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Score cheap flights with these three tricks

Score cheap flights with these three tricks
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Last year, airlines in the U.S. set an all-time record for passengers. Airlines loaded up about 895.5 million people in 2015. And you can bet there were at least that many different ticket prices as well!

Though every seat on a flight starts and stops at the same place, those seats can have wildly different prices, from bargain basement to "Are they kidding me?!" But what's the trick to getting a cheap ticket instead of one that wipes out your whole vacation budget?

It turns out that with just a few simple tricks, you can slash your travel cost and have a lot more left over for fun when you arrive. For instance, two big factors are the day you buy and the day you fly. Get either day wrong and you could pay way too much! See my three secrets to scoring cheap airline tickets.

1. Direct booking

Recently on Komando.com, we ran a Tip that told you how to save money on hotels by booking directly instead of through third-party sites. Naturally, that raises the question of whether or not the same trick works for airline tickets

And the answer is "yes, sort of." There are times when buying a ticket directly from the airline's site can save you money, but not always. It depends on what cities you're flying to and from, and the travel date. I'll talk about those two factors more in a second.

First, fire up Priceline, Kayak or your favorite comparison site. You can also use Google Flights, which isn't a booking site and pulls ticket prices directly from the airlines, in addition to giving you some impressive tools for finding the perfect flight.

Run a search on your trip and note the least expensive airline and the price. Then go to the airline's website and see if it shows that price or something less expensive.

The good news is that buying directly from the airline won't be more expensive than what you'll find on a comparison site. So if you have a favorite carrier, you can book through it directly and not worry you're missing out on savings.

While you're comparing, be sure to check the sites for Southwest and Delta. Those don't usually show up on flight comparison sites and might have cheaper options.

2. Alternative airports

When you're flying into an area with multiple airports, it pays to check out the prices to each one. For instance, when I fly from Phoenix to San Francisco to visit family, I find it's consistently cheaper to fly into Oakland rather than SFO.

Of course, you don't always want to default to the smaller airport. There's a myth that flying into a major hub like JFK or LAX is always going to cost more, but sometimes it can actually cost less. So it always pays to check for each flight.

One good way to do that is with Google Flights. It lets you put in a city or region and then shows you on a map the prices for each airport. You can quickly spot if one airport is going to be cheaper than the others.

Similarly, there's a myth that you can save big if you book a connecting flight versus a direct flight. The Airlines Reporting Corp. looked at 57 million tickets last year and found the average savings was about $1.03. In my book, that's not worth the extra hassle.

However, the ARC did find that a Saturday night stay over could save you big. Again, it comes down to how much of a hassle that is for you.

3. Days to buy vs. days to fly

Talk to any group of travel experts about the best day to buy a ticket and you'll get a few answers. Tuesday used to be the conventional wisdom, but new research shows that buying on weekends will save you the most. Learn more about choosing the best day to fly.

More important than the day, you want to buy at least six to eight weeks in advance of your trip. Prices do go up as you get closer to the flight. Mostly.

If you want to do a last-minute winter vacation, you can also find great deals as long as you're traveling somewhere not many people are going. Airlines will discount tickets just before the flight to try and fill it up.

Another important factor is saving on a ticket the day you fly. Flying on the weekends or on holidays is a sure way to overpay. After all, that's when everyone else is flying.

Taking off mid-week when fewer people are traveling is going to net you substantial savings. Wednesday is best, followed by Thursday and Tuesday. Flying really early in the day can also knock off a few bucks.

Plus, flying during non-peak days and hours means less craziness with lines and crowds at the airport. Save money and breeze through the security line? Yes, please.

What are your favorite tricks for saving money on airline tickets? Let me know in the comments.

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