The Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets

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You: "Hi. My name is Joe."

Crowd: "Hi, Joe!"

You: "I am an online airfare addict. It has been four hours and 22 minutes since my last travel Web site visit."

Admit it -- you, me, everyone is obsessed with finding that most elusive of deals: incredibly cheap airfare for our very next trip.

And that's no surprise. Clearly, we are a deal-oriented society. I know this firsthand. As a newlywed, I temporarily lost my mind and agreed to accompany my bride to my first-ever "Semi-Annual Sale" at Nordstrom's. My first -- and last. But after the shock of watching elbows fly like a Stanley Cup playoff game wore off, I learned something: There is an art to finding a deal (no Trumpian pun intended).

Now let me share what I know about when to find great airfare deals.

Airfare Myths and Realities

Let's begin by pointing out that the airlines know a lot about our buying habits. For example, according to travel industry statistics, they know we shop at four to six Web sites before we actually make our airline ticket purchase. They also know we aren't anywhere near as loyal to airlines as we used to be. The reason is a simple, two-part equation:

Our goal: find cheap airline tickets.

Airline goal: sell expensive airline tickets.

Now, this is where the games begin -- and where many of the most popular air travel shopping myths start. Among my favorite myths:

"Buy your airline tickets just after midnight on Tuesdays."

"Airlines raise prices for weekend departures."

"Wait until the last minute to buy your airline ticket."

Here's something you should know: The people who espouse these gems have no clue when it comes to how an airline decides to price its flights.

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But I can help you sort fact from fiction. First of all, I have the luxury of having one of the world's largest databases of current and historical airfares at my fingertips. And that means, after reviewing millions of airfares that can (and do) change daily, and after writing software programs to slice and dice this information, I am uniquely qualified to answer the question: "When is the best time to buy a cheap airline ticket?"

But first, some fun background stuff.

The 10 Percent Rule

Airlines, in general, only set aside about 10 percent (or less) of their seats for the very cheapest prices. Most flights have about eight price points, or levels of pricing: four different prices for leisure travelers and four different prices for business travelers (who purchase inside the 14-days-before-departure rule).

How firm is that 10 percent? Well, just so you know, I have spent many hours trying to confirm what several airline people have told me, and that is: If an airline promotes an airfare in the media, it must sell at least 10 percent of the seats at that fare. Sorry, but I have yet to find this rule written down, anywhere.

But let's say it's true; that still means 90 percent of us are not going to get the cheapest deal. That is simply an airline, economic fact of life.

But can you increase your chances of getting the cheapest airfare? Of course. Let me show you, and let's bust some myths along the way.

Don't Shop at the Last Minute

Shop early (but not too early).

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