NEW YORK (MainStreet) There is no worse feeling than coming to grips with the reality that you paid more for your middle seat coach ticket than anybody else on the plane. Even if it's not true, you fear it is.
Nobody wants to be that guy and here's the promise: read on to discover the tips that are proven to deliver well-priced airline seats.
Case in point: "Last March I got two non-stops on Hawaiian Air to Honolulu from JFK - for under $400 apiece," said Andrew Young with what sounded like gloat in his voice. "That's usually an $800 ticket."
How did he do it? He's an executive at deals site Travelzoo and, accordingly, he's signed up for his employer's alerts. "That's a first rule: always sign up for alerts with the providers and carriers you want to do business with," said Young.
He added: "Airlines have unadvertised fare sales. Pricing can change minute by minute. Prices may drop unannounced, especially in markets where there is competition." And that, he said, is why you need to "always be checking, ABC."
Another reason to ABC - there really are no dependable global rules for scoring the cheapest flights, said Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at Hopper, which is something of a big data project that aims to uncover the best travel deals. To that end, Hopper daily collects "around one billion priced round trips," said Surry.
Hopper crunches that data and discerns patterns, one of which is that he debunks the standard advice to "never shop on [name the day] because it is more expensive."
"The day you shop on makes very little or any difference in flight pricing," said Surry.
"The key factors in ticket pricing are the day you fly on and the market."
Most cheap ticket advice neglects the differences markets play and that is why rules like never fly on a Sunday or Wednesdays are cheapest - both commonly said - are not true, at least not universally.
"Pricing a Boston to London ticket by day - that's a largely business traveler route - is very different from pricing a Spring Break ticket," Surry elaborated.
New Orleans, for instance, is heavy on weekend vacationers, but midweek business travelers are scarce. A Houston not so much- it's mainly business travelers without a lot of weekenders. After that it gets obvious. Flying to Houston on Monday will cost a packet, whereas flying to New Orleans on a Tuesday will be a bargain.
Bottomline: to get the best fares, monitor the alerts and also check and check again, at sites such as Hipmunk and Kayak which, said multiple frugal fliers, often produce the best deals.
But don't check yourself into a higher priced ticket by dithering and delaying. Advance purchase has its rewards.
As for timing when it is best to buy a ticket - how far in advance - know that regional differences carry the day in travel site Kayak's guide to the optimal time in advance to book and do not believe the pat blather ("always book six weeks in advance, not a day sooner or later"). Such advice is simply false, according to Kayak's analysis of a year's worth of data. Its findings as to when to book to score the cheapest seats:
Domestic: Book between 3-7 weeks out
Europe: 8-10 weeks out
Asia: 9-10 months out. If you miss this window, shoot for 3-4 months out
South America: 6 months out
Another rule - probably the keystone concept - for flying on the cheap, from travel blogger Nomadic Matt aka Matt Kepnes: "Be flexible with your travel dates and times."
Never forget that and also never forget: Be flexible, too, about airports. Sometimes savings can be huge flying into Oakland rather than San Francisco International or Dulles rather than Reagan National.
Whenever shopping for tickets, always click around, seeing what differences show up as dates and airports are toggled. Sometimes differences are negligible, other times 10% and greater differences show up.
Make this even easier, suggested Ryan Hutchings, director of marketing at vacation home rental company TravelRoost, by using the Google Flights tool with a built-in flexible date slider. "Very cool for identifying the optimal time to book a flight and save money," said Hutchings.
Case in point: a roundtrip from Phoenix to Dublin, Ireland originating on March 16 costs around $1,100 - but Google quickly pointed out that flying a week later - that is, dodging the St. Patrick's Day celebration crowds - would come in around $850.
That's commonsense, yes, but the beauty of the Google tool is how quickly it pinpoints the better, money saving day to fly.
A last tip, from TravelZoo's Young: Don't take your eyes off the fees that may be associated with any ticket you by. His point: a terrific deal on a ticket can be ruined by an avalanche of what the carriers called "ancillary fees" and these are upcharges for everything from a seat that is not in the middle through checked bag fees. Most airlines have a long menu of fees but they vary from carrier to carrier - so before deciding that this ticket is the best deal, always add in any fees and do the same with competitors' fares.
Do all this and guess what: you will never again worry you have the highest price ticket on the plane. Because you don't.
--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet