What is the Best Day to Buy Cheap Airfare?

You may find that getting the cheapest airfare means traveling to an airport that's two or three hours away; only you can decide if it's worth the drive.

Busiest Travel Days

No. 6: Know the "Peak Travel Surcharge" Dates

Just before the holidays last year, the airlines came up with a new moneymaker: They added a surcharge to the specific days that most of us like to travel on, including the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It worked. The airlines made money, and they've added more surcharge dates throughout 2010. The price of these surcharges? Anywhere from $20 to $60 roundtrip.

See my updated chart that lists all the surcharge dates. You'll note that many are clustered around Valentine's Day weekend, spring break and the start of vacation time in June.

No. 7: Know About Off-Seasons

OK, so maybe Florida in August isn't exactly up your alley (although some people love it). But how about visiting national parks in the spring or fall when the crowds disappear? That's called traveling in the off-season and it is generally a big way to save.

Did you know Hawaii actually has an off-season? It's also in the spring and fall when the weather is absolutely terrific.

Europe has off-season, too. Travel in late-March and pay one fare, travel just a few days later, in the spring season, and your flight has just increased by 200 bucks or more.

No. 8: Know How to Use Airfare Alerts

Many sites, including my own, allow you to sign up for airfare alerts. Do it. You can choose the trip you're interested in and you'll be notified of price drops by e-mail on your computer or cell phone, or via Twitter.

Whenever you get an alert, check it immediately. Procrastination can be lethal; see tip No. 9.

The Best Airline Deals

No. 9: Know When to Jump on a Deal

OK, you know how to recognize a good deal, and you've signed up for alerts so you'll hear about it. When you see a good price, pounce. This is because airlines put their deepest discounts on only a very few seats and you have a lot of competition. Don't delay your purchase.

It's always first come, first served and if you ignore your alerts, you may lose out.

No. 10: Know When to Gamble

This is advice only for travelers who don't need to make a particular trip, because it is risky. I'm talking about playing the daredevil and waiting until the very last moment to book a flight, hoping for a tremendous bargain. It's rare, but it happens, as we saw just before Thanksgiving 2008, when the airlines noticed their planes weren't filling up. An alarm went out and prices dropped like stones.

Gambling is great, unless you're committed to a trip. By that I mean, if mother expects you home for Thanksgiving, you darn well better have reservations weeks ahead of time.

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, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.

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