Five Biggest Mistakes When Buying Airfare

Avoid these airline pitfalls to have a cheap summer vacation.

June 30, 2010 — -- A couple of months ago, my editor over at 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.

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:

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).

Get the most out of your vacation dollars by being flexible. Work with your boss on your days off schedule; the savings could mean the difference between a wonderful trip -- or another lame "staycation."

#3: Go Ahead, Check Those Bags

By all means, check a bag; and if you're not sure what you want to wear, check two. And by doing so, you've just added a cool $100 in bag fees to your trip.

Don't throw money away: unless you're flying Southwest (two free bags) or JetBlue (one free bag), use a carry-on (except on Spirit, the only U.S. airline to charge a carry-on bag fee). It's one thing if you'll be dining at the White House or getting knighted by the queen; otherwise, no one really cares what you wear.

#4: Forget Twitter and Facebook – They're For Young People Only

If you're one of those people who think social media is just for the young, think again: by the end of last year, Facebook's "aged 35 and older" demographic represented more than 30 percent of the site's user base, while in 2009 alone, the number of Facebook folks aged 55 and over grew almost 1,000 percent.

True, Twitter skews a little younger, but consider this: the ubiquitous Ashton Kutcher -- he of five million-plus followers -- is not exactly a kid anymore at age 32.

Here's why you should sign up with Twitter and Facebook: for the deals. The airlines (like a lot of companies) devote tons of time and money to these social media tools, and frequently offer exclusive deals found nowhere else. Don't miss out.

One more good reason to join in: the airlines have PR branding folks manning these social media networks and they are quite responsive. If you have a problem, tweet away -- you're much more likely to get an answer than from a call center a million miles away.

#5: All Summer Vacation Days are Equal

If you think that, you haven't heard about "peak travel surcharge" days, the airlines latest favorite fee.

Excuse me, I meant to say "surcharge." The airlines are adamant that this is not a fee. Okay, fine. But if it walks like a fee, and quacks like a fee…

Many carriers have added these surcharges to nearly every date during the summer, with a couple of exceptions: no one's yet had the courage to add one to the Fourth of July, or from Aug. 23 on, so if you can take vacation days then, do so.

Otherwise, fly Tuesdays or Wednesdays; these days have the cheapest surcharges, just $20 roundtrip, compared to as much as $60 roundtrip if you fly on a Sunday.

All set? Good. Now get out and save. When it comes to airfare, you don't want to be "the biggest loser."

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 that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website,, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.