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Everyday Cheapskate: How you can bag the cheap seats this summer

Got plans for air travel this summer? Here are some handy tricks to land the cheapest fares possible. But first, a little story ...

Weather delays that caused one of my flights to circle over Dallas — for what seemed like forever — brought out the chatter bug in me and several of my seat-mates. We compared the fares we’d paid for our round-trip tickets from Orange County, Calif., to Dallas. It was shocking.

One fellow paid twice as much as I, while another came in considerably lower. What makes the difference? Lots of things, say travel experts, some of which remain known to the airline industry alone. But there’s a lot we can know and things we can do to make sure we bag the best bargains on airfare this summer.

BEST TIME TO BOOK. The magical hour to shop for cheap airfare is 3 p.m. Eastern on a Tuesday. Historically, says Rick Seaney, CEO and co-founder of and owner of the world’s largest database of current and historical airfares, Monday night is when the major airlines announce sales. This triggers other airlines to try to match those sales on Tuesday. It takes a few hours to get through the system, says Seaney, making 3 p.m. the time when the most cheap seats flood the system. Don’t wait until the weekend to buy your tickets because fares tend to creep back up by then, adds travel expert Peter Greenberg.

CHEAPEST DAYS TO FLY. The cheapest days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, says Seaney. It’s all about supply and demand and since historically these are the days that fewer businesspeople fly, more seats are available. And the cheapest time to fly is the first flight of the day, flights that originate around noon and those at dinnertime. Why? Most people don’t want to have to get up that early to get to the airport, nor do they prefer to fly at mealtime.

WHEN TO SHOP. Traveling next November? Don’t book your flight quite yet. With airline travel, earlier is not always better. According to Greenberg, the ideal time frame to book a flight is between 45 and 35 days ahead of your departure date.

BOOK ONLINE? You might assume that these days, with so many ways to compare travel at sites like and, becoming your own travel agent is the best way to go. But maybe not. It can’t hurt to call the airline directly to speak with an agent, asking this simple question: “Can you beat that price?” You may be delightfully surprised.

OFF-SEASON LOCATIONS. If you’re open to exploring off-season destinations, you’ll be rewarded with cheap fares. Go where it’s off-season in the summer, like Palm Springs, Calif., and Scottsdale, Ariz. Just make sure you’re prepared to stay hydrated and protected from daily temperatures that can soar to 110 degrees or higher!

Mary Hunt is founder of, a personal finance member website.

You can email her at, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.

To find out more about Mary Hunt and read her past columns, please visit the Creators webpage at


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