Last week, I was prepping for a radio program when a colleague asked me what I would say if a caller asked, "What's the golden rule of buying airline tickets?"
Several things leapt to mind, but my favorite "golden rule" is, shop for airfare on Tuesdays. Go ahead, etch that in stone.
Regular readers of this column know why: Usually (not always, but usually) an airline picks Monday night to launch an airfare sale. We see this with Southwest and AirTran all the time. Then, the other airlines join in. Why? Because no airline wants to sell a seat for even a buck more than the others, because they know that shoppers will many times go with the cheaper price.
Anyway, most of this airline price-matching is completed by Tuesday afternoon, so that is the sweet spot for shopping for airfare. Put it off to the weekend and chances are you will overpay, as airlines typically pull those deals late Thursday night.
But there are plenty of other ways to overpay. Let me run down ways for you to avoid them.
No. 1: Research Airfares
Remember those all-nighters during finals weeks? You would be wise to do a little brushing up on the subject of your upcoming trip before you fly.
This is so you'll recognize a bargain when you see one. I can hear you saying, 'Well, of course I'd recognize a bargain,' but -- would you? Suppose an airline or an airfare shopping site screams on its website, 'Burbank to Salt Lake, Now Just $250 Roundtrip!' You might jump on it, right?
And you'd be wrong.
As I write this, the going price for that flight (during the latter part of this month and early September, anyway) is actually $230. A little research would tell you this, and by research all I mean is just glancing at a couple of months' worth of airfare price calendars for that trip. That's all.
No. 2: Read the Fine Print and Watch Out for Pre-Checked Boxes
Did you know Allegiant Air charges you a "convenience fee" of $14.99 to book online? They also charge a similar fee to book over the phone. And they are not the only airline that does this. You guessed it, our frugal friends at Spirit Airlines charge a "Passenger Usage Fee" of $8 each-way.
Look, the flights on both of these airlines are often very cheap, and it may be worth it to you to pay these rather irksome fees, but know about them before forking over your hard-earned money.
And make sure you pay attention to all those pre-checked boxes, such as the ones that appear on Allegiant for priority seating as you book your flight. Maybe you don't want to pay for priority seating but you might if you're not careful.
Plus, on some sites, travel insurance on is pre-checked, as well, so be sure and look at your final price rundown carefully before virtually swiping your credit card.
No. 3: Sign-up for Airfare Alerts
You can sign up for handy airfare alerts via e-mail or even Twitter.
Or, you can glue your eyeballs to your computer 24/7 as you monitor the price changes.
Yes, of course that's ridiculous, and alerts are pretty widely available, so why do this drudgery when you don't have to? Unless of course, a rousing evening of waiting for fares to change is your idea of fun.
No. 4: Use Twitter and Facebook
Avoid them and you'll miss out on some real bargains. Ever hear of JetBlueCheeps? That's JetBlue's dedicated Twitter page for super bargains, and you won't find them elsewhere.
Past "cheeps" deals tweeted to the cognoscenti include $10 airfares from Long Beach to Sacramento (that's without taxes and fees, but still). I wouldn't be surprised if Gov. Schwarzenegger ditched his private jet to take advantage of that fare (OK, OK, it would surprise me).
Find Cheap Airfare
Another example: I just helped a friend book a very nicely priced $700 round-trip flight to Australia on United using a discount code they announced only on Twitter -- a special deal that only lasted a few hours.
So do check out Twitter because plenty of airlines are offering lots of deals there and on Facebook. Save money by connecting to social media (and yes, it's easy).
No. 5: Don't Fly When Everyone Wants to Fly
You know when everyone wants to fly: Fridays and Sundays. The airlines know this; they know you want to stretch out your weekend or your vacation days, and they make you pay. It's easy, since they know they can fill up the plane on those days.
Filling up a plane on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays is another matter, though, so they charge accordingly (read: less). I just priced round-trip flights in September on United for a Los Angeles-New York trip, and the difference between flying on Fridays and Wednesdays was more than $130. It's such an easy way to save: Just fly in the middle of the week or on Saturday.
Let's see, how many golden rules is that? Enough for now, anyway. Besides, there's always the next column.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website, FareCompare.com, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.