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Everything you need to know about buying airfares as cheaply as possible, in 500 words or less.
The big savings come from realizing that airfares can have wild and sudden swings, like stocks on the S&P 500. You may not have time to check them hour-by-hour or day-by-day, but airfare-tracking sites do, and will alert you when a fare goes down, sometimes by hundreds of dollars, either to a level you specify or by a percentage amount.
So sign up, it's free! Some alert systems require that you first search for a fare before they'll offer free email alerts; others let you sign up before searching. Here are some sites that offer alerts:
Don't just sign up for one, because they all work a bit differently. Be aware that most don't include Southwest Airlines fares or promo code fares (airfarewatchdog.com does, although it tracks far fewer routes than the others listed above).
And do sign up for the airlines' frequent flyer programs and email alerts. They'll often send out promo code and airline-site-only fare deals.
Also, if you're searching on your own, do not forsake online travel agencies! Way too often I hear people exclaim, "I only buy directly from the airline sites." But what if you can save $100 by flying out on Delta and back on United? Who's going to tell you this? Delta? United? Not a chance. Travelocity, Orbitz, Cheap Tickets, Expedia and other online travel agencies are going to tell you this.
You already know that being flexible in your travel dates saves money. Problem is, most people are not flexible in their travel dates. Even so, Travelocity, Cheaptickets, and Orbitz have the best flexible date search functions (check out this helpful chart).
Is there a magic day to buy? A lot of sales pop up on Monday night and Tuesday, but the fare you're looking for could go down at any moment, so if you just search once a week on Tuesday, you're missing out.
Traveling at the last minute? You usually have two options: pay through the nose, or use Priceline.com or Hotwire.com. Priceline's name your own price feature is a super way to snag a good last minute fare.
Oops, that was more than 500 words, but just by a bit. One more tip: keep your seatbelt fastened whenever you're in your seat and you'll enjoy your fare savings even more.
George Hobica is the founder of Airfarewatchdog™, the most inclusive source of airfare deals that have been researched and verified by experts. Airfarewatchdog compares fares from all airlines and includes the increasing number of airline-site-only and promo code fares.
Want more travel news? Be sure to check out Episode 2 of Gadling's Travel Talk TV!