5 Ways to Screw Up Your Chance of Getting Cheap Airline Tickets This Summer

So I said to my editor, “How could you spend so much?”

She’d just forked over $500 on a plane ticket that should have cost about half that.

“I screwed up,” she said tersely, then added, “And don’t say ‘I told you so’.” Me? I wouldn’t dream of it. But I don’t want to have to say that to anyone, so – here are my five ways to screw up your chance of getting cheap airline tickets – this summer, or anytime.

I also include simple ways to increase your chances of getting good deals, every time you shop and buy.

5 Ways to Screw Up Your Chance of Scoring a Cheap Flight

Trust me, there are a lot more than five ways to drop a bundle on airline tickets – instead of the preferred method of saving money – but, I don’t have all the space in the world, so I’ve settled on the most common mistakes.

1. Buy Your Tickets on the Weekend

Buy your plane tickets on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and you will pay more – usually.

What should you do? Easy: the best day to buy airline tickets is generally Tuesday. I’ll get even more specific: Tuesday at about 3pm Eastern.

The reason for this is that Monday evening has become the traditional launch day for big sales (see our daily listing of airline deals and airfare sales and note the many AirTran and Southwest deals that are posted on Tuesday mornings).

Once this happens, the other airlines match the sales, and it usually shows up in their prices by Tuesday at 3pm, giving you, the shopper, the most low airfares (and airlines) to choose from.

It happened just last week when Southwest launched a big airfare sale; by the time the dust had settled, those prices had been matched by AirTran, Alaska, American…and the list of “matching” airlines goes on.

By the way, that particular sale ended Thursday, so those who put off buying tickets until the weekend were out of luck.

2. Make Reservations for Fridays and Sundays

Makes sense to fly on Fridays and Sundays, right? It gives us the most “vacation time” bang for the buck – but the airlines know this because they know when you want to fly – and they will make you pay.

The cheapest day to fly is Wednesday followed by Tuesday and Saturday, so if you really want to save money, be flexible enough to move your vacation time around to coincide with these days.

Ok, so you want to come back on Sunday to maximize that Vegas trip — then leave on a Tuesday or Wednesday and get half the benefit of the cheaper days.

Even better, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are not only cheaper, but you might even have an empty middle seat next to you — wouldn’t that be a welcome change?

3. Check a Bag – In Fact, Check Two

If you really want to throw your money away, by all means, check a bag – no, check two – and with most airlines, you’ve just added $100 dollars in roundtrip bag fees to your air travel total.

Fly JetBlue or Southwest or for free first checked-bags – or even better, always use a carryon bag. Except on Spirit – the only U.S. airline that charges a fee for this “privilege”.

4. Ignore Twitter and Facebook

Actually, you ignore social media at your peril. Here’s what they offer:

Deals. Like many companies, airlines use Twitter and Facebook to offer customers exclusive deals found nowhere else – so don’t miss out.

Stuck at the Airport?

Airlines staff their Twitter and Facebook accounts with PR folks who really don’t like bad things being said about their brand — so if you have a question or a problem, go there for help, first. You’re much more likely to receive an answer from social media than from a hard-to-reach call center a million miles away.

Businesses including airlines are very active in social media and looking to be more active in the near future as the roles of these popular networks near 1 billion — with many of them frequent daily users.

And don’t worry – this isn’t just for the young – sure, people like Ashton Kutcher have five million followers on Twitter – but you do know he’s 32, right?

5. All Summer Vacation Days are Equal

No, sadly, they are not. There’s a little thing called the “peak travel day” airline surcharge.

Many carriers have added surcharges to every date this summer, except for the Fourth of July, and from August 23rd on. Take your vacation then, if possible, or fly Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

Tuesdays or Wednesdays have the cheapest surcharges: $20 roundtrip, compared to as much as $60 roundtrip for Sundays.

Now get out there and save on airfare. Don’t let anyone say, “I told you so”.

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Published: June 30, 2010