Oct. 19, 2012— -- 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."
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.
Consider that there are no free bags whatsoever on Allegiant and Spirit. You pay for checked bags and you pay for carry-ons. Indeed, if you fly with Spirit, a carry-on costs more than a checked bag (and beginning Nov. 6. if you're clueless enough to wait until you get to the gate to pay the carry-on fee, it'll cost you $100). Factor this in before bragging about the great deal you scored.
5. Don't believe everything an airline tells you.
You're at the gate when the airline rep announces a mechanical problem that will delay your flight one hour. But one-hour delays have a way of stretching into two, three and even four hours (and we saw plenty of this during those recent hellish delays with American). Here's a little secret: Airlines are basically guessing about delay times. These are educated guesses, yes, but sometimes they're dead wrong. So don't go far.
If the mechanical problem is fixed early, nobody will organize a search party for you. So if you're not at the gate when the plane's ready to leave, leave it will, without you.
6. It pays to "fly hungry."
I like to sleep in as much as the next guy, but not at the start of vacation. Spending the day at the airport is not my idea of fun but it can happen when bad weather gums up the works. Your best shot at riding through a storm scenario is to be on the first flight of the day. That's right, fly hungry, before breakfast.
Think about it. If the first flight of the day is canceled or delayed because of weather (or anything else), you have a day's worth of planes ahead of you to try and get another seat (although granted each one will only have a few empty seats). It gets trickier as the day progresses with the dwindling number of flights and, if you're on the last flight of the day and something screws up that one, good luck finding a local hotel with reasonable rates. Or suck it up to enjoy the adventure of camping out at the airport.
One more thing: First flights out tend to be cheaper than later ones. So fly hungry. If your stomach is growling when you board the plane, you probably paid less than other passengers.
The opinions expressed by Rick Seaney are his alone and not those of ABC News.