Hunt for fares, squeeze the airlines harder

I’m about to ruin it for everyone.

The key to finding cheap flights is to zig when everyone else zags … to be different … to treasure the hunt. If you can get a handle on how the airlines post their prices – and how other consumers shop for them – you can turn a market that’s already soft into one that’s downright gelatinous.

Some tips are obvious. Don’t buy the first ticket you see. Don’t wait until the last minute. Be willing to make a connection. Duh. You can do better.

Be patient. Before looking to buy, spend some time getting a feel for the terrain. Set alerts on websites like and to see what certain flights usually cost. When you get a sense of the threshold, you can discern low prices from genuine blow-your-mind bargains. If you have a lot of time, use it. Spend days or weeks learning where the norm lies. Book one to three months in advance; use the rest to hunt and compare.

Next, remember that the weekends are for relaxing – not for price shopping. That’s what everyone else will be doing. Airlines tend to start their fare sales on Sunday nights. By Monday night or Tuesday morning, the competition has had a chance to respond. By pushing your purchase to the early days of the week, you win. Period.

Like the days you buy, consider changing the days you fly. Departing on a Wednesday could net you a considerable savings. Tuesdays and Saturdays are pretty good, too. These are the days nobody else wants. Take ’em!

While the travel deal websites can be helpful, don’t forget to check the airlines’ websites as well. Venues like CheapoAir and Orbitz usually apply some hefty fees that can eradicate most of your savings. I was hunting around recently and found that, in most cases, the best deals are not on third-party sites. But, if you’re looking to lump in a hotel and rental car, it’s time to visit places like Expedia. In general, do both. Compare the packaged deals against what you can piece together on your own.

Of course, if everyone follows this advice, the dynamics of the market will change, and we’ll be right back where we started.