Airfare Expert: Use airline 'Dead Zones' to find cheap flights

Look for dead zone deals at least three weeks before you travel.

Dec. 11, 2011— -- Looking for a cheap vacation? With a nod to Stephen King, why not fly in a "Dead Zone?" That's my name for those times when nobody seems to want to fly, and the airlines reduce their prices in order to get you to do just that. In fact, we're in a dead zone right now.

So when do dead zones occur?

The simplest way to determine a dead zone is to figure out when everyone wants to fly, and then travel in the opposite season. For example, summer is popular therefore winter is a dead zone. But not all winter long; you have to remove the peak holiday periods from that equation.

Here are some tried-and-true dead zones, when you will save money:

• First two weeks of November

• First two weeks of December

• The month of January, beginning about Jan. 3

• Most of February, excluding Valentine's Day weekend and the Super Bowl

• Late August through September, excluding the Labor Day holiday

To a lesser extent, you can usually count on reduced fares in October, as well as May, and this is a good time to travel to Europe as well. As a rule, though, the best dead zone travel prices occur in the 'dead' of winter.

When's the best time to shop for dead zone travel?

Look for dead zone deals at least three weeks before you travel since some sales for these periods require a 21-day advance purchase. When you're ready to buy, shop the cheapest day and time: Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET, when you'll have the most discounted fares at your disposal. In fact, follow this tip any time of year you want to fly.

What are the exceptions to the winter dead zone rule?

As you might expect, popular ski resort destinations can be pricey in the winter, but even there prices drop if you're willing to travel on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and sometimes on Saturday.

Also, this is the time of year when a lot of snowbirds seek to escape the cold, so you will see some fairly expensive ticket prices to Hawaii and the Caribbean. However, airlines know a lot of us are 'traveled out' from the holidays so you will see sales and specials to lure more of us to the islands.

What time of year do the dead zones disappear altogether?

These are the three periods of the year with no dead zones:

1. Summer from mid-June through late August

2. Spring Break - which can vary widely from mid-February through mid-April

3. Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday travel periods

You might still find some deals during these periods, especially if you're willing to fly overnight and/or fly a route with multiple stops and/or fly in the middle of the week, but you cannot count on it.

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FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney is an airline industry insider and top media air-travel resource. Follow Rick ( @rickseaney) and never overpay for airfare again.