Will The 'Goldilocks Window' Actually Get You The Cheapest Flights?

Once upon a time, there lived Goldilocks and the Three Bears. One day, Goldilocks went for a walk in the forest, and, well, you know the rest. She wandered into a house, tasted some porridge and tested out the furniture, deciding which was just right for her.

In the famous story, Goldilocks avoided anything too extreme — too sweet, too salty, too big, or too small. According to the "Goldilocks Window," the same rule applies when booking flights. Put simply, don't book too early or too late unless you're okay with coughing up extra funds to cover the cost of your tickets. By sticking to the Goldilocks Window, you could, in theory, get the cheapest flight fare for any trip.

As Scott Keyes, founder and CEO of Going (formerly Scott's Cheap Flights), shared with CNBC Make It, the fairytale-inspired window for booking flights has some validity, and timing can be paramount when you're trying to snag a deal.

Book ahead of time for lower fares

If you're a fan of spontaneous travel, know that you might miss out on deals when booking your plane tickets. The sweet spot, as per the rules of the Goldilocks Window, is to book between one and three months before your trip for domestic flights and between two and eight months before your trip for international journeys.

If you book after this window, you probably won't score a lucky last-minute discount as you might've years ago. These days, airlines tend to hike prices closer to the departure day, leaving no incentive for travelers to delay their purchases. In fact, a 2023 study on airfare by CheapAir.com determined that passengers who book their flights between 13 and seven days before traveling pay 26% more than those who book during the "Prime Booking Window" (defined as 74 to 21 days in advance, similar to the Goldilocks Window). Those who book six days or less beforehand pay a whopping 59% more for their tickets.

However, rushing isn't always a good idea

If you realize you're already within the Goldilocks Window, note that you don't need to hurry to scoop up your flight tickets. Instead, use the window to compare prices between websites and search for discounts until you find a winning fare. While the advice to book flights on a Tuesday isn't entirely accurate, it's true that prices can vary from one day to the next. Give yourself a few days, if not a few weeks, to research before committing.

Similarly, there's no need to book before the Goldilocks Window starts. "This is because airlines work on a yield management model, which means they set prices based on their expectations of how many seats will be sold at each price point," Mac Steer, owner and director at eSim provider Simify, told GOBankingRates. "If they anticipate a lot of demand for a flight at a certain time, they'll increase the price so that only people who really need to fly will pay it." When demand wanes, the airline will often lower the price, offering better deals than initially available.

However, you shouldn't postpone booking if you plan to travel during a busy period, such as a holiday weekend. During these times, the Goldilocks Window occurs earlier than usual. "It's more like three to six months for domestic flights and three to 10 months for international," Andrew from Going shared with The Sun.