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Tricks of the trade: Get the best airline deals

 / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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We all want to get a head start on travel plans for the spring and summer, but knowing some insider secrets can save you big bucks when it's time to buy your tickets. CNBC's Vera Gibbons reveals smart, money-saving tips:

Buy at least two weeks in advance  — or less than seven days ahead It's best to book a domestic flight two weeks in advance, and even further ahead for international travel. If you wait much longer than that, prices jump significantly and continue to rise if you wait 14 days to seven days ahead of departure.  If you can't buy them more than two weeks ahead of time, delay the purchase.

Check fares on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturday morningsSome of cheapest tickets can be found on Tuesdays and Wednesdays — that's when you generally see the sales. You also see some of the best fares first thing Saturday morning. Here's why: Airlines can only change fares around 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, so if they're trying to sneak one over their competition, they'll do it with the last fare change on Friday night, which appears in the airfare search engines around midnight Friday. Competition can't match your sale fares until the 5 p.m. Saturday update. So you have to keep checking! 

Hundreds of thousands of airfare-price changes flow into the system each and every day — just once on weekends, but up to three times a day on weekdays — at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. After the new fares are loaded into the system, it takes about two to four hours to show up on the search engines.

Travel on Saturdays
It's usually cheaper to fly in and out on a Saturday. The most expensive days for travel are, of course, the busiest, which are Friday and Sunday. Days in the middle of the week (Monday though Thursday) are also cheaper, although Saturday remains the best day to travel. Juggle different days, if possible. For example, see if you can leave one day before or one day after you planned.

Start your online search at airline Web sitesContrary to what many people do, you should start with airlines’ sites. Search each one individually since some airlines have "private" sales, reserving the best fares for their own sites.

Try kayak.com, bookingbuddy.com, bestfares.comAs far as travelocity, orbitz.com, and expedia.com go — don't assume they all have same fares — they don't. Check all of those, and then use multisearch-engine sites like kayak.com, which searches 140 travel sites all at once.

Try yapta.com, or ask airlines about the guaranteed airfare policy
A lot of people don't know this, but there's something called a "guaranteed airfare policy," where most airlines offer refunds or travel credits when fares drop below the price of a ticket purchased at an airline's Web site. Send yapta.com (stands for your amazing personal travel assistant) your itinerary and they'll tell you when there's a price drop. As long as you contact the airline while prices are at the lower level, you get the refund — in the form of credit — even if prices spike back up above your initial purchase price.

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