6 Steps to Cheap Flights and Less Aggravation

Want to save money and avoid aggravation? This is the column for you: Things airlines will never tell you. A mash-up version of some of my best airfare shopping and flight tips, so you get the prices you want without all the hassle.

Well that's not entirely true. I can't make those stressful TSA security checkpoints disappear, but I can make your life a little easier next time you get in the car and set your GPS for "airport."

For more travel news and insights, view Rick's blog at farecompare.com

1. Not all days are created equal when it comes to shopping for airline tickets.

Long-time readers can mumble this mantra in their sleep: Tuesday is the best day to shop for airfare. Here's the story behind the tip. Most airlines launch sales in the wee hours of Tuesday morning and they're good for a three-day period. The catch is if you wait until Day 3 to buy (and sometimes Day 2 and even late in Day 1), it's easy to strike out. Only about 10 percent of the seats on any give plane are sold at "sale" prices and when those few spots are gone, that's it. Next Tuesday, if you see a price you like, snap it up.

And sign up for airfare alerts. There are always mavericks like JetBlue offering 24-hour sales that bounce around from day to day, and if you receive alerts via email or twitter, you won't miss them.

2. Ticket prices go up and down depending on the day you fly.

Besides knowing the right day to shop, you have to know the right day to fly. You also have to brace yourself because the day you want to fly is probably not going to be the cheapest day.

The airlines have been watching us for years and profiting from our patterns. They know people like to make the most of vacations by departing on Fridays and returning Sundays so those are the days they jack up the prices. The "right" days to fly are when no one much wants to because that's when fares are lowest: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and sometimes Saturdays. Schedule your vacation accordingly and save some money.

3. Leave for the airport earlier than you think you need to.

This is not about bad traffic on the drive to LAX nor long lines at security checkpoints (though the MyTSA app will help with the latter). No, this is the really big deal: missing your flight. Think it can't happen because you get to the airport on time? That's not always good enough. Sometimes planes leave early. If you're not there, you lose.

Airlines are keenly aware that the government publishes flight performance statistics each month with a particular emphasis on tardiness and when it comes to airlines, they name names. So we passengers know exactly whom we can count on and whom we can't. To make sure they don't show up on this "naughty list," some flights leave early. Don't you be late. Sliding into the airport at the last minute is so 1999.

4. On some airlines, you'll avoid bag fees only if you're naked.

Maybe I'm overstating the case -- though there was that German charter a few years back that announced "all nudist" flights -- and it sure seems like the discount carriers are pushing us in that direction with all their fees.

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