If you have a destination wedding to attend — or are planning one of your own — getting there is one of the most daunting tasks. Considering that the cost of travel has boomed in recent months, there’s plenty of uncertainty. But when is the best time to book destination wedding flights in order to find the lowest price?
According to experts, the best time to book flights for a destination wedding is between one to eight months in advance. That’s a large window of time, but it breaks down depending on a number of factors. For example, whether you’re traveling to a domestic or international destination and during what time of year the wedding falls. Plus, we’ve got some tips to ensure you never overpay for a destination wedding flight again.
If you’re attending — or hosting — a destination wedding within the US, you’ve generally got a bit more leeway in terms of finding cheap flights. According to Kyle Potter, executive editor at travel and flight deal website Thrifty Traveler, the ideal window for booking domestic flights begins at least a month in advance.
Senior product operations specialist Willis Orlando from Scott’s Cheap Flights suggests booking domestic flights for a destination wedding between one and three months in advance.
Generally, you don’t want to leave your flight booking until the last minute — hence the advice to start looking no later than one month in advance. But, airfare varies based on a number of factors, so it’s always worth checking the cost of your flight a number of weeks in advance and monitoring the cost to ensure you’re not paying too much.
When it comes to an international destination wedding, experts advise that you give yourself a bit more time to find flights. According to Potter, start looking for those flights at least two to three months in advance of the wedding date. Meanwhile, Orlando suggests that guests or hosts begin looking even further ahead at about three to eight months.
However, if the wedding takes place during the summer or on a holiday weekend, you’ll want to take different advice into account. Orlando recommends adding an additional month to the above timelines if the wedding is during peak season or a holiday weekend. Potter says adding extra time onto this window is key when booking travel during summer, when “prices are more likely to go up than down.”
Knowing when to start looking to book your flights is one thing to master. But, there are plenty of other tips out there to help you get a deal on your destination wedding flights without breaking the bank.
Set a maximum budget, start monitoring and set alerts
Before beginning a flight search, Orlando advises setting a budget for yourself. What is the maximum you can spend on a plane ticket for this destination wedding?
Once you have a number in mind, start looking for flights and keep an eye on prices. Potter recommends setting Google Flights price alerts, which will send you email alerts when prices change. When you see a good drop in price, he advises booking right away.
So, you’ve finally found a flight at a price point that suits your budget. When it comes to actually booking the ticket, it may be worth it to buy up to a higher fare class that allows changes down the line.
This means if you see an affordable — and flexible — fare outside of the suggested purchase timelines, buy it. You can always change it later if the price drops. “There’s little harm in locking in the first ‘acceptable’ fare, then continuing to monitor prices, making a change if the price drops further,” Orlando says.
It must be said that you should be extra careful with basic economy fares or low-cost carriers. “Most main cabin economy fares can be changed free or canceled for a voucher,” says Potter. “On most airlines, that’s no longer an option with the cheapest basic economy fares.”
When it comes to traveling on holiday weekends and peak dates, guests should think about taking an additional day off work to minimize flight costs. “Staying an extra day on either end of the weekend could potentially save you hundreds,” says Orlando.
Or, take more than just a day for an entire vacation of your own. Brides and grooms should consider tacking on their honeymoons here, too. “Going a few days earlier or later — or even extending your trip after the wedding — could result in some big savings,” Potter says. “There may not be a cheap day to book, but there are cheap(er) days to fly. Getting on the plane on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday will almost always save you some money.”
Plus, building in a few extra days for your trip on less-crowded days often comes with additional perks like fewer airport crowds, empty seats on your flight and an airport lounge all to yourself.
Orlando highly recommends using travel rewards to book destination wedding flights, especially if the wedding is on short notice, on peak dates or located in a hard-to-reach destination.
“Miles are at their most valuable when cash prices are high,” he says. “When you’re constrained to your dates and destination, it often makes sense to book with miles, where prices are much more stable than cash prices and where fares are almost always changeable and often fully refundable.”
When it comes to building up your travel rewards accounts, the right travel credit cards are a great place to start. With them, you can earn points and miles that can be transferred to a number of partners. For example, if you collect Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards or Capital One miles, you can transfer your points to dozens of airline and hotel partners, putting you well on your way to nearly free travel.
While it can be tempting to book flights for your entire extended family or friend group, don’t. “Airlines sell their tickets in fare classes with a specific price… and have a set number of fares available at that price,” says Potter. In other words, there may not be eight tickets available at the lowest price, but there could be two or three.
“If you’re traveling as a group of six and there are two tickets to Paris left at $500 round trip and six left at $1,000 round trip, they’ll charge you $1,000 for all six tickets,” Orlando explains. “If you play around with the number of passengers, you’ll often find that sweet spot where you can book those last two tickets at $500 round trip before shelling out the higher price for the others.”
For those with large immediate families, Potter recommends searching for your flights sooner than for single or double travelers. “It might be helpful for a big family to book even further in advance to make sure there’s still enough inventory of the lowest-priced fares available,” he says.
Save yourself the headache and book directly with the airline — even if it’s a bit pricier. “While you might save a few bucks by booking through a third-party website, you may regret it if plans change or you need to alter your flight,” Potter says. That’s because the third-party online travel agents often can’t fix problems themselves if something goes wrong, whereas the airline can quickly figure out alternative options within its own system.
The bride and groom should send out destination wedding invitations or save the date cards with plenty of notice to ensure their guests have time to find and book affordable travel.
“We suggest sending out save the dates for destination weddings taking place in Mexico anywhere from a year to 10 months in advance of the wedding date and following up with an official invitation with the RSVP deadline of three months prior to the event date,” says Anastasia, co-founder of Mango Wedding & Events, a company that plans destination weddings in Mexico.
This way, guests have time to prepare their budgets, monitor flights and snap up the best fares. And brides and grooms, if you’ve snagged your own cheap airfare, do your guests a favor and drop them an email with the details, encouraging them to book soon to get the same or a similar price.
Find out which credit cards CNN Underscored chose as its best travel credit cards of 2022.