The Cheapest Days to Book and Fly United Airlines, According to a Year’s Worth of Data

At the United Airlines media day executives at the carrier shared what a review of 365 days of ticket purchases on the United website showed about the cheapest days to buy travel and the cheapest days to travel.

  • Customers booking on Saturdays and Sundays got lower fares, on average, than those booking on weekdays. It’s not that lower fares are offered on those days, though. It’s just that leisure passengers book on weekends while business travelers book during the week. Fewer expensive business fares are being booked on the weekend, so the average fares on those days are lower.

  • The least expensive day to travel is Tuesday.

  • The cheapest tickets are purchased between 6 a.m. and Noon. Fares are more likely to go up during the day than to go down, although the effect is very small.

This is interesting data but it doesn’t actually tell you when to book tickets to get the cheapest fares. As a general matter you want to:

  1. Know how much tickets usually cost on your route. That way you know when prices are higher or lower than normal. If they’re lower, consider buying. If they’re higher, and if there’s plenty of time before the trip and not an obvious event driving up demand, it can be advisable to wait.

  2. Not buy before your plans are firm. Because change fees can eat up any savings.

  3. Don’t buy too far in advance. Often lowest discount inventory isn’t loaded for flights a year in advance when schedules load. The only time to book super early is for peak holiday travel days where flights do sell out and what limited inexpensive inventory might be available goes early.

  4. Usually consider buying around 3 months out. There are last minute deals but not predictable enough to bank on, within 90 days airline schedules are firm and discount fares are loaded. One counterargument for booking further than 90 days out is the likelihood of a schedule change that could get you a fee-free cancellation or change if you want it.

This advice has remained largely the same, here are the 8 best ways to save money on airfare

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Given the recent devaluations, I’ve found that the cheapest way to book United is to look elsewhere / just book a ticket on Southwest. It’s worked great over the last few months. 😀

  2. @Gary

    This type of advice is usually geared to coach travel. Is paid F any different? I’ve been eyeing paid F for leisure travel (e.g., out of my own pocket) and I’ve certainly noticed that midweek travel is much, much cheaper that Thurs/Fri/Sun. I just booked an F ticket from IAD-LAX for travel several months out (way beyond what would be advised for coach travel) and Wed fares were half of what Thursday fares are. I’ll pay $500 for a one way transcon, I won’t pay $1,000. I don’t particularly want to travel on Thursday, so waiting for a fare drop doesn’t have much appeal.

    So just to reiterate the first question: Does the typical advice about “when to buy” apply to F as well, or is it a completely different market?

  3. Hi Gary,

    You might re think your heading…”Customers booking on Saturdays and Sundays got lower fares” As you then wrote, …”It’s not that lower fares are offered on those days”….if one only read the bold headline, I believe they would be left with the wrong (inaccurate?) impression.

    Perhaps something to the effect that “More leisure tickets are purchased on Saturday and Sunday….

    Nevertheless, thanks for what you do!

  4. Too bad none of this applies to award flights. It’s a shame that UA pretty much discontinued saver fares for premium cabins. Bye Bye, UA, you really screwed your frequent flyers.

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