Google now tells you the best time to book a flight

Travel

Google might be putting travel-booking companies out of a job with its newest feature aimed at helping travellers and holidaymakers find the cheapest time to book flights.
Google is rolling out a new feature to tell travelers when to snag the cheapest airfares. GETTY

For travelers, nothing produces price anxiety like figuring out when to book flights. Book now or wait for fares to drop? But what if prices rise instead? What if you wait too long and flights are sold out? So much hand-wringing, so much time and headspace taken up.

Travel-booking companies are always making predictions on the best time to book the cheapest airfare. By crunching historical data, they can view patterns and make forecasts, but there are always fluctuations from year to year.

When Google recently updated its crystal ball with data from the first seven months of this year, it found that most trends from 2022 have carried into 2023, with two notable exceptions.

When it comes to book flights for the coming Christmas season, average prices will be lowest 71 days before departure, compared to last year’s projection that fares would be lowest just 22 days before takeoff.

So mark your calendar: According to Google, the optimal time to book a flight for the weekend before Christmas 2023 is in the first few days of November.

That huge seven-week shift is actually a course correction, explains James Byers, group product manager for Google Flights.

Last year’s prediction was based on data that included 2020, which in hindsight was “not the best indicator of what to expect going forward,” Byers says. So for this year, his team excluded 2020 from their dataset.

For trips departing U.S. airports between December 20, 2023 and January 5, 2024, the most-searched destination on Google Flights is Cancun, Mexico.

The top U.S. destinations are mainly warm-weather spots: Miami and Fort Lauderdale, New York, San Juan, Honolulu, Orlando and Los Angeles.

Google Flights’ new feature tells travelers when the cheapest time to book a plane ticket. GOOGLE

The other big difference that Google identified for the rest of 2023 compared to last year pertains to flights to Europe. The evergreen advice to book early still holds, as trans-Atlantic airfares tend to be lowest 72 days or more before departure.

But Google says there’s no longer a sweet spot where prices dip before going back up.

“We’re now seeing that prices no longer tend to drop at any point before departure and will generally rise once you get about 10 weeks from takeoff,” says Byers. “Interestingly enough, this change appears to be the result of incorporating the latest data through July 31, 2023 in this year’s set of insights.”

For travelers eyeing a trip to Europe over the holiday period this year, the most-searched destinations on Google Flights are the perennial favorites, London and Paris.

Google Flights has rolled out a price-tracking feature to provide additional confidence. GOOGLE

For travelers who prefer to sit back and get notified when airfares drop, Google’s price tracking tool will send an email alert when airfares drop significantly.

You can either set up tracking for specific dates or turn on “any dates” tracking to receive emails about price drops in the next three to six months. 

And for the risk-adverse who want a sure thing? Some Google Flight search results now come with a price-guarantee badge, which means that Google is so confident the displayed fare won’t drop before departure that it will refund the difference if the price does fall.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, customers will receive their refund via GooglePay.

This article was first published on forbes.com and all figures are in USD.

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