A Buying Guide for Cheap Flights

By Harry R. Weber, AP Airlines Writer

ATLANTA (AP) — You may be thinking of a vacation after seeing some tempting sales on spring and summer travel from Southwest and other airlines.

But while the price may be right, the conditions might not be ideal. You may have to fly on odd days of the week or times of day to get the best fare. And the lowest fares the ads tout are likely just teasers.

Before you take the bait, here are five tips on shopping for fares.

1. The sweet spot: Buy early in the week.

According to Rick Seaney of FareCompare.com, airlines are doing more short-lived sales, with three-day sales becoming the norm. These deals are typically put in the system on Monday nights, so you need to shop from Tuesday through Thursday to get the cheapest prices, he said.

For instance, Southwest Airlines began offering Tuesday what it described as "three days of breathtaking bargains." A purchase by end of day Thursday can get you a one-way fare as low as $59 for travel from Albuquerque, N.M., to Phoenix. But there are catches. You can't fly on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Also, a 14-day advance purchase is required.

2. Do the comparisons.

You'd love a weekend at the beach and decide you want to go to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on April 9 and return on April 11, in time for work the next day.

On Wednesday, AirTran Airways and Delta Air Lines were offering sale fares on their Web sites for as little as $44 one-way from Atlanta. But that low fare was good for only one destination — Charlotte, N.C., not exactly a tropical location.

Both airlines offered a $74 one-way sale fare to Ft. Lauderdale. But your weekend jaunt wouldn't qualify because Friday and Sunday travel is excluded for the best fares.

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