I hate to break it to you, but travel this summer is almost out the window. Fourth of July weekend has come and gone. Many flights are sold out, and those that aren’t can often be obscenely expensive.
But there’s a silver lining as the calendar turns: It’s prime time to start thinking about – and maybe even book – some trips for next summer.
I know, I know: It’s hard to think that far ahead. But airlines sell flights at least 11 months in advance, bringing your booking window into at least early June – and they’re adding more flights every single day. If you’re on the hunt for a cheap cash fare, you might be able to score a great bargain with some ultra-advanced planning. But if you’re hoping to use some points and miles to score award space to Europe, Asia, or elsewhere, booking flights 11-plus months in advance right when the schedule opens is a serious sweet spot.
Here’s a closer look at why it’s time to start thinking about your travel plans for next summer.
Airfare Savings and Flexibility
Please learn from my mistakes.
Just this week, I booked some short domestic flights for just a few weeks from now. And I paid for my procrastination with peak summer fares, as it was way too late to score a deal. Had I booked those flights even just a few months ago, I could have paid half of what I spent.
Almost every airline sells flights at least 11 months in advance – and some go out as far as a full calendar year. And while there is no best day to book flights, it can pay to book as early as you can … sometimes. To show you, I’m planning your trip from Chicago to Portugal next summer. You’re welcome.
Scoping out airfare for a trip next month … well, the airfare is going to sting. Just look at this calendar of fares. Yikes.
That’s far too many quadruple-digit fares for my liking. Instead, take a look at what it could cost you to plan the same trip for next year.
Half off! As you can see, the fares in June 2023 are already popping up from the major U.S. and international carriers, with no ultra-low-cost carriers in this search.
A sub-$400 roundtrip flight from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Lisbon (LIS) is a steal. You could bring your mom, cousin, friend, significant other, or even your kids with you next year for less than it would cost to fly just yourself this year. It’s still a tad too early to plan a peak summer trip for 2023, but these fares should show you it’s time to start thinking about it.
Get flight deals like this one in your inbox with Thrifty Traveler Premium!
So, what gives? Why is it that this airplane seat – on the same plane, flying between the same airports, both on a Monday – can vary so drastically? Is 11 months of advance notice really worth that much to the airlines?
It can be.
There’s no ironclad rule on how far in advance you should book to get the best deal. We search for cheap flights and deals for our Thrifty Traveler Premium members every single day, and great fares can pop up at almost any time. But here’s what we can tell you with absolute certainty:
- You should follow the Flight First Rule: Book your flights before you do any other travel planning to give yourself the flexibility to jump on the cheapest flights.
- The longer you give yourself to find a good deal, the higher your odds are of scoring a cheap flight. That’s just logic.
- If your plans are already set in stone, use Google Flights Price Alerts to track your route ASAP.
There’s no guarantee you’ll find the best deal by booking a June flight today versus waiting a few months. But it never hurts to start monitoring for deals now.
And even if flight prices decrease after you book, you don’t have to kick yourself. So long as you book at least a main cabin economy fare, most U.S. airlines have done away with change fees for good. That means with Delta, for example, you can rebook your flight after a price drop and get a Delta eCredit for the difference.
Look at how our editor Kyle got $38 back on his Delta fare when the price went down on his flight to Dallas earlier this year.
But fair warning: Don’t book basic economy fares if you’re planning this far out. There’s too much uncertainty, and you can’t change or cancel these fares without a sizable fee – and some airlines don’t allow it, period.
Finally, although it’s a small perk, it’s definitely something to be among the first to make your seat selections. Being one of the first fares booked on the plane allows you a clean map to choose from when making your seat choice. Want an aisle or window seat? Need to be closer to the front? Want a shot at the exit row? Traveling with family members, kids, or friends? Book early.
So long as you’re booking Main Cabin fares, booking (or at least searching) 11 months out is always a good strategy.
Premium Cabin Award Space
When it comes to using your points and miles, looking nearly a year out can be crucial.
Award space is fickle, especially if you’re looking to fly lie-flat in business or first class. Airlines constantly re-evaluate when to release more seats bookable with miles as planes fill up or seats stay empty. But there are two clear sweet spots:
- If you’re a serious procrastinator, many airlines tend to release award seats within the last two to four weeks before departure
- But many airlines also release a handful of award tickets on every flight right when the calendar opens, 11-plus months out.
Read next: The Best Ways to Book Business Class
See where I’m going with this? If you’re aiming to fly somewhere next summer, I would have my finger on the trigger, ready to book as soon as those dates are open.
These seats tend to go quickly – especially if you’re booking a partner airline award using another program’s miles (like flying Delta One Suites using Virgin Atlantic points, for example) because even fewer seats are made available. Booking way out gives you the first kick at the can.
Let’s say you want to book Iberia Business Class to Madrid (MAD) next summer. Just this week, we sent Thrifty Traveler Premium members an award alert to wide-open opportunities, helping them lock in a trip as low as just 34,000 Avios each way … or less, thanks to a Chase transfer bonus. It’s a great redemption for business class flights to Europe.
Right now, you can find seats for a good deal of dates in June 2023 from many airports. But come February or March of next year, you might only find a few seats throughout the month – if any.
How about this example from Boston (BOS) to Madrid (MAD) at the end of June? There may be no better time of year to visit the Spanish capital. And now you and a companion can do it in style, too.
The seat you want is most likely to be available many, many months ahead of time if you’re planning to book with points and miles.
Lodging’s Wide-Open, Too
When you’re booking almost a year out, that incredible treehouse-style Airbnb, that hotel suite, or that glamping tent you’ve been eyeing are all still available.
Like the business or first class airplane seat you wanted to get first dibs on, the same goes for hotel and lodging availability. You’re getting first pick if you book far in advance.
This is especially useful for Airbnbs. One-plus year out, the map of Airbnbs in almost every city is going to be full of options, including all of the best ones. Plus, many Airbnb hosts offer early bird discounts to try and get their homes locked in way ahead of time – and more and more offer generous Airbnb cancellation policies that allow you to lock something in now and cancel free later on, if plans change. It helps you book a cheaper rate and gives them a little cost certainty.
Just a few weeks back, I booked a long-brewing trip to Cuba for April 2023 thanks to a fantastic Thrifty Traveler Premium deal we dug up and sent out that morning. One of the perks of having so much lead time was that we had our pick of Old Havana’s Airbnb options. We ended up getting the exact dates we wanted on a very cool apartment in the Angel’s Hill area of Old Havana.
As you can see, the spring dates at this Superhost Airbnb are starting to go already…
But in the weeks of early summer 2023 … you can have any day (or days) you want!
Relaxed Planning Process
The logistical reasons to book your 2023 summer travel are obvious. You’re getting first bite at the best flight deals, the best award space, and the best hotel availability, too.
But laying things out early also makes the rest of the travel-planning process easier, too.
This includes requesting time off from work, or locking in your dates of travel. Booking flights after your travel dates are already determined is one of the costliest mistakes you can make traveling. Take it from me.
But once you have these summer 2023 flights booked, you can be the first one to go to your boss or coworkers to request time off. And just like that, your vacation is on the calendar in the peak summer months before anyone else’s.
Once that is done, your travel planning gets even easier. The flights are booked, the vacation is on the calendar, and now you have 10 more months to plan the rest of your trip. No more hurried planning, getting stuck with crappy accommodations, or picking from the scraps of tours, Airbnb Experiences, or sought-after dinner reservations.
Take your time and plan the trip you want, not the trip you end up with when you have to rush.
Keys to Booking Long-Range Trips
If you’ve read everything here and are itching to start booking your summer 2023 travel … well, just be careful. I have a few tips as you get going.
Three words: Main. Cabin. Fares.
The days of free changes on every single flight you can buy are long gone, and summer is a long time away. But major U.S. airlines (and many big international carriers) are still offering free changes so long as you book at least a main cabin ticket – not basic economy.
That’s important for a few reasons. One, the airline might change your flight – in fact, it’s reasonable to assume that the airline will change your flight at least a little bit. Buying a flexible fare is key to make sure you can adjust if an airline schedule change throws your travel out of whack.
And need I remind you … life happens! What if you land that dream job and have to move? You’re not going to want that flight from your old hub. You can change your main cabin fare to your new departure city and the trip endures!
You have to protect yourself when you travel, whether that’s tomorrow or in June 2023.
Book Your Flight First
I said it before and I’ll say it again: Book your flights first.
This is so, so important. It could save you thousands on your next trip.
Don’t book your hotel and then plan flights around it. The same goes for tours, experiences, dinner reservations, or other on-the-ground activities. The flights getting you to and from your destination should be the priority. If saving on flights is paramount – and it is – everything comes after that.
Track Your Flights for Changes
Once your flight is booked, you should go set up Google Flights price alerts on the fare you booked … immediately.
Why? If the cost of your changeable flight goes down and you get a Google Flights price alert about it in your email, you can re-book it and save some cash! In some cases, like with Delta. It won’t put cash back in your pocket, but you can get the difference as a voucher or credit to use towards your next trip.
If the fare goes up, you’ll at least get to laugh at what the other suckers on your plane will be paying for the same flight you booked at its cheapest months ago.
This summer is coming to a close, but summer 2023 flights are coming onto the calendar.
From maximum award space, to flexible flight pricing, to lodging availability, and more, there are tons of reasons you should be eyeing your 2023 summer trip even before summer 2022 comes to an end.
It’s hard to think that far ahead, I know. But that’s exactly why you’ll get the best value and the peace of mind knowing your summer trip is ready to go!
One thing I would add is that when you book a flight 11 months in advance there is almost a 100% chance that there will be a schedule change or two or three before it is time to fly so one must constantly keep checking their itinerary to make sure they retain the seats they chose.