Five Biggest Mistakes When Buying Airfare

A couple of months ago, my editor over at FareCompare.com made a huge goof. She paid twice as much for her airline ticket -- $500 -- as she should have.

Strange, since she works so closely with an airfare "geek" like myself. I asked her what happened. "I was in a hurry," she snapped, "so I broke all your rules, and yes, I ruined any chance I had at getting cheap airfare."

Then she gave me a look that was all too clear ("If you say, 'I told you so,' you can fix your own column typos.") I prudently kept my mouth shut -- but it also gave me an idea.

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I've come up with five ways to ruin your chances of getting cheap flights this summer and how you can turn that around before it's too late.

For more air travel news and insights visit Rick's blog at: http://farecompare.com

Oh, there are more than five ways to blow your money when it comes to an air travel experience, believe me, but these are some of the best and quickest ways to do it.

#1: Buy Your Tickets Over the Weekend

Makes sense, doesn't it? You work hard all week and you don't want to come home and pore over websites looking for deals. That's what weekends are for: barbecuing and deal finding.

Well, the ribs may come out okay, but you're throwing away precious dollars by shopping Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

Best day to shop for airfare? Tuesday; in fact, Tuesday afternoons, right around 3 p.m. Eastern time. The reason is that Monday evening have become the traditional launch days for airfare sales (AirTran and Southwest are big proponents of this).

Once the initial sale is underway, the other airlines aren't going to sit there looking stupid, they're going to join in. It takes awhile but usually by the 1 p.m. airfare feed on Tuesday, the carriers that planned to match the sale prices have done so and it shows up in their pricing by about 3 p.m.

When that happens, you have the optimal number of airlines with good deals to choose from.

Airline Fare Sales

Classic case in point: Last week's Southwest sale, in celebration of the carrier's 39th birthday. It began around midnight on Monday with fares starting at, yes, $39 each-way. Those prices were soon matched by AirTran, Alaska, American, Continental, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue and United (mostly on routes that overlapped Southwest's).

For shoppers, that's hitting the jackpot, but only for those who jump quickly; this particular sale ended Thursday, so those who put off their purchases until the weekend were out of luck.

#2: Fly Fridays and Sundays

"My biggest mistake," said my editor, "was flying on Friday and Sunday." If this was a reality show, you might refer to her as "The Biggest Loser" but I believe that title is spoken for. Nevertheless, she did indeed pick the worst days to fly.

That's because airlines spend an awful lot of money figuring out when you want to fly, so they can charge you more for those days. And they know we want to fly Fridays and Sundays because that allows us to squeeze the most out of our vacation time.

Face it, it's convenient to fly those days -- but we pay dearly for that convenience -- sometimes, twice the price. Sometimes, more.

The cheapest day to fly? Wednesday is the cheapest day to fly. Also cheap: Tuesday and Saturday. And this is especially true this summer, thanks to the "peak travel day" surcharges (see #5).

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