business fliers or other travelers who are willing to pay higher fares.

1. Automatic Ticket Algorithms

Airlines use algorithms to determine the best ticket pricing rates.

Ticket sales data prove that last-minute ticket sales help maximize airline revenue. 

2. Cost is Not a Huge Factor for Business Fliers

Business travelers are generally more willing to pay higher fares due to their more frequent last-minute travel requirements.

3. Long Term Strategy

Initially, dropping flight ticket prices at the last minute helped airlines ensure full occupancy of flights.

But, airlines realized this strategy decreased their long-term earnings by encouraging passengers to book flights at the last minute.

So, the airline industry abandoned this practice. 

4. Supply and Demand

When the supply of seats decreases closer to the departure date, there’s more competition over the fewer remaining seats.

So, the forces of demand and supply also increase airplane tickets. 

Rarely, Last Minute Flights Might Be Cheaper

1. Last Minute Seat Filling

Airlines may cut ticket prices at the last minute if their priority is to achieve full occupancy.

It’s generally rare for airlines to do this nowadays. 

2. Global Catastrophic Event that Disrupts Air Travel

Global catastrophic events like the COVID-19 pandemic force airlines to reduce flight ticket prices due to reduced air travel demand.

Book a Flight 1-4 Months in Advance for the Best Deal

The best time to book domestic flights is 1 to 4 months before the departure date.

Airlines release their flight schedules a year in advance and initially charge high rates to ‘lock in’ eager travelers.They then reduce ticket prices between 1 and 4 months before the flight, after which they increase them.

So, you shouldn’t book a flight right after the airline schedules it. 

Airplane tickets also have expiration dates, so it can be difficult to reschedule a flight you book many months in advance.

It’s also undesirable to book a flight within a month of a departure, since its ticket price is likely to be the highest then. reports that, on average, the best time to purchase a domestic plane ticket is 64 days before the departure date.

Related: How Far in Advance Can You Book a Flight?

If You Have to Book a Last Minute Flight, Do This:

If you really have to book a last minute flight, here are the 3 things that may result in you getting a lower air fare.

1. Have Flexible Origin & Departure Destinations

If you’re willing to be flexible with the airport you are flying from and to, you may get a better price.

For example, if your final destination is Paris, which tends to be expensive, you could instead fly to Amsterdam, which would be cheaper, and then drive to Paris.

2. Search for a Single Seat

Search for only one seat at a time, no matter how many people are traveling with you.

The automated fare systems only provide you quotes for multiple seats when each seat has the same fare.

For example, if you’re a family of 4 and you search for four seats, you could get four seats for $400 each instead of 2 seats at $200 and 2 at $400.

So, search for one seat at a time and link the reservations together at the end to inform the airline you’re flying together. 

3. Look for Reward Miles or Other Airline Credit

Airlines sometimes release unsold seats at cheaper rates for frequent flyers.

So, consider burning your flier miles by directly calling the airline and speaking with a representative.

You can sometimes get great deals directly from an airline representative, even if their app or website shows a different price. 

In conclusion:

  • Last-minute flights are more expensive than normal flights.
  • Last-minute flights used to be cheaper because airlines wanted to achieve full occupancy of flights. But over time, airlines realized that their long-term revenue decreased from lowering last-minute ticket prices.
  • Nowadays, airlines use automated ticket fare systems to price tickets, with these systems having revealed that last-minute passengers are normally willing to pay higher rates.
  • Frequent last-minute fliers are often business clients who are willing to pay higher rates anyway.
  • The best time to purchase a ticket is between 1 and 4 months before the flight’s departure date.

Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.

Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.

Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).