Top Five Secrets to Buying Cheap Plane Tickets

If you like to travel and like to save money, this is the column for you.

I'm about to explain some of the elements involved in the complicated business of airfare pricing. It may sound dull, but it's not; if anything, it's kind of weird how the whole system works, but that's the way it is.

And the more you know about this system, the easier it is for you to find cheap flights every time you shop.

VIDEO: Savings gurus offer some tips for cheap travel options.
Travel Saving Secrets

Seems only fair. After all, the airlines go to extraordinary lengths to get you to pay more; they know all about your shopping habits, including when you want to travel and even where you want to go, and they price their fares accordingly.

So let's level the playing field a bit, okay?

For more air travel news and insights visit Rick's blog at:

Here are the five things you should know to score cheap flights:

1. Very few seats are ever on sale -- so speed is of the essence.

Did you know that on most planes, passengers pay ten different prices for their tickets? It's true, and of course that means there are very few of the cheapest seats ever available --including those advertised in the airline's advertised airfare sales.

Which means you have to grab the good deals the moment they are available. This is getting harder and harder, because everyone is an amateur travel agent these days, meaning you have tons of competition for those cheapest seats.

The Best Airfare Deals

Plus, word of good deals spreads like lightning via Twitter and Facebook, so when you see a good deal, you have to jump.

And speaking of jumping, that brings us to…

2. Know the airline hurdles you have to clear.

To get the best of the ten different airfares on a plane, you have to follow the rules -- or "hurdles," as I call them -- and the more hurdles you clear, the cheaper the fare.

One hurdle may be a Saturday night stay, which isn't much of a problem for most vacationers (or leisure travelers), but most road warriors don't like being away from home on the weekends, which is why they pay more for business travel.

Another hurdle is the 14-day advance purchase window; if you just have to get away right this minute, chances are you will pay for your impatience with higher fares. Note that some of the low-cost carriers such as JetBlue and AirTran usually make it a little easier, with only a seven-day advance-purchase requirement.

Yet another hurdle: the dreaded blackout dates. Most sales have them, and it usually means you can't fly when you really want to, such as the dates surrounding holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you want to save, you work around these dates (or fly around them).

Click here to see more of the airline airfare "hurdles" for cheapest ticket prices

Best Days to Buy Airfare

3. One day stands alone as the best day to shop.

If you've been reading my column for any length of time, you probably already know the answer to this, but if not, I won't keep you dangling: the best day to shop for airfare is Tuesday. And let me get even more specific: shop on Tuesday at about 3 p.m.

Here's why: usually, when an airline wants to launch a sale, it will do so late Monday. When the other airlines see this, they immediately go into competitive mode, and begin lowering their own prices to match the first one's sale.

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